Skip to main content

Compositing Backgrounds: Blending & Background Eraser

Lesson 23 from: Fine Art Compositing

Brooke Shaden

Compositing Backgrounds: Blending & Background Eraser

Lesson 23 from: Fine Art Compositing

Brooke Shaden

most popular photo & video

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

23. Compositing Backgrounds: Blending & Background Eraser


Class Trailer

Day 1


Class Introduction


Why Composite ?


Logic Checklist


What Not To Do When Compositing


Shooting for Composite


Changing Backgrounds and Light


Shoot: Simple Swaps Part 1


Lesson Info

Compositing Backgrounds: Blending & Background Eraser

we're going to talk about cutting things out of backgrounds and blending other things into backgrounds were going to talk a little bit more about cloud layers and how to blend those in a little bit more effectively and so basically we're just going to go through partially step by step of like what are these tools and why're we using them and what are the best ways to use them but then also we're going to apply that to some of what we shot so for example we may or may not photoshopped me on russ's lap later on it might happen might not happen I don't know we're just going to see how it goes let's jump in here and just take a look I want to show you first what my library looks like of stock images here of clouds and I want to start with that because clouds khun b shot in a million different ways they can help really any different photographer depending on doesn't matter who you are what you dio they can always enhance the photo so let's start from this side why not and I'm just going to ...

