In this session, we were thrilled to welcome our good friend Jesús Ramirez, the host of the Photoshop Training Channel (PTC). PTC is a Photoshop resource site for beginners, that has reached over 1million creatives, with the primary goal to provide quality tips, tricks, hacks, and other Photoshop resources that allows beginners to improve their skills. Not only that Jesús has been a speaker at many of the biggest industry-related conferences worldwide and he's a superstar in the world of Photoshop education!

We learned from the master himself how to realistically combine multiple stock images into one beautiful scene.

Pick a Background Image

Start with a landscape image. For this tutorial, Jesús uses an image of Dubai as shown below. The idea is to create a superhero theme, so pick another image that has a superhero storm front character with lightning and flying effects. Later on, the two images are going to be combined to make them look like one asset.

Remove Background from Main Image

Start by removing the background from the main character’s photo. There are two ways to do this; if you want to get the sharpest lines, use the curvature pencil and create a path to create a vector mask or use a layer mask. The advantage of using a layer mask is that it is much faster. The disadvantage is that it may not be as sharp. So go with the layer mask option. 

There are two versions of Photoshop from 2020. Adobe Sensei, which is Adobe's artificial intelligence machine learning technology, looks over the image and removes the background. For this, select background and unlock it. In the properties panel, click the action remove background button and the artificial intelligence will remove the background. This may not be perfect but with one click, it takes off the busy background from the image. 

You may notice a lot of imperfections when you zoom into the image. For example, the jagged edges close to the knee. To remove this, double click on the layer mask that brings up the select and mask workspace and set the view to black and white so that you can essentially see the layer mask, where white reveals and black conceals. Now, work on the edges and smoothen them.  

Shift the edge inward and add contrast to sharpen those edges. If you start seeing fringing and edges, go to filter, click on other and then go to minimum and increase the value there until you get rid of those edges. 

There are two algorithms for this; the Roundness Algorithm and the Squareness Algorithm. If you're masking out a manmade object, like a building, car, keyboard, or something with a lot of sharp edges and corners, select the Squareness Algorithm because it helps you preserve the corners. If you're working with an organic object such as animals or people, select the Roundness Algorithm. 

Resize the Background Image

Create a new document, go into the Art and Illustration option and select the Postcard Preset. Click on create, to work on a Portrait style. This will make it look like a movie poster. First, click and drag the background into the tab and then click release. Place the background where it looks nice and go into the Rectangular Marquee Tool, make a selection on top of that to add the tower and sky.

There are two ways you can do this. The old method is by holding shift, backspace and selecting content to fill that area in. The second way to do this is to go into edit and select Content Overfill, which brings up a new content with the filled dialog box. The advantage of using this is to preview the final result simultaneously. To remove the excess building structure sticking up in the sky, erase the building from the sampled areas. Photoshop will regenerate this image, and the little elements from the sky will be erased, leaving the sky sampled.

Pro tip: If you want to sample something in specific, then select the plus icon paint over that area and then Photoshop again. Analyze the image and fill it using those samples.

Combine both the Images

Go back and add the main image by dropping it on your background image. Press ‘Control 0’ on Windows or ‘Command 0’ on Mac to see the handles of the image and resize the image in proportion to the background image and scale as per how big you’d like her on the image. 

Pro tip: If you wish to make her stand on the ground then your perspective will change and she’ll come across as a giant. In this case, as shown below, make her fly by changing the perspective and place her floating in the sky. 

Zoom in and check on the edges. Go back into the select and mask area, smooth it and add more contrast to sharpen those edges. Shift the edge and press okay. You can even paint over those areas with white, by clicking and holding shift, then click again, and Photoshop would draw straight lines in between the first point and the second point that you clicked on. This helps in refining your mask. 

To see the original background, hold shift and click on the layer mask and see what areas you need to fix. For example, the shoulder (as shown in the image), has a dent. So, to fix that, select a round brush and set the hardness to 100% and increase the size to a little bit more and fix that area. 

Add Definition to Hair

Fill the background with Content Aware and this will give you two new layers. Select the brush tool and bring the hardness all the way down, set the size to 1 pixel, and paint in the hair on a new layer. Hold ‘Alt’ on Windows or ‘Option’ on Mac with a brush tool selected, to sample a color and paint in her hair. It is recommended to have a Wacom tablet or you could use a mouse too. 

Pro tip: When you zoom in, you get this grid (as shown in the picture). In order to remove these, go to view and then pixel grid and turn them off. In order to change the guide color, you can click and drag and place a guide. Also, in order to change a vertical guide into a horizontal, press ‘Alt’ on Windows and ‘Option’ on Mac to flip it. 

Color the hair by using the hair brushes. You can also create your own hair brushes by creating a new layer. Paint and check an outline of hair and create your own brushes and transform it. For this image, place the strands behind her hair by making it darker. This also helps make it look more realistic rather than just painting it by hand, especially when you zoom out, nobody can tell that it was just fake hair from a brush.

Extract any other picture from the library and crop out a section of hair. Go into the channels panel and look for the channel that has the most contrast between the foreground and background. Duplicate the channel and then go into image, then adjustment and then levels. Make the background white and the foreground, which has her hair as black as possible.

