How to create photoshop composites

-Step by step for food photographers-

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I was so frustrated looking at the gorgeous images of people gathering around an abundantly laid out table, where you would see hands passing around bowls, attacking plates and pouring coffee, wondering how other photographers always seemed to have so many people around to participate in their photo sessions. For me it was usually just me.

When I found out how to be able to combine photos in photoshop it was a true revelation. One I want to share with you. After reading this post and/ or watching the video tutorial, you’ll be able to start to combine photos in photoshop yourself.

The setup

Let’s first cover what’s important to be able to make photoshop composites. A tripod is absolutely essential, as you want to overlay photos without any changes in size due to getting closer or further away with your camera or in what’s in the frame. You’ll want to take identical images in which only a few key elements change. And while we’re at it - be careful not to unintentionally move things around (neither the tripod nor your scene).

Natural light might be changing over the time of the photo session, but if the effect is not really pronounced, it should be okay. If you want a perfect match, use artificial lighting (read my blog post and get a free guide about creating natural looking light with a speedlite here). And here is how I do photoshop composites, step by step.

My workflow

I start by importing the images to lightroom. I choose the images I want to combine, edit them (edit one, and apply the same edits to all of them) and then open them in photoshop by right-clicking on them and selecting “edit in photoshop”. I choose one as the base (the one I like most) and then drag the next photo over the first.

I then:

  • Create a layer mask
  • Invert the layer mask (command + I (mac) or control + I (pc))
  • Select the brush tool and adjust its size. The opacity should be set to 100%.
  • Now, to make parts from the second image visible, the foreground color has to be set to white. To get parts of the other image back, choose black.
  • Brush parts of the second photo in.
  • You’re basically done!
  • Repeat with any other photo you want to add to the composite.
  • If I want to further retouch the combined photo, I merge the layers in most cases, it just makes it easier to know on which layer you’re working (the only one! yay!).

Here you can see all 5 images together. In the layer panel you can see the masks, and in white the parts that have been brushed in from each image. If you brushed too much in from one image, you can change the brush color to black and recover parts from the other image. When I'm finished with the composite, but want to retouch something else, I usually select all layers in the layer panels, do a right click and select "merge layers".

Save or export

If you followed my instructions and did right click and edit from lightroom, you can just press command + s (or control + s for pc) and the image will appear in lightroom. You can then export it from there like any other image. Alternatively you can export it directly from photoshop and save it in the format you wish to your desired location.

Tips & Tricks

I didn't do it in this example, but it's a good idea to play with jewelry and different sleeves in order to make the hands look different from each other.

Final Remarks

Here I've shown you how to combine multiple pictures where hands are reaching into the frame to create the illusion of a gathering around a table. The exact same steps apply when you want to replace a slightly wilted salad with the fresh one from when you started shooting or in order to replace an underexposed area from one picture with the well exposed area from another one.

Using Format