you can fly!? Painting with PD Particles...

Compositing with
Photoshop Elements 4

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disclaimer: Photoshop Elements and other trademarks of Adobe Corp. are only used for identification purposes. No endorsement of any sort is implied.

  In this tutorial we'll see some of the tools that come in handy in PS Elements to load an image and then add anotherPD Particles - available for free with TrialPay image on top, in a new layer, where the new image carries a transparency mask as a selection. Of course this can also be used in simpler cases. PS Elements is a very powerful imaging application with loads of capabilities. One approach shown here is to load each image as its own document, and then create a new layer in the document which contains the background image, and finally copy&paste the other image into that layer, using a selection mask to keep the background of the layer transparent so as to show the underlying image.

The Background Image

For the first image, which will serve as the background, you could of course use something coming from your digital camera, or an image from print which you scanned or something downloaded or found on your computer, perhaps from the 'My Pictures' folder.

In ourcase, we'll use an image which is not from a real photo. It was created in a free 3D program, Bryce 5.

Our Background image has a sky with clouds and a water surface as well as some terrain with Mediterraen vegetation.

If you'd like to use the same image you can download it here: [557 KB, zipped]

The image file it contains is a Tiff image of about 1.3 MB size. The image dimensions are 800 x 600 pixels
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The Second Image

A second mage is needed. Perhaps you have a digital camera and shot a cute picture of your dog or kitty. Or Johnny in his Halloween dress, and now you want to composite that image over the background.

In our example, we'll use a simple drawing created with PD Particles. It was painted with a few brush strokes, using a mode called 'Shrinking Lines+', where the '+' indicates 'plus Alpha', which means that the image also has a selection mask, in the alpha channel. The particle traces of the foliage are thus contained in a selection mask, which will make it easier for the background around it (or in-between some of its branches) to appear transparent.

You can use this image if you like: [950 KB]  -  again this contains a Tiff image
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A side-note: When saving to Tiff, PD Particles automatically detected the presence of an alpha channel (containing a selection) and saved it with the Tiff format.

If we had saved to the Default Targa format (*.tga files), we are given the option of what color depth to use. We would want to use the 32-bit depth, which saves the RGB colors and the alpha channel.

Loading the background into PSE4

Ok, here we go. Create a new document from the File menu of Photoshop Elements. Or start by opening the backgrund image.

In this case we'll create a document of the same dimensions as we know we'll find in the background image: 800 x 600 pixels.


By default, PSE shows all files of all support image formats. If you're browsing through a folder which is loaded with hundreds or thousands of pictures and image files of many different formats, such as PSD, Jpeg, Gif, BMP, Tiff and more... then you may want to trim your display options so that it only shows images of file TIFF.

That will make it hopefully faster for you to locate and select the desired image.

Open another file, i.e. the second image. PSE will open it as a separate document.

You'll notice in the preview already that PSE thinks there's a selection mask in the alpha channel and that it chould be used for transparency. Thus, even though the background (of our foliage image when we painted it in PD Particles) was black, the preview shows it as white, which is the browser's background color.
Creating a Selection from the Alpha Channel

Now we have both images loaded, in two separate documents: the background image, and the second image, of the bushes.

With the bush selected as the current image (which is the case automatically if we just opened that second image file), go to the Select menu and indicate that you want to load the selection:

menu:  Select > Load Selection...

PS Elements knows knows that there was something found in the alpha channel of the image file. Now we're telling it that we want to use it as a selection.
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In some other cases, a selection may be built or reconstrcted from a variety of sources. My guess is that for example a PSD file or a multi-page tiff file might contain more than one alpha channel mask. It would then make sense to have to choose which source we want to use for that selection to be created.

In our example, there's just one to choose from: the one and only alpha channel that was found, and which is named Alpha 1.

Just click OK.

There, now we see the traditional 'marching ants' highlight, indicating that there is a selection in effect, al around the edges of the bush, based on the alpha channel's mask.

The inside of the bush is fully selected (opaque), the outside is deselected, i.e. transparent, the pixes of edges themselves go through a smooth transition from selected to non-selected.
Copy'ing the Image through the selection Mask

With this selection in effect, we can easily copy the image. We do this so that we may then switch to the other image (the one with the background photo or rendering) and paste this imaged into a new layer there.

