Photoshop tutorial: Advanced collage techniques

A step-by-step guide to compositing multiple photos in a realistic way to create an amazing photomontage.


Image: Mike Harrison

Intro


Still as popular as ever, photomontage is initially one of the easiest techniques to learn. But achieving photorealistic results can be a challenge. In this tutorial, Mike Harrison shows you how, by blending a number of photos together. This kind of work always has a surreal edge, but with the images you’ll use, the environment and composition, you’ll endeavour to be quite subtle, too, which should add an extra intriguing quality to the piece.

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The specific techniques you’ll learn will be how to specify a light source and apply realistic lighting and shadows to the objects, and how to use subtle effects like colour treatment, texture and adjustment layers to give a certain mood to the final image.

Time to complete

5-6 hours

Software

Adobe Photoshop CS4

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.

Step 1

STEP 1

The first step when starting an image-heavy piece like this is to collate a variety of stock imagery that you want to use. Don’t worry about being exact in your choice of shots as there’s nothing stopping you, subsequently, adding or leaving out images.

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Websites such as iStock and Shutterstock have plenty of images of animals, as do the best free image sites.

If you want to follow along directly, you can download the images used in my composition here.


Step 2

STEP 2

Create a new A4 document at 300dpi, then crop a portion off the top, so you end up with a ‘widescreen’ canvas. Place the file, landscape.jpg, then go to Image > Adjustments and increase the brightness and contrast.

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Step 3

STEP 3

The sky needs to be more dramatic, so, using a large soft brush with the Flow at 40%, create a new layer, set the blending mode to Color Burn, and brush some blue into it.

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Next, find some images of clouds, bring them into the document, set the blending mode to Overlay and, using a layer mask, erase parts to blend them in with the existing clouds.


Step 4

STEP 4

We have our backdrop. Now it’s time to start populating the scene. Find an image of someone walking and holding a flag. Trace their outline using the Pen tool (P). Right click using the Path Selection tool (A), then select Make Selection and copy and paste him into the main document. Move and resize to suit.

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Step 5

STEP 5

Let’s have our light source coming from the left of the canvas and add lighting effects accordingly. Go to the layer containing the man and Cmd/Ctrl + click on the layer thumbnail. Create a new layer and select Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Change the blending mode to Overlay, then with a small soft brush, brush onto the left edges of the layer to simulate the light hitting him. Do the same to the right of him, but with the blending mode set to Normal and using a black brush.

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Step 6

STEP 6

With light comes shadow, and getting the shadows right is what will blend the man in properly with the landscape. Cmd/Ctrl + click on the man layer, create a new layer underneath and fill it with black. Flip it vertically, then Cmd/Ctrl + click on the lower middle transform point and drag up and right. Now go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter a value of 1px.

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Step 7

STEP 7

Next, change the blending mode of the shadow layer to Overlay, duplicate the layer and set the blending mode to Normal. Play with each layer’s opacity for a realistic look. Create another layer and, using a small soft brush, add some shadow around the man’s feet. Add a layer mask if you need to tweak it.

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Step 8

STEP 8

Time for the flag. Open flag.jpg and, using the technique previously outlined, cut it out and place it into the main document. Scale it, rotate it into position and use the earlier steps to add the appropriate lighting. Add a layer mask to the flag layer and then, using a small hard brush, erase parts away to achieve a ‘torn’ look to the bottom.

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Step 9

STEP 9

Now we’ll add some distress to the flag. Using a brush such as these free watercolour brushes, brush onto the flag with a layer mask to create this effect. Then with a logo of your choice, bring it into the document, set the blending mode to Multiply, and select Filter > Liquify and distort it a little, so it blends well onto the flag.

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Step 10

STEP 10

Start adding animals. Find a lion image – I used this one from Fotolia – cut it out as you did with the earlier elements, and bring it into the document. Increase the brightness and contrast to make it stand out, then apply the same lighting and shadow techniques as you used for the man.

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Step 11

STEP 11

When adding shadow to the animals, you will get a better result if you create a new layer with a layer mask, then use a soft, medium-sized brush to add shadow to the feet.

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Step 12

STEP 12

Using the techniques we employed for the man and the lion, grab flamingo.jpg and add it to the composition. Don’t worry too much about positioning for now as we can play around with that, as we go along. I’ve added other creatures, as well.

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Step 13

STEP 13

Adding some birds in the air will add more of a dynamic feel, so bring them into the composition as you did the other creatures.

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To blend them with the sky, apply a gradient overlay using the settings in the screenshot.


Step 14

STEP 14

Detail is one of the finishing touches, and for that we’ll be adding some insects and lizards. Grab snake.jpg and add it to the stick bearing the flag. Using a layer mask, erase parts of it, so it appears wrapped around the stick. Also add a spider on the flag and apply a basic drop shadow in the blending options.

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Step 15

STEP 15

The man in the image is looking at us, but he ought to be looking in the direction in which he’s heading. To fix this, I’ve sourced a head facing the correct way and wrapped in a scarf. Apply a layer mask to the man layer and erase his head. Using the techniques we applied for the animals, do the same for the new head, and position and scale to fit.

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Step 16

STEP 16

Finally, add some finishing touches, such as the adornments to the man shown. Let’s also change the mood of the piece. We’ll experiment with the colour balance by adding a gradient map and colour balance and brightness/contrast adjustment layers at the top of the layer stack. Also, apply texture.jpg with an Overlay blending mode at 30% opacity, and place this layer just above the layer with the clouds we added earlier.

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