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Create a Film-Poster Style Composite in Photoshop CS5
Richard Lainhart on Wed, November 30th 0 comments
There are 101 ways to work with multiple images to build a collage in Photoshop. Richard Lainhart shows how to use layer masks and gradients to blend two unlikely images into one composition.

In this article, I'm going to show one of many possible techniques for blending photos together to create a collage. We're going to be working with two images here, but of course you can easily extend these techniques to as many layers of images as you like. Let's get started. 

Step 1 - Assemble Your Images

I'm going to be working with two images here, as I mentioned:

A stock photo of a lonely Western road...

stock photo

...and a snapshot of my cat Daphne, looking winsome:


What I want to do is composite Daphne over the Western background, somewhat in the vein of a film poster, and blend the two together smoothly to make a seamless collage.

Step 2 - Mask the Foreground Subject

Depending on your source image, it may not be necessary to isolate your foreground subject from its background. But in my case it is, because I want to see just Daphne's head and chest, not the stuff behind her.

So, I'm going to use the Magnetic Lasso tool and draw a loose outline around her. As I do, the Magnetic Lasso selection will snap to her edges.

Using the Magnetic Lasso tool

We don't have to worry about being too precise, as we're going to feather this selection heavily—which we'll do next.

Step 3 - Feather the Foreground Mask

With the selection still active, click the 'Refine Edge' button in the Options bar to open the Refine Edge dialog. In that dialog, set the Feather high (how high will depend on the resolution of your image) so that you create a very soft blurred edge for the selection.


Before moving on, save your selection by choosing Select > Save Selection... and saving the selection into a new channel - that way, you can recall it and refine it further if necessary at any time.

Step 4 - Copy the Foreground Image into the Background

Next, with the foreground image still selected, copy it, and then bring the background image forward and paste the masked image into it.

put it in the background

As you can see, Daphne's already somewhat blended into the background with an attractive halo because of her highly feathered edge. But she's obviously a cropped photo, and I'd like to blend her more smoothly into the landscape anyway. We'll do that next.

Step 5 - Create a Foreground Layer Mask

First, use the Move tool to reposition your foreground image to where you want it (I've moved her higher and more centered).

reposition the cat

Next select the foreground layer in the Layers palette and click the 'Add Layer Mask' button.

Add layer mask

You'll see a Layer Mask (the white rectangle) added next to the layer's image in the palette.

The layer mask

Next, click on the Layer Mask thumbnail to make sure it's selected and grab the Gradient tool from the Tool palette. Make sure you have a plain black-to-white linear gradient selected in the Options bar, then drag with the gradient in your foreground image from bottom to top. You may have to try this several times to get the right blend; the positions where you start and end will affect the final composite significantly. Here's what I ended up with:

the final composite

As you can see, a gradient in the Layer Mask for a layer will blend that layer into the background, based on the grayscale values in the gradient. The darker the gradient, the more transparent the image.

As I mentioned, there are many ways to collage images seamlessly in Photoshop. As always, I encourage you to experiment with your own versions of this technique as well as exploring others. 

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