quickly run through some of these clouds that I have because I have probably two hundred here oh no I have three hundred sixty one of them very late so I should shoot clouds all the time and as you can see with a cloud like this especially I'm trying to get the horizon line at the very bottom of the image and then I'm trying to get the clouds all above that way I know where that horizon line is in the final image so I've used this cloud before and I just went ahead and matched up that horizon and popped it right in there this is the kind of cloud that's really easy to pop into a picture because it's surrounded by blue so it doesn't get darker as it goes toward the horizon line it's just something very neutral you could just operate in the sky but then we have other images like this one that get darker as they go toward the horizon line and when that the case it's really helpful tohave a dark horizon in your pictures then that blends a little bit nicer but if you have something like sand or something really bright like the ocean at the edge of your horizon than it's going to be a little bit more difficult to plan the dark sky into the break line of the horizon so that's where it gets a little bit tricky and that's when I start to think about how am I going to use these images which images am I going to use and do they actually match up so for some of these you can see that there are houses in in the distance and different things that may or may not hurt us when we're trying to add something in and the reason why that might hurt us is because we might have had to tell up too far to get the house is out of the way to see the sky so if that's the case than that basically means that we're going to have a perspective issue when we are putting a sky into our image so you can kind of see what I'm going for when I'm shooting these clouds and what I'm generally going for is something that's a little bit moody something that has some dynamic light to it andi I try not to get too much with backlight because I don't really shoot with back right in my everyday work so these kinds of clouds don't come in so handy for me I'm sure I've never used this cloud before and the reason is because of my lighting techniques something like this I would be a little bit more keen for because it has so much dynamic light at the bottom of the frame I think that's really interesting but as I move through these a lot of them have blue in them and when an image has blue like when a sky has blue that also goes against my way of editing my look that my images have which are very dis actuated very dark and so whenever I do see blue and an image I usually just take it right out of there by de saturating the blue the's shots I recommend everybody have so then you can composite somebody walking on the clouds so those are always really fun to have and then when you're in an airplane getting different angles of clouds khun b really awesome especially looks they're on a mountain and you're up really really high on this mountain that it might be really great to have a shot like this where it makes sense to be closer to the clouds so I'm always trying to shoot clouds everywhere I go all different clouds we don't need to look at these too much so I came in earlier from someone and it did have a few votes also wondering where you focus when you're shooting the clouds are you just focusing at infinity do you prefer to keep them slightly out of focus you have ah balance yeah I shoot them all in focus and that's that's just my personal way of doing it but I feel like if I shoot it out of focus it may be too much out of focus and then I can't get that back so I shooed out of focus and then I tend to blur some of the distant clouds in the shot that way it matches up with the blur of the horizon line in the distance as well so that's more of my process on every once in a while I just mess it up and I accidentally shoot it out of focus in which case I try to find a picture that calls for that kind of cloud uh yeah what's that pretty okay so I'm going to pop into photo shop now and in photoshopped the first thing that I want to do since we're talking about clouds here because I want to look at this image that I have pulled up which is a shot of some beautiful rolling hillside countryside in england and the only problem was that the sky wasn't very interesting to look at so I want to make this guy a little bit more interesting by adding a sky in there then we talked already about how to blend the sky using layer vote multiply and the biggest problem with using laywer moon multiply in a situation like this is that we just don't have to it doesn't have to be that hard so I don't have a person in this picture there is nobody's head sticking up into the white part of the sky we don't have to worry about little details and things like that so instead I want to use effects to go ahead and bluntness and effects being this f x I think it's called style or something like that is the technical term but I call it effects because it says fx first thing I'm going to go find this sky I just pulled this one at random I liked to that I could see the horizon line I liked how on the clouds kind of stopped at a certain point so it was just really appealing to me I've used this I think six times already because I keep seeing this little symbol in the cloud over and over again when I look back at my photos and I regret that but I really like this cloud so I'm going to go how to move it move it with the move tool some clicking my move tool I'm gonna click and drag and drop so clicking and dragging and dropping right on top now what you can see is that this image was taken with my old camera didn't shoot pictures that were quite a cz bigas my new camera so it's a little bit smaller and that's okay because I'm going to stretch that just a little bit now stretching these clouds isn't going to make much of a difference like I said in my work it's much more about softening and d noise ng so I'm not as worried about are the clouds going tohave to much noise compared to the photo or do I have to add noise to the photo so much more interested in just getting them in there as long as it's not too much of a stretch but that was pretty good no okay so say ok that so now I have my clouds in there I can lower the opacity on that layer and I can see where the clouds are falling from feeling really lazy I could just lower the opacity and then erase this and leave it but I'm not going to do that there too subtle so I can see that what I'm worried about here down here this line of mountain or whatever that was that's not intersecting with the white part of the sky so I'm not worried about having to move that at all it's in a good spot so I'll take the opacity backup and this is one of the quickest ways of blending a sky and it works really really well if you are adding a subject on top of your image on top of your background so your subjects already and here then you might want to use a blending mode because