Photoshop tutorial: Advanced compositing techniques

Becha explains how to bring together a composition seamlessly

This photomontage by Serbian illustrator Becha was created for an haute couture fashion editorial called Silent Spring that appeared in her home country’s Faar magazine. It showcases the brightly coloured clothes and shoes of designer Ana Ljubinkovic, which are perfectly complemented by Vesna’s high-end photo-illustration style.

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The work features photographic elements shot by Miloš NadaĹždin ( in his studio, and hand-drawn type and elements created by Becha.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to incorporate all these elements into one image and get a dreamy, surreal atmosphere inspired by nature. Becha explains how to make ceramic facial masks that match a model’s face and how to give vector lettering a three-dimensional look. She also looks at how textures can be used to enhance an atmosphere and how adjustment layers can integrate unusual elements.

Time to complete 

3 hours


Photoshop CS3 or later


Files for this tutorial can be downloaded from here. These files are for use only as part of following this tutorial and must not be used for other projects – including commercial projects.


To get started, you’ll need to create a Photoshop document that’s 25cm wide, 31cm tall and 300dpi. 

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Create a Gradient fill (Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient). Click on the default gradient to edit it – change both opacity stops to 100%, then use #dfe8d7 for the left-hand colour stop and #68acbd for the right-hand one to create a sky-style background. Set the Location for the right-hand stop to 70%. Click OK and make sure the gradient is running light-to-dark from bottom to top. 

Next, apply a Noise filter (Filter > Noise > Add Noise) with an Amount of 4%, and Uniform and Monochromatic selected. This will make the background less digitally clean.


From the project files (registration required), open the model shot (model.jpg) in Photoshop. We want to remove her from the background, and the best way to do this is to mask her out, then invert the mask to select just her. Using the Magic Wand tool with a Tolerance of 30, select the background by clicking a couple of times and holding Shift so you can add to the selection. Also select the area of her chest that’s visible.

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To fix details around the pearls and flowers, turn on Quick Mask Mode (Q) and, using a brush, fill in the areas that should be part of your mask. Turn off Quick Mask Mode, then go to Select > Inverse Selection (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I). Copy and paste the model into your main composition.

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To integrate the model with the background, and to get the overall colour tone we want for the final piece, we need to reduce the contrast. Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast and reduce the Contrast to -30. 

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A useful trick is to duplicate the layer with the model (Cmd/Ctl + J), select the lower layer of the two and use Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur with a Radius of 45px. Give that layer a Hard Light blending mode. This puts a diffuse lighting effect behind her as if she was really standing against the background.


Next, open Deer.jpg from the project files. Make a selection of its head, horns and flowers – but not the main part of the shoe – using the same technique as in Step 2. 

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Copy and paste this into the main composition and put it behind the model layers at the scale shown. Use Image > Adjustments > Levels on it and move the Input Levels’ middle slider to 1.5 to bring it more in line with the main composition’s tones.


It’s now time to add some flowers. From the project files, open Flowers.png (which I’ve already cut out), and copy and paste it below the model layers, positioned as shown. Next, open Rose.jpg and make a rough selection around it with Polygonal Lasso tool (L). Use this one to fill the gap in her dress.

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To add contrast we’re going to add some warmer colours and different kinds of shapes. We’ll use some branches. Miloš took some shots of blue ones, but we’ll change their colour to red.

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Open each of the Branches files in turn and, with the Magic Wand (W) set to have a Tolerance of 50, make a selection of background. Use Select > Inverse (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I) and move the branches to your composition. To change their colour, apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment (Cmd/Ctrl + U) and move Hue to +180, then use Levels (Cmd/Ctrl + L) to brighten them up, putting in Input Levels values: 0/1.18/229.


We want to form the branches into something resembling a treetop behind the model. Use Photoshop’s Transform tools (Cmd/Ctrl + T) for resizing and rotation. When you get the perfect shape, select all the branch layers and then merge them (Cmd/Ctrl + E). 

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We now need to add some details to the branches to make them more interesting. There are already pearls on the model’s dress, so we’ll use these for blossoms.  

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Open Pearl.jpg from the project files and select a pearl with the Elliptical Marquee tool (M). Copy and paste it into main file and to make it shinier use an Inner Glow layer style – use an opacity of 72, a colour of #d9f1fd and a Size of 46. Right-click on the layer in the Layers panel, and select Rasterize Layer Style so the effect remains in proportion to the pearl when you resize it.

Duplicate the pearl several times with Cmd/Ctrl + J, then resize each and place them on the branches. Put a few of them towards the top, so it seems they are hovering in the air. 

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I wanted to give the piece an organic feel – something that will support the natural look of this artwork. To do this, I made a sketch on paper that I used as the basis of a vector drawing in Illustrator. I then copied and pasted this into Photoshop as a smart object. My original drawing is in the project files (Silent_Spring_Drawing.jpg). You should create some similar type using your favourite method.

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Apply layer styles to the letters to give them depth and make them look like clouds. I used Bevel and Emboss with the settings as shown (above). Also apply a Color Overlay layer style, using #faf2dc as the colour.


The letters have the right colour and volume, but need shadows. To add these, create a new layer above your type, then Cmd/Ctrl-click on the type layer’s thumbnail in the Layers panel to create a selection based on it. To paint the shadows use a grey brush with soft edges, an opacity of 50% and a Flow of 30. This will help you give it a three-dimensional appearance. 

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It’s now time to give the model a halo. As with the type, we want this to have a hand-made feel, so we will use a drawing.

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From the project files, open Circlescan.jpg – or draw your own, scan it in, and copy and paste it into your main composition. Because we need the drawing in white, invert the image Image > Adjustment > Invert (Cmd/Ctrl + I) and then use Screen blending mode to keep only the drawn elements. This white is too bright, so drop this layer’s transparency to 80%.

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To make a mask on her eye that looks like it’s made of ceramic, first use the Pen tool (P) to carefully make an outline around her eye.

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Go to Window > Paths and while holding Cmd/Ctrl, click on the Work path thumbnail to make a selection based on the path. Create a new layer and fill it with white (Shift + F5). 

Next, load the selection from this layer, then choose the model layer and press Cmd/Ctrl + J to duplicate only that part of the layer. Move this part above white layer in the layer stack. Desaturate this layer with Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U.

Again load the mask’s selection of this layer, and select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur with a Radius of 5px.

Apply a Levels adjustment and set the white slider at 198. Now, you need to apply some additional shadows to make it appear realistic. 

Choose a brush with soft edges and a colour of #8b6952. Select an opacity of 40% and paint shadows onto a new layer with a Multiply blending mode. The best way to do this is to use a graphics tablet and pen, but if you don’t have one, be very careful with mouse.





To give the model a glove that appears to be dripping with paint, follow the same process as in Step 12. This time, however, you’ll need to create the shadows for the drips from scratch. Carefully paint these on using the same brush as before, paying careful attention to where the light is coming from in the rest of the piece. 

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For a final atmospheric touch, open Texture.jpg from the project files, and copy and paste it at the top of the layer stack. Use a Soft Light blending mode for this. The purpose of this texture is to visually connect all the layers. 

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I’ve found it good practice to experiment with different kinds of textures and blending modes until you find the right one.

Finally, touch up the colour by selecting Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. Choose the Green curve and make the Output:179 and Input:169. 

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Serbian-based Vesna Pesic – aka Becha – is a freelance illustrator with a passion for collage and hand-drawn lettering. Her clients have included Elle, Emirates Airlines, Ellecta Interactive, Playboy, MTV and Universal Music. She is represented by Machas (

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