Color and Light Matching for Composites

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Photo composites are a great way to express your creativity and vision as an artist. You can craft images that  otherwise cannot be accomplished. Many people shoot landscapes or architecture, which make fantastic backgrounds of a scene. But not everyone has access to models and fine garb. Therefore, using free stock images of models is a viable alternative. A good resource is e.g. Whenever using free stock images, you should mention the source and carefully read the terms of use. Since the model has typically been shot in a different  environment than you used to photograph your background, one of the occurring problems is to match the