that will allow the clouds to stick in a very specific way to your subject however if you are working with just the background image and a blank sky that's when you would maybe want to try out effects so I'm going to click on this fx button and go up to blending options well um on this sky and everything's normal here so we're at blending mode normal for that layer opacity is all the way up and then what I'm going to look for is this little slider down here where it says blend if gray that's good we'll leave it on that so we're looking for totality here not color and then the next thing that I want to do is I'm trying to move this over just so you can see the image here the next thing they wanted to take a look at what these sliders mean this layer or underlying layer so blend if grey on the underlying layer it starts at black and then it goes overto white so what we're doing by pulling this black slider as we're saying hey let's show the background through and the reason why it does that is because we have white as the whole sky nothing down here in the I guess you could call it the foliage area the greenery and stuff like that is white nothing therefore the sky is leaving whatever is darkest in the picture and that's what we're doing by taking this black point down is we're saying don't stick to the blacks on the underlying layer that makes sense you could do the same thing for any of these sliders you could pull this slider like that and that would be the opposite of what you want to do because you're saying don't stick to the whites not what we want to do so we'll put that back on there and you can always go a little bit less a little bit more on what I'm looking for specifically let me see if I can zoom okay let me get out of here so I can zoom in a little bit on this picture I'm going to be looking in this area right here so when I go into effects and blending options and I move this dialog box over and then I start taking the underlying layer off of the blacks here then this is the area that I'm looking at to really make sure that it works so if I go too far then you start to see that white ghosting line happening all around the image that's obviously not what we want and that's not entirely fixable at least not in an easy way so I would actually rather do something like this where we're leaving a little bit of that cloud layer on the yellow which it's sort of picking that up because the yellow is a lot lighter than the green so that makes sense but I would rather leave it there and say okay to that and then just have to create a little bit of a layer mask there to get it off I would rather do that than have to like clone it back in along that edge or something crazy like that so now when I go in with a layer mask on black going to make this brush a little bit smaller I'm going to go in here and just start to layer mask that off of the field now I think that it's pretty believable when it covers the treeline edge I think that's okay but I just don't want it covering where it shouldn't which is as we know on the field it's now you could argue that this is a little bit labor intensive having to go in and masked specific parts but for me it's so much better to just have it already mostly blended and even when I do overlap the field it's not such a stark change that we really need to worry so much about that I would rather do that than just have the image of the clouds at one hundred percent capacity just totally showing through because this is blending in at least somewhat for us and it's doing a really pretty good job of it most everywhere so I like to blend clouds like that when I can and I try to take advantage of that when my subject isn't in the shot so my subjects not there I might move somebody into this picture but I probably won't but I might so if I do that I can not worry about my cloud so much so I've gotten the clouds mostly off of the background layer and the other option so let's say that it's just not quite working where you wanted to work or you can still kind of see it overlapping the edge well then that's when we can do a couple of different things one is to flip that layer like we did before so duplicate that layer and then goto edit transform flip vertical now when we do that this is the problem that we have is you can't actually see it because we've taken it off of the blacks so we need to fix that that's something that we definitely don't want happening for this layer now so I would just go ahead and put that back to normal so we've just said everything back and I'm going to go ahead and just move that there into place and now we can blend it just like we blended the other sky so not everything has to be done the same way with the same effect but instead we could go to multiply for that cloud layer and then we can use our layer mask to start to erase it right up here off of the clouds that already look good so maybe we'll get it off there we'll get off here I like that and then we can lower the opacity and now the clouds are again putting the same pattern on the ground and it's not as I guess is obvious when we did it before it was on the water so you could really see the outline of the clouds but still this is allowing us that same pattern in variation that we would have from the clouds to affect it because as you can see right there there really weren't many clouds it was an overcast day but there weren't clouds and so this is going to give that cloud effect now if we want to go ahead and fix it this area back here I could use my lasso tool and I could select these areas where maybe it's a little bit too bright on that background layer and then on my background layer we could take that yellow color specifically and make it darker so making it darker that's going to allow the foreground or the background layer to then interact with the clouds and a more effective way so if I go into image adjustments replaced color that is going to allow us to selectively change the yellows instead of worrying about all the other colors within this image if I just made the whole entire a shot of the field darker than we would have the greens going really dark and the parts that are already almost black go extra black with no detail so we don't want that so I'm going in to replace color now I am not entirely certain about this but is if anybody knows please let me know but I don't think that you can use replace color as an adjustment layer in any way that's been my experience so if that's the case then I have to do it to the actual layer the background layer where our field is so let's see if we can go and select this yellow color there we go now this is just showing us a little strip of the graph here because I have that portion selected within this image so that's why you're seeing just that little strip of the graph here but you can see when I click around that it's changing what's inside that graph I'm just clicking on different colors so when I do end up landing on the yellow color whatever is white that's