How to Do Composites in Photoshop CS2

I can never ever get both my children to look at me and make a nice expression in the same shot. So I use an old version of Photoshop to put together two different photos – one for each kid. I use the old version because it’s free to download – Adobe stopped providing support for it,so you use it at your own risk. Newer versions of Photoshop should work in much the same way, however; layers are the basis of all Photoshop work!

1. First, open your photos in Photoshop. You should have 2 files.  I chose one where my son had a striking pose (the left photo) and one where my daughter had a good pose (the right photo).



2. Next, choose the “Move” tool and click on one of your photos and drag it ontop of the other.

Composite_2_Move Tool


3.  I chose to put the right-most photo on top of the left photo. If you look in the bottom-right corner of Photoshop, you’ll see that I now have 2 layers listed (“Background”, and “Layer 1” on top of that).



4. You’re going to need to line up your layers. When you position one photo on top of the other, you completely cover up the Background, so you’ll need to adjust the opacity of the top-most layer (“Layer 1”) to line up any elements both photos have in common. For my photo, that’s going to be the window and wooden planks of the cabin.Composite_4_LineUp-2Layers5. Adjust the opacity of the top-most layer to line it up. The opacity slider is found right above the Layers list in the bottom-left menu. Adjust it to something like 50% to see your two photos together.



6. They look funny together! Use the move tool to move this layer. Alternately, you can use the arrow buttons to make minute changes.



7. Next you’re going to add a “mask” to your top layer (“Layer 1”). You can manipulate this mask to show (or not) layers beneath it without affecting the layer itself. You add the mask by pushing the button on the bottom-right menu that has the white circle in the grey rectangle. Make sure you have “Layer 1” chosen to add the mask to the right layer.

Composite_7_Add Layer Mask


8. You should  now have a white box next to your top layer.

Composite_8-5_LayerMaskBoxClick on that white box to make sure you have the Layer Mask chosen, and then navigate over to the left-most toolbar. Choose the “Brush” icon. When you’re working with a Layer Mask (as opposed to an actual layer), you work only with Black and White. If you “paint” in black, you reveal what’s in the layer below the one you’re “painting.” If you “paint” in white, you show the top layer.

Composite_8_Choose Brush-BorWhite


9. Adjust your brush settings from the top menu by pressing the little down arrow next to “Brush” on the top menu. I work with a very large brush (~450) and set the “Hardness” to a very low number. The “Hardness” affects how much of an edge the brush will have. Having a softer brush will allow the tones to blend it better. If I were doing a hard edge, I would choose a much harder brush to get a more defined line.



10. Use your brush to paint over the thing you want to go away from your top layer to reveal the image from the bottom layer. In my case, I paint over my son’s image to reveal the more photogenic pose in the Background layer. In the example below, you see the bottom layer being revealed in the main window while the bottom-right Layer menu shows the black lines to reveal where the Mask is being applied.



11. Paint over the entire section you want to replace. If you paint too much, then toggle the Brush color to white and paint back over the black on the Layer Mask. You can see that my Layer Mask is black to reveal the pose on the Background Layer of my son while the white portion of the Layer Mask leaves the pose of my daughter from Layer 1 intact.



12. Use the top menu to save your file. You’ll need to save as jpg if you want to print or post your photo anywhere, but you should also save as a Photoshop file if you ever think you’ll want to work on your layers again.

This is a very, very basic overview of how to make a composite. Good Photoshop habits would include making a copy of the Background layer as insurance in case you have to work on that layer, re-naming your layers so if you end up with 7 or 8 layers you can easily switch between them, etc. etc. because Photoshop is NOT forgiving if you take a wrong turn during your work. Thankfully Lightroom has rendered almost all of this moot – except for when it comes to photographing two children!