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Photoshop CC Essentials: Superimposing a Person or Object with Selections & Layers

This tutorial assumes you have access to Photoshop CC, have it already installed and you know the basics of computers. This method may work on previous versions of Photoshop as well.

Instructions

  1. Open Photoshop CC from your operating system (Windows 7 shown in image)
  2. Open the image with the person or object you want to superimpose.

Tip: Save your project as a PSD file after you start and press ctrl + s to save any changes you make as you work. Alternatively you can access the save option from the top menu and clicking File > Save.

  1. Select the Magnetic Lasso Tool.
  2. Click an edge of the person or object you want to superimpose onto a new background.

  1. Carefully move the mouse along the edge of the person or object until you once again reach the starting point of your edge clicking on that starting point once to complete the selection.

Tip: If you are having trouble with basic accuracy, you can adjust the pixel width and frequency of the points by changing the values at the top of the window. You can always press ctrl + z to undo or redo an action one step. If you want to undo more steps use alt + ctrl + z as many steps as you want to undo. If you want to redo more steps use shift + ctrl + z. The history panel can also be used for undoing and redoing steps. However your selection does not need to be perfect as it will be remedied in the following steps.

  1. Check to see if there are any imperfections in your selection where a portion of your selection is outside or within the edge.

Tip: Use the zoom tool to more easily catch imperfections in your selection as well as to more easily perform your lasso modifications in steps 7-11.

  1. If your selection never goes beyond the edge skip to step 10.
  2. Select the lasso tool (or polygonal lasso tool for straight edges).

  1. Hold alt key while drawing a lasso (you know this has worked correctly is you see a minus sign next to the lasso), in order to precisely surround the unnecessary portions of the selection.
  2. If your selection is never inside of your edge skip to step 12.
  3. While holding the shift key (you know this has worked correctly is you see a plus sign next to the lasso), draw a precise lasso to cover the portion of the person or object missed by the magnetic lasso tool.

Tip: Before the next step you can right-click the selection and choose “Refine Edge…” to bring up a window of options to further perfect your selection. Refine Edge… is also selectable as a button on the top of the window. Please note that the “Refine Edge…” option is only available when a selection tool such as the lasso tool is in use.

  1. Once you have completed and repeated as necessary steps 8-11 until you have fixed the inside and outside portions of your selection, press ctrl + c on your keyboard to copy the image (ensure that the layer is selected in the layers panel). Alternatively you can use the top menu and click Edit > Copy to do the same thing.
  2. Open up the image you intend to use as a background.
  3. Press ctrl + v to paste your object on a layer above the background.
  4. If your image pasted into your desired position, skip to step 18.
  5. Select the move tool or press v on your keyboard.
  6. While the object or person’s layer is still selected adjust the position of the person or object in the foreground by clicking and dragging or by using the directional keys on your keyboard (you can also adjust the size of the layer with the free transform tool; ctrl + t or Edit > Free Transform from the top menu, holding shift while resizing to keep proper dimensions ratio).

Tip: Hold shift while pressing the directional keys on your keyboard to adjust the position of the image more quickly.

  1. Determine if the overall brightness, contrast or colour of your superimposed person or object matches or blends in with the background. If it does, skip to step 22.
  2. Depending on if you need to adjust the brightness, contrast or colour of the superimposed image, from the top menu clicking Image > Adjustments and select the appropriate tool.
  3. Select the Brightness/Contrast, Curves, Exposure or Levels tools for adjusting the brightness and contrast or use the Vibrance, Hue/Saturation, Channel Mixer, Black & White, Color Balance, or Photo Filter tools to adjust the colour.

Tip: For brightness and contrast I recommend the Levels or Curves tools for the best effect. Though specific coverage of each tool is beyond the scope of this tutorial those two tools tend to have the best effect with the least effort. For colour I recommend the Hue/Saturation and Color Balance tools for the same reason. The other available tools should also be used as well or alternatively if you’ve already developed a good understanding of what you’re doing.

The unmentioned Shadow/Highlight tool can also be used for adjusting brightness/contrast, in the case when the ratio between the lighter and darker parts of your image is out of balance. There are of course more relevant tools and techniques available so feel free to play with what is available using the undo/redo functions or by using File > Save As… option in the top menu, renaming the project so that you can work on a copy for testing purposes without affecting the original image.

  1. With the “Preview” checkbox selected change the available options’ values to adjust the image to your liking. These values can be adjusted by clicking and dragging the available sliders or by entering new numerical values in the appropriate field for each option.

Tip: You can press shift + ctrl + f to bring up the “Fade…” function in order to further tweak or modify your adjustments. Alternatively you can select Edit > Fade… from the top menu. Please note that “Fade…” is only available immediately after applying an adjustment or effect, any steps taken after doing so disables the “Fade…” function. Here there is a drop-down menu to change how the adjustment is applied on the image. A similar drop-down is also available at the top of the Layers panel used to adjust how one layer will blend above the other. The default setting is “normal” and has no blending.

  1. If you are happy with your overall image (beyond just the blending of the colour between images) skip to step 27.
  2. From the top menu, select Layer > New Adjustment Layer and select one of the options available for adjusting the overall image non-destructively. Alternatively you can create a new adjustment layer from the Layer panel by clicking on the black & white circle icon and selecting from the list. You will notice these functions mirror many of those described in step 20.
  1. Ensure that your adjustment layer is the top layer in your Layer panel. If it isn’t, click and drag the layer above all the layers within the layer panel area to move it to the top layer.  
  2. With the adjustment layer selected, open the Properties panel and adjust the sliders or values until you have reached your desired look.
  3. If one adjustment layer is not enough, repeat steps 23-25 for new adjustment layers to adjust the image further. Because they are non-destructive, undoes and redoes are unneeded.

Tip: From within the Layer panel you can change the values of the Opacity or Fill options for an adjustment layer while the layer is still selected. There are more ways to adjust the image using more techniques, by using the “Layer Styles” set of non-destructible effects or via the Filter menu but that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.

  1. Once you have completely adjusted the overall project to your liking, save before quitting the program. If you want your image to be saved in an image format rather than the Photoshop project format of PSD move onto the next step.
  2. Click the File > Save As… or the File > Save For Web… option from the top menu where you will be able to select the image format and quality before saving to your desired folder. Alternatively you can use shift + ctrl + s to Save As… or alt + shift + ctrl + s to Save For Web…

Tip: Whenever you click an option from the top menu, it lists the shortcut keys if available for a function in order to provide a reference.

Closing Notes

Though all aspects of superimposing and compositing layers could not be covered, the above tutorial should provide you with a good foundation for improving your abilities and knowledge of this process. Because your eye is necessary for judging how well layers blend with each other and the overall look of the image, practice is required to consistently achieve desirable results so don’t worry if your first few tries don’t produce the best images. There are also other methods for achieving the same result completely non-destructively using Masks.
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