Use the Edit>Copy command, or Control-C as a keyboard hortcut.

We can now dismiss the document. You can either minimize it, or tile the two or more document windows, or close this one.

I like to keep it handy, in memory, for a while longer, just in case I need to get ack to it quickly. So I just minimize the image document, I don't close/delete it quite yet.
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Creating a New Layer

Switch to the other document, which contains the background image.

We're going to want to place the bush image into a new layer.

Select the menu:

Layer > New > Layer...

The keyboard shortcut  Shift+Control+N  comes in very handy, learn to use it. I like to memorize it as Contrl+Shift+N, since on my keyboard the Ctrl key is further down in the lower-left, and that's where my pinky starts, then the ring finger lands onthe Shift key.

One more click and we're done with creating the layer. Click OK....

The new layer has been created:

It is of course empty. It is now ready to receive our second image, which is still in the clipboard.
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Image Insertion into the Layer

Simply go to the Edit>Paste menu, or use Control-V.

That will paste the image into the current layer.

And here it is.

And sure enough, only the opaque parts of the foliage pictre had  been copied to the clipboard and now pasted into this new layer. That's because there was a selection mask, which had all opaque pixels enabled (selected) and the background around it disabled (non-selected). The Copy to clipboard took that into consideration.

The net result is that we now have both images in a single multi-layered document.

Image Transformation

It is now time to make adjustments to the new layer's image. We may want to resize it, reposition it, rotate it etc... the free transformation tool comes in very handy at this point.

Select the menu:

Image > Transform > Free Transform

or use the keyboard shortcut:  Ctrl+T

You can use the control points on the handles like those in the diagonal corners, to resize.
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The layer panel should show what's happening too. In our example here we've oved the image near the lower-left and made it a little bit smaller too.

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Perhaps we'd now like to have a different level of color or contrast on the background image. Select the background layer and apply filters or whatever you're typically doing at that time.

Another effect which I like is to add a Sun there, a bright light with Lens Fares...

menu:  Filter > Render > Lens Flare...

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You can set the position, the Brightness and lens type.

Other effects like different coloring of the bright bloom could be added by way of layers that apply an effect such as change in color.

I particularly liked the effect of applying a gradient, like this greyscale for a black and white look:

One pitfall to avoid and realize though is that if you apply the lens flare on the background image, the bright bloom and lens reflections will appear hidden and masked by the shrubbery from the layer in front of it, Layer 1.

This is not very realistic looking. Lens reflections happen in the lens, and appear in front of everything. You will want to use another layer in the front to do this correctly.

Or, we may be ready to flatten the whole thing and apply a final touch to the image by doing the lends flare thing after that.

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Here's another effect I really liked: applying the inverted grescale gradient, it looks more like a night scene in plain winter with snow on the branches.

When you save your flattened image, remember what you might want to do. If it's just so you can reload it into PSE later, you might want to save it as the default, Photoshop (PSD) format. Especially if you still have layers in there.

If you plan on taking the flattened image into another program, such as the free image viewer Irfanview or a paint and animation program such as PD Pro, you might want to use other formats, like Targa. Jpeg or Png would of course be used if you plan to use this image in a website.
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If you save to Targa, you'll be interested in keeping the truecolor nature of your image, so save to 24-bit format. If you have a selection mask you want saved in the alpha channel, consider using the 32-bts per pixel depth.

That's it. You have seen an example for compositing an image over another. This example had a selection mask around the image of the bushes.  If your example is different, perhaps as simply as just a solid rectangle photo, just use the marquee or other tools to select the desired areas of the image. Then Control-C to copy the desired portions of the document and Control-V to a new layer of the other document.

This may not be the only way to achieve this, by-the-way. But it's one that worked for me, so I wanted to share this information. I hope it helps.

Below is an animation create from the last image, using PD Pro (conversion from Avi to Flash in another tool) 

 To view a larger version:  Click here

 Click here for AVI/xvid version: MyAVIxvid.avi (1 MB)

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