what's being affected so that is indicating that the yellow in this strip that you have selected okay so we know that we have the yellow selected whatever's black will not be affected by the changes that we're about to make and I can also adjust the fuzziness lighter so if I take the fuzziness up than mohr is being included in my selection and if I take it down less is being included so whatever turns gray that's basically just saying that if it is gray than that means that you're going to make partial changes to those areas instead of having the full effect so I'm going to go on and take it down to about they're so there's just a little bit of gray happening in the center area here but that's okay with me so now we have hugh saturation and lightness and in this case we might want to take the lightness down because now the clouds won't stick to that area's much because it's darker but if we wanted to we could take the saturation down or up and you can kind of see what that's doing and then the hue as well we can have any color field we want now this is actually the kind of thing that it's not going to work as well in terms of changing color here taking the lightness down daughter work just great but changing color isn't going to be as good because that yellow is also found a little bit in the green because yellow goes into make green and you know it's it's sort of blending into the field so you're not going to get a really stark change of color here so we're going to do this effect again when it comes to a boulder color a brighter color and see how that can change so I'm going to say okay to that so now we have the sky it's really well blended in I would say looks pretty good and so I would say that that is my number one favorite way of blending a sky if we don't have to worry about a person the great thing is that if we do need to worry about a person now we can just pop her head or whatever into the picture now I just have a picture of her head I don't have a picture of her body therefore she is never ever going to fit into these pictures because she's just a floating head both do it anyways just for the sake of going over this and saying what needs to happen here to cut the hair out to move her body all of that fun stuff so if you're trying to cut her out and you are not using a tool and photo shop to help with the hair then you might be in a little bit of a pickle so what I would do if I wasn't going to use any sort of blending of any kind I would select her and I'm just doing a really big selection just like this the reason being that I don't want to cut anything off that I don't mean to cut off I couldn't just moved the whole picture but I don't know where it's gonna select so I'm gonna copy it and now I'm going to paste it okay so what's just happened is she has just popped in right above the background layer because that's the layer I was clicked on so whichever layer you're clicked on in the new paste it's going to pop in right above that layer and not above any others so I just want to click and move her up here to the top of my layers pallet now once I've done that I can easily move her wherever I want maybe she'll go right there I don't know we'll pretend like she's in the foreground of our picture obviously this would never really work but let's just say that that's where we're gonna put her now if you just try to do a layer mask and you try to cut this out well then I feel really bad for you because it would be really hard it's one thing to go against her dress in her skin that's something that we could probably handle by taking the hardness of the brush up I would say that I get her and focus let's take a look wow worked she's in focus oh my gosh okay so down here she's not is in focus she was moving a little bit and her shoulder was back a little bit so I'm going to go to right click and say that the hardness is about ninety percent maybe a little bit less even I don't know I usually like to go for eighty eight because that's my favorite number so let's go ahead and started racing so this is one of our options we can easily just get in here and buy toggle ing or brush bigger smaller whatever we need to do we can get in the nooks and crannies and start to a race I'm not particularly good at this I don't particularly enjoy this but it is something that I do from time to time and the fact is that every time I go in to do an edit like this I always think oh my gosh I'm going to be here for a a million billion years and then it doesn't actually take that long to dio but it can be a little bit tedious and frustrating so if you are going to go with this method and you come to a point like great here where it starts to get even fuzzier that's when you really start toggle ing your hardness and maybe even the size because the bigger you make your brush the softer it's going to get and you're going to have to adjust your hardness as well so now right along here my brush is a little bit softer and I'm just trying to match the edge of my brush to the edge of my subject and when I get up here it's going to be even less and you can see that the fuzziness is starting to match and I'm not doing a very good job because I'm cutting into her arm but it's still working it's still the same hardness and the reason why this works so well on fabric is because let's say I didn't like this little proof of the dress here then I can just adjust my hardness to match I can just cut that right off nobody would ever ever know that I cut that little piece of dress off so it's good for that it's good for going and fabric it's really good if you don't have to be terribly precise and what you're doing but this is the problem area there's no way you couldn't even pay me enough money to do this I would not so let's just try because apparently I'm willing to do it under some circumstances so I just took my hardness all the way down and I'm just going to start erasing lightly around the hair and if I were faced with this situation of having to cut hair out like this I would definitely go in with a lower opacity on my brush so I'm lowering that brush opacity taking the size down and getting in between here like this that turned out better than I thought but over here it's not going to turn out well for helping us so here even though I am a racing at a low opacity there's just almost no distinction between the hair in the background it's so hard to know where to sweep your brush and how much you need to dio and like right here do I get rid of this whole piece of hair to maintain this piece of hair do I do this and very confusing I do not enjoy it I will not do it so let's back up okay I'm gonna back up we're going to pretend like that didn't happen and I'm just going to color that back in that whole entire layer mask there we're just going to bring that back one hundred percent opacity so instead of doing that I'm not interested in doing that so instead let's go ahead and do a couple of different things here first of all we've already selected