Manipulation Basics: Illumination and Coloration

When comes to photo manipulation, the basics and most important parts are the illumination and coloration, these are the main things that if you know how to work around it pretty much will assure you of a good result at the end, so open up the photoshop and get ready to learn some tricks.

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To create a good photo manipulation you have to make sure all the photos that you put together end up looking like one real photo, that’s the beauty of a good photo manipulation, that question that pops on your head; Is that real or no it can’t be real it has to be photoshoped. That’s when you know a good job is done and that’s what we are looking for. Some of the most important things are to keep the same illumination and coloration while mixing up multiple photos, and so I will show a sample of how to do it. Using two photos only to keep it simple, I will show you the techniques I used to blend in this composition. To keep it simple I choose a full body portrait photo and found a photo of a background scenario where I would like to place him.

Katanaz Stock

Shutter Stock

First thing and very important is to select the model and place him into the background photo, and try to size it well according to the object sizes you see at the background photo (I will be writing about sizing and perspective very soon). I used the Magnetic Lasso Tool (L) always using a layer mask so I can fix the little details on the selection, it’s really good if you know how to use the pen tool to make precise selections but if not you can get around using other tools like I do.

As you see on the image I placed the model on the background photo and now I am going to work on the illumination and coloration to make this photo look like a really good composition. To start on that I need to figure it out where the light is coming from in both photos, in this case it’s not that bad of a confusion of light because I had that in mind while looking for stock photos, and this is what you should do as well. Once you find or have a main photo that you want to work on you start looking for photos that match the same illumination and somewhere at least close to the same coloration as well.

As you see the direction of the light on the model is not a problem to the background because the place where he is has no light, but as you see on the far back background the light looks to be coming from about the same way. But if the model is there and the light is hitting his face it must also hit the background so we are going to start working on that, but to make the colors easier to match since it’s only a two photo manipulation I will desaturate the background (Image>Adjustment>Desaturate) and reduce the saturation (Image>Adjustment>Vibrance | Saturation: - 44) of the model so later I can add on some colors to it.

Ok, now I am going to work on applying that same light into the background, to do that I need to get the background a little darker so I duplicate the layer and on the background copy I made it darker using curves (Image>Adjustment>Curves | Output:100 Input:150)

Now is the tricky part that will make the light effect, on the background copy create a layer mask and using Gradient Toll (G) | Radial Gradient make a gradient circle on the left side of the background so it looks like the sun is hitting there since the layer under is a lighter than the one on top.

You can notice the difference because you creating the image but to make it more noticeable for other eyes we need to make the background layer even lighter that way it will give a better contrast on the light spot I just created. This time I use (Image>Adjustment>Brightness/Contrast | Brightness: 100)

Now as you can see we solved the problem of the light direction on both photos but now we have to add the shadow of the model. The shadow is very important, try to follow the same path of where the light is coming from to apply the shadow. Holding ctrl click on the layer mask of the model and on a new layer paint it black, use distort and perspective (Edit>Transform>…) to make the shadow following the light direction and use a little bit of blur give a good look to it (Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur). Place the layer under the model layer and you should have something like this.

Now just set the layer mode to Soft Light and the Fill to 54%.

Create a new layer (still under the model layer) and with the Gradient Toll (G) | Radial Gradient make a gradient circle where the feet of the model touch the ground to make a little shadow on that spot as well.

Now that I took care of the shadow I need to adjust the light on the model, so I will give more light on the top and less on the bottom. This is what I am going to do, duplicate the model layer and on the top one I will make it brighter by applying (Image>Adjustment>Brightness/Contrast | Brightness: 65) I got a very lighter model now but I only want it to be lighter on the area that the light is hitting, so I go on the layer mask and with the Gradient Tool | Linear Gradient I will use the gradient to cover the body leaving only the part where the light actually hits as you see here.

Now to make the bottom darker we could also apply the same technique duplicating the layer, making it darker and using linear gradient to leave only the bottom part showing. But since this time I am going to do it an easier way, holding ctrl I click on the layer mask of the model layer that will give me the selection of the model, now from bottom up using Gradient Tool | Linear Gradient and the color black I am able to make the bottom really black, for a better look I set the Fill of the layer to 80% and the result is right on.

Looks like we got a great composition so far, all the lightning is matching and it really looks like one only photo. The final touch on the illumination is done by creating one layer on top of everything and with the Gradient Tool | Radial Gradient make a big circle around the main area using black and set the layer mode to Soft Light and the Opacity to 80%, so it will bring all the attention and focus to the main part of your image which is the model.

All the lightning is done and now it’s time to give it some color, this part will be really based on what you really like, it’s my favorite part to work on and I can play around for hours until I get a result that really makes me happy. On this case I am going to keep it simple and nice. First thing I like to do when working on an image that is desaturated is to create a new layer on top of all, and paint it light brown (#c7b299) set the layer mode to Multiply with the Opacity to 80%.

Now to give a final touch with the color I create another layer on top of that and add some color, I used a light purple and set the layer to Soft Light and the Opacity to 40% but you can pretty much mix a bunch of colors use some gradient tool and get the result you really want.

These are some basic and pretty effective techniques I always use and you can adjust to your style and the way you like to get things going, I hope you guys enjoyed, if you have any questions just leave a comment.

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Written by

Paulo Canabarro

I'm a passionate designer at where I focus on helping small business grow online. I'm also an enthusiastic blogger here at abduzeedo.  Say hello on twitter @paul0v2.

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