Go into edit, invert the selection and fill that black. Go into the composite and in a new layer behind, paint with that brush and hide the other brush layers, so that it looks more similar to hers. Color-match it, by selecting her actual hair color and locking the transparent pixels, to fill with the foreground by holding the backspace option on the Mac.

With the transparent pixels active, select different hair colors, and then paint with a different brush. You can play around and make the hair look natural.

Pro tip: You can create a library for your own brushes by clicking and dragging for later use. This way the Creative Cloud has all your assets in one place. 

Enhance the Image

Place the main superhero image into a group and remove the other layers. To color-match both the images, create a solid color fill layer, select a gray color and set that layer into luminosity. This will only show the luminous values. You can also use a hue and saturation adjustment layer to increase and notice that the color values are similar. You can even go into the black and white adjustment layer to check for the luminous values or you could desaturate the image and check for the same. 

Pro tip: HSB values means hue, saturation and brightness. A hue is what color we're talking about which is red, blue, green etc; saturation means intensity and brightness means lighter or darker; HSL means hue, saturation and luminosity.

With the black and white adjustment layer, create a levels adjustment layer and adjust the brightness values. The image should neither be too light nor too dark. The levels adjustment layer has five input points. By default, the darkest color should be black, but if you drag this to the right, the darkest color becomes gray. However, the opposite is true in the case of a white point. The brightest point in a layer should be white, but if you drag this to the left, the brightest point becomes a shade of gray. The points on top control the range of pixels that are either dark or bright, so if you drag this to the right, more pixels become black. This works like a silhouette. So when you drag it to the left, more pixels are white or the brightest color.

Pro tip: Use Eye Droppers to grab the levels graph from one image and then copy and paste it to apply it to another. However, first figure out what the darkest color is in the background, by holding ‘Alt’ on Windows or ‘Option’ on Mac, and drag till you see the image turn to white and wherever it turns black first, that's where the deepest shadows are. 

Use the Luminosity Blending Mode to adjust the curves or levels on the image. If you're adjusting the brightness on an image, you also inadvertently adjust saturation. So if you change it to luminosity, it becomes brighter with more saturation. 

Rearrange and Adjust Images

Re-arrange the images or move the main image on the background image to place it where it best fits. Select all the layers and put them on new layer by pressing ‘Control + Alt + Shift + E’ on Windows or ‘Command + Shift’ on Mac, to put everything in one single layer. Go into Filter, Render, Lens flare, and put a lens flare on the side to increase the brightness, by using the 105 millimeter prime option. Change the blending mode and adjust as per your choice. 

Go into the info panel and hover over the pixel until you see the X coordinate is 20, and the white is 926. Remember these coordinates and create a new layer in black. Hold ‘Alt’ on Windows or ‘Option’ on the Mac and click on it, it brings up a precise layers flare center. Put the same values with a 20 and 926 and press okay. This will make the Lens Flare move exactly to that pixel. 

Go into hue and saturation, clip it to the layer below, click on colorize, and then find the color that matches the scene. For this particular piece, pick a yellow-orange color. 

Add Elements

Pick the Moon Cycle Pack on Design Cuts. On the ABR file, double click and it installs inside Photoshop. Create a new layer on top of the background, add the moon effect from the brush and rotate and play with the size of the moon. 

Pro tip: This doesn't require any masking or layering. You can simply add the moon by using the brush and paint it on your piece. Play with the blending mood by adding overlay or soften it as per your liking. 

Add Photo Overlays

The next step is to add a lightning photo. To do this, enable the Reference point and drag it over your working composite to make it look like the light is coming out of her hands,

rotate the layer from one point, or scale it to that point while holding ‘Alt’, so that it matches her hand. Place a layer on top and change the blending mode to screen. Pick a yellow color to change the color of the lightning. 

To add a rim light, clip the layer to the layer below and paint on the edges to make it look like the light is coming off of the sun. Click on image, adjustment, hue and saturation, then click on colorize, pick yellow and adjust the capacity. Add a fog overlay and some clouds from the Design Cuts pack. Use a hue and saturation adjustment layer, clip it to the layer below and colorize it making it yellow. 

Select all the layers by clicking on the bottom one, hold shift, click on the top one, and select all the layers in between. Convert it all into a smart object. You can even merge them all together by pressing ‘Shift + Command + Option + Shift + E’.  

Add Finishing Touches

Convert this into a smart object, so that you can apply a Camera Raw Filter. Adjust the temperature, add contrast, adjust the highlights, bring more detail into the highlights, adjust shadows and texture, add clarity and vibrance. Add Gaussian Blur in some areas to make it look cinematic. 

Go into the calibration and adjust the blue primaries to get a different shade. You can also play with green and yellow primaries and adjust accordingly.

Press ‘Control + A’, to select all, ‘Control + Shift + C’, to copy all, and then open up the smart object. Paste that in and see the difference in blurriness in the background. Finally close it and save it to apply the new change to the image. Work with a smart object on that final step because in case you decide to change something, you can copy and paste it instead of doing the whole filter again. That’s it. Your superhero is ready to fly!