the image and pasted it right in where it needs to go so given that we've already done that let's start with the background eraser tool I'm gonna go ahead to the regular racer tool which is probably what your defaulted on just looks like this so I am on the regular racer tool I just cook that drop down menu and choose background eraser tools I don't trust anything that says magic so I don't tend to use that but but I like background eraser tools and that was exaggerating but still all right so I can now right click and change my size my hardness and my spacing which is something that I don't really touch I tend to just kind of leave it pretty low on dh then we have size again so let me take that size down just a bit in the thousand range hardness I'm going to leave all the way down cause I wanted to erase really softly I don't want there to be any sort of hard edge the only other things that we need to pay attention to are all of these this little row right here we need to figure out if that's what we want or if that's not what we want so here we can change the brush so you have different options you can add different things to your list here I don't bother with that I'm already on the background racer tool that's good we have the drop down menu size hardness spacing which is the same thing from when we write clicked and then we have these three little options here so right now I'm on sampling continuous because I want this to sample continuously but then we have sampling once and sampling the backgrounds watch so these two I don't really use very often sometimes I choose this one and so we'll just do a little test to see what each does contiguous I am on right now for my limits so we'll see how that works for us and then tolerance is really the one that I'm getting to here because this is the one that I pay the most attention teo tolerances indicating how much of the background it's going to try to a race so we'll keep it let's go with something really love fourteen percent just to start and then when I start to click to a race it's not actually doing that much because it's trying to leave a lot of the background so the tolerance is very low for racing so let me step back now now I'm going to go toe one hundred percent tolerance just to see what that does and that is going to erase too much of our hair because that saying I'm just going to erase everything so no we don't want that so I'm gonna put my tolerance said about fifty percent and when I do that that's going to start to erase the background and it's going to also get in between the hairs but it's not really going to delete the hairs I guess is a good way of setting that so we still have hair and yes there's still some more to a race like right in there I could click once there and get rid of that I could click once there and that was too much so there's always a little bit of flux here and how many times can I click how many times kind of go over the same spot which portions are going to work better than others so I'm just going to step back in history there you can always go in here to try to fix more but at this point I'm going to say that's pretty well blended and the way that I try to figure out if I've erased enough as to just move my subject around so I can see up here it's going to be great because the background colors really close to the sky color it was just a gray so that's awesome I don't really need to worry about erasing any more around the hair but then when I come down to the bottom part of the picture you can really see where that blue still is or that gray from the background in there that's not so good so that's what I would want to fix so I wouldn't necessarily fix it with the background eraser tool again because I don't want it to do too much to this image so instead I would just go in on the layer mask and that's where I would go with a very small brush in comparison to what we were just using and a low opacity and just get in there and erase some of that just from inside those little portions there and there and just get that erased and blended I would also do that for the outside edges that got left and that's okay too because we can get rid of it okay so now she's looking pretty good and this is why I was saying before I would rather match the background in tonality as much as possible when I am a racing hair because it would not be as much fun and we're going to do this in a second to take the shot where she was on black and put her on a white backdrop that's going to be really difficult because of natural shading in her hair lighting that just happens because of how we let her with the natural light one source coming in falling off so let's go ahead and grab that picture real quick we're gonna go find that yes I know you always like to tell me that bridge all right so let's go back and I'm gonna find those shots were going to get out of my stockholders here and I'm just going to find some of those pictures that we took earlier so when I go grab those we're going to look for the green the black here they are okay so we have this shot here which I might change a little bit in camera raw it's well it's a little bit dark for me so I might take the exposure up I'm just focusing on her face right now so I'm not really worrying about her arm I could take the shadows up a little bit just then we can really see what's going on and part of the problem that I see is that her hair looks and green to me in some places because of the motion blur that's going to be our biggest problem right now is figuring out how to get around that green that's happening so when I open that up I'm going to the same thing I'm just choosing my lasso tool selecting her head copying it and pasting it onto our background you come on and paste there we go all right so I'm going to stick her on the sky there we can see the green is not a friend right now green is not what we want to have in this picture now there are a couple things we can do we can use the magic wand tool if that's your cup of tea but like I said magic and me we don't get along so I can try to use the magic wand tool which we didn't talk about yesterday just a little bit I can try to select all the green I can try to delete all the green but as you can see this isn't going very well for me so I'm going to back that up so I don't tend to use that tool very often but instead I'm going to use my background to race or tool again we're going to see how that goes with the green background now I feel there was too much motion blur so this is my prediction that there's too much motion blur the greene is showing through on the edges of her hair and I think that's going to be bad so let's see what happens now when we go through we can see it's kind of getting rid of some of that green but it's also really sticking to the edges of her hair so that is not good if I get in there again and click again it gets rid of too much so we're not having a very good time with this background eraser tool in this instance

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Logic Checklist
Must Have Shots
Favorite Photoshop Tools
Lighting Effects
Practice Files - Cutting out Hair from Background
Practice Files - Building a Dress
Practice Files - Swapping Hand
Practice Files - Levitation
Adorama Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Logan Fox

I'm so thrilled to have come across this course and to have been introduced to Brooke Shaden. As a bit of background I do photography as a hobby, and always had an appetite to composite my work. It's only after watching this course that I can finally put a name to a craft that I love, that being 'fine art photography'. Through my own personal journey I've read various books, followed online tutorials both paid and free. When I came across this course I did hesitate. I wondered 'is it going to teach me anything new'... 'would the standard of the course be up to scratch'. Well, I can honestly say with hand on heart that this is by far is one of the best courses I've come across to date. As a solo photographer myself I've found it difficult at times to be both photographer and subject at the same time. From the outset what became clear was that Brooke is just like me in this respect which made the course so 'relevant' to what I do. Brooke shows throughout the course what can be achieved with a little planning and some creative approaches to situations that can be difficult to pull off when on your own. She is such a joy to watch and listen to, I loved her sense of humor and great how the audience were involved in some of the shoots. All I can say is, if you're in to photography and interested in compositing your work, you should give this a go, you wont regret it!


I'd like to show my gratitude and gratefulness to Ms Shaden and other wonderful people at CreativeLIVE for sharing your vast knowledge without making a fuss. Not everybody has a super computer and a top-notch camera, not everyone has a studio to work in and not everyone needs to know everything as perfectly as some instructors and professionals do. I, for one, have gained so much insight and have been intrigued by Ms Shaden's present and past lessons, she makes the most difficult and surreal subjects unfold so easily and effortlessly. Ms Shaden has made me believe no matter where I be and no matter what i have, as long as i have a good story to tell, and the right vision, I should be able to handle it with a working camera and any version of Photoshop. Unlike many other instructors who kill us every 5 minutes to buy their flashes or gear and support this or that company and agency, Ms Shaden has spent the whole time teaching and teaching and teaching and I am sorry I cannot be there to thank you in person, but you, Ms Shaden, are awesome and nobody can unawesome you :)


Brooke has a wonderful way of not only making it all look so easy, but actually be easy. In a plain and down to earth manner, she can make both beginner and advanced pro comfortable with the material covered in this class. From a simple starting point to a polished post-production finished work of art, she takes us on a relaxed and joyous journey. I am a former professional commercial photographer returning to the art after a 30 year absence. When I left, there was no such thing as digital photography. Now, to be able to embrace such concepts and techniques as taught by Brooke, without any difficulty to me, says that this course provides great value and time well spent. Well done Brooke! Well done Creative Live!

Student Work