PTC Edits Your Photos! #1 – Iron-Man Composite


In this first episode of PTC Edits your photos we will look at an Iron-man composite.

Tutorial Image

301-iron-tutorial-starter.zip (652 downloads)

Naming Your Layers

It’s a great idea to start your composite by naming all the layers correctly, so it’s easier to organize them. If you select the Move tool and right-click on the canvas, you’ll see the list of all the layers below where you click on. 

If you click on one of the layers, it immediately selects it on the Layers panel. By naming the layers accordingly, it’s easier to switch between layers with just one click.

Fixing Lens Perspective Issues with Camera Raw

Start by converting the Background layer into a Smart Object so you can apply filters, distortions, and adjustments non-destructively. 

Choose Filter > Camera Raw Filter. 

Click on the Geometry tab, and on the Upright options, choose Auto to apply automated balanced perspective corrections. 

You can also do it manually by choosing the Upright option to Guided where you draw two or more guides to customize the perspective corrections. Just click-and-drag to set up the horizontal and vertical guides to automatically straighten the image. 

Then, press OK to apply the changes.

Perspective in Compositing

Working with these images where the perspectives aren’t matching, you can only do so much. In this case, scaling the background into a bigger size helps to match the Iron Man perspective.

Blurring the Background 

Choose Filter >Blur Gallery > Tilt-Shift.

A quick guide to remember when working with Tilt-Shift: 

  • Anything between the solid lines remains sharp. 
  • Anything in between the solid line and the dashed line comes to a gradual blur.
  • Anything beyond the dash lined becomes blurry. 

Click-and-drag the Tilt-Shift lower so that everything behind the Iron Man is blurry. 

On the Blur Tools panel, use the Blur and Distortion sliders to adjust the blur you want to achieve. 

Fixing Issues with the Mask

There are a few issues with this Iron Man image that becomes evident when you apply a Stroke Layer Style on it–it reveals the mask is imperfect–leaving holes in it.

With the Layer Mask selected, use the Brush tool to fix the masking. 

PRO TIP: “White reveals, Black conceals,” is a mnemonic for the rules of masking. Set the Foreground color to white(#ffffff) to reveal from the mask, and set the Foreground color to black(#000000) to hide it in the mask. 

If you hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you click on the Layer Mask, you will notice how the edges of Iron Man’s masking looks jagged. 

To fix that, click on the Select and Mask button. 

Use the sliders found in the Global Refinements to smoothen, feather, and add contrast to the edges of the mask. 

Then, press OK to apply the changes.

Hide the Layer Mask by pressing Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you click on the Layer Mask thumbnail

To remove the retained fringing or the white halo of the mask, choose Filter > Other > Minimum to contract it based on the Radius value you input. 

Then, press OK to apply the changes. 

For sharper areas, you can use the Polygonal Lasso tool to create a selection and fill it with black(#000000) to hide the areas in the mask, and you can take your time to fine-tune the edges.

Color Correcting with the Selective Color Adjustment Layer

Start by creating a Black & White adjustment layer as the topmost layer to start fixing the luminosity.

Create a Selective Color adjustment layer, and set the Color to Whites. Adjust the Black slider to make it darker. 

Next, set the Color to Neutrals and adjust the Black slider to make it darker. 

Set the Color to Black, and adjust the Black slider to darken it more. 

Upon disabling the Black & White adjustment layer, you’ll see how the contrast of the subject layer better matches the background.

Now you can go back to the Selective Color and start adjusting the sliders in the Neutrals and Reds by increasing the Cyan to make it more convincing that Iron Man is part of the night scene.

Dodging and Burning

Create a New Layer and clip it to the layer below by pressing Ctrl Alt G (Windows) or Command Option G (macOS).

Then, hold Shift Backspace (Windows) or Shift Delete (macOS) to bring out the Fill window.

Set the Contents to 50% Gray and click OK

Change the Blending Mode of the layer to Overlay.

On the Toolbar, select the Burn tool and use it to paint around the edges of the subject to make it darker. This step helps you to change up the lighting of the scene, especially to your subject.

