Blend Mode Compositing with Photoshop

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: June 15, 2015

Category: General

Hi Folks

To kick the week off I thought I’d post an extract from one of the chapters of my book, The Photoshop Workbook: Professional Retouching and Compositing Tips, Tricks and Techniques that takes you through a tutorial from start to finish for ‘Blend Mode Compositing’


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Compositing is becoming increasingly popular among photographers and retouchers as a way of creating images that range from the real to the surreal.

I became interested in creating composite images initially because of poor weather. Many times I would have a photo shoot organised, but on the day it was supposed to happen all plans would need to be changed because of rain. So I began photographing models in the nice warm studio and then using Photoshop to add them into new locations.

Here’s a technique that can give you instant composite images. You just photograph your model against a grey background and Photoshop helps with the rest, leaving you to concentrate on the creative side of retouching: lighting effects, colour, special effects, and so on.


Studio Lighting
First of all let’s look at the lighting used when photographing the model.


For this picture the idea was to create the look that our model had been captured and was being kept under lock and key in a dungeon type of environment.

To make it appear as though two fire torches were on the walls either side of the model, I used two spotlights fitted with a sheet of orange gel on each. To the front there was a 1 meter (100cm) square soft box with a grid fitted but with the outer diffusion panel removed; this gave a really interesting shadow effect on the floor area almost looking like bars in the dungeon door, as you can see in the out of camera shot below:


Note: Notice how in the out of camera shot that because of the lighting, the gray paper background isn’t evenly lit. Having dark and light areas and interesting shadows such as this, helps to produce interesting pictures.

The Background
This blend mode compositing technique is used when adding in solid backgrounds like walls and doors, as opposed to something like an outdoor scene.

Now, one of the key elements to a successful composite is perspective where the angle that the background was photographed matches the angle that the model was photographed. To get this right, is actually easier than you might at first think and just requires you to be consistent.

Generally when I shoot a full length photograph of a model in the studio I am always in the same position; down on one knee and using my go-to lens which is a 70-200mm. Because I know this is the position I take up when photographing a full length shot, when I’m out and about and see what I think would make a great background I adopt the same position down on one knee and use the same lens with roughly the same focal length.


Doing this means that both the perspective of the background and model match closely and will blend seamlessly when combined in the composite.

Here’s the photograph of the background with the same perspective as the model:


The Compositing

  1. In Photoshop go to File > Open and open a file that contains a model photographed on gray seamless paper. Then go to File > Place Embedded (File > Place in earlier versions of Photoshop), and navigate to the file that you want to use as the new background and click OK
  2. This places the file we wish to use as the background at the top of the layer stack and so above the studio photograph of the model. Shift+Option/Alt-click any outer transform handle and drag outward until the picture fills the layer. Press Return/Enter.
  3. Rename this layer Scene, and then to create the composite change its blend mode from Normal to Overlay (as shown below)


  1. The new background scene has been added in but when you look closer, you may notice that some darker parts of the background are showing through the lighter areas of the layer containing the model:


  1. This is easily fixed with a layer mask. Whilst the scene layer is active click on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel. Then with a normal medium soft-edged brush and a black foreground color, paint over areas of the image where the background is showing through:


Don’t use a brush that is totally soft (0% hardness), because when you get near the edges your brush strokes will spill over and remove more than you want to.

The fantastic thing about creating composites with this technique, is how every single fine hair is included simply by changing the blend mode. You can clearly see this in image below:


Note: You can use other blend modes too when creating composite images in this way but mainly Soft Light and Overlay are used. There is a slightly different result when using Soft Light blend mode as the final look is a lot softer and lower in contrast in comparison to when the Overlay blend mode is used. 

Once you have composited your model and background together, then it’s time to start working on the fun stuff enhancing details, adding in lighting effects and so on, and it’s these techniques we’ll be covering as we work through the chapters:


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CLICK HERE to check out The Photoshop Workbook: Professional Retouching and Compositing Tips, Tricks and Techniques over on Amazon



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  1. Mark Redshaw

    Well I’ve nearly finished watching all your video tutorials so I’ve just ordered the book… can’t wait to read it!

  2. Peter Bennett

    Glyn, which shade of grey seamless do you find works best for this type of thing?

    • Generic Hipster

      Medium grey works best for compositing.



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