On the contrary, use the Dodge tool to make certain areas brighter. 

Fixing the Rim Light

Recreate a rim light effect by double-clicking on the side of the subject layer to bring out the Layer Style window. 

Check the box for Stroke. On the Stroke menu, set the Color to a color white (#ffffff).

Increase the Size slider to expand the stroke. 

Right-click on the FX icon and select Create Layer

Press the OK button when the dialog window pops up.

With a new layer based off the stroke, choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Use the Radius slider to increase the size of the blur. Then, press OK to exit the window.

Hold Ctrl (Windows) or Command (macOS) as you select the Layer Mask thumbnail to load it as a selection. 

Then, click on the New Layer Mask icon to create another layer mask out of the selection with the current layer. Right-click on the layer and select Apply Layer Mask.

Create a Solid Color fill layer and set the color to black (#000000). By doing so it will be easier for you to see the adjustments once we apply color to the stroke.

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer and place it above the stroke layer. 

Press Ctrl Alt G (Windows) or Command Option G (macOS) to clip it to the layer below.

Select the Tone to Midtones and adjust the sliders to achieve a rim light color that matches the color of the environment.

Set the Blending Mode of the black Color Fill layer to Screen.  

Then, put the Color Balance, Color Fill, and stroke layer into a new Group to organize them. Just select all the three layers and press Ctrl G (Windows) or Command G (macOS) to place them in the Group and rename it to “Rim Light.”

Select the Stroke layer, hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you click on the New Layer Mask icon to turn it into a black layer mask. This will hide everything at the moment. 

To reveal the rim light effect on selected areas, select the Brush tool and set the Foreground color to white (#ffffff), and start painting on areas where you want the rim light effect to show.

Camera Raw Global Adjustments

Select the Rim Light group and press Ctrl Alt Shift E (Windows) or Command Option Shift E (macOS) to merge them all in a single layer. Then, right-click > Convert to Smart Object.

Choose Filter > Camera Raw Filter.

You can start adjusting the colors and details of the image to enhance the composite further.

Replace the Sky

Place an image of the sky in the working document and scale it accordingly.

Place the sky layer below the background layer and rename it to “Sky.”

Double-click on the side of the background layer to bring out the Layer Style window. 

Under Blend If, set it to the Blue channel and adjust the This Layer slider to remove the blues in the layer, which means removing the sky and revealing the layer underneath.

Hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you click on the white point to split it in half. Adjust the two accordingly so you can create a smoother transition between visible and invisible pixels.

To get a Layer Mask out of Blend If, duplicate the layer and disable the original layer. Convert the duplicate layer into a Smart Object, and it will gain transparency.

With the transparency, hold Ctrl (Windows) or Command (macOS) as you click on the layer thumbnail to load the visible pixels as a selection. Then, you can proceed to delete the layer.

With the loaded selection, click on the New Layer Mask icon to create a layer mask on the original background layer. 

Right-click on the layer and select Clear Layer Style on the menu list.

To ensure that you have a good mask, press the backslash key to see the red overlay. Note: Anything in red means it is unselected. 

Use the Brush tool and set the Foreground color to white (#ffffff). Use it to paint over areas to deselect them from the mask.

PRO TIP: Press and hold the Spacebar to pan around the image as you fine-tune the mask, so you don’t have to switch in between tools!

Create a new Hue & Saturation adjustment layer and use the sliders to match the previous sky’s colors so it looks as realistic as possible. 

Once you’re done with the adjustments, press Ctrl S (Windows) or Command S (macOS) to save the changes.

Replace Merged Adjustments

Rename the layer to “Final.”

Press Ctrl A (Windows) or Command A (macOS) to select the whole canvas.

Choose Edit > Copy Merged.

Double-click on the Smart Object to open it in a new tab. Then, press Ctrl V (Windows) Command V (macOS).

Press Ctrl E (Windows) or Command E (macOS) to merge them in a single layer. 

Then, press Ctrl S (Windows) or Command S (macOS) to save the changes applied onto the Smart Object.

Final Image

Drag The Slider To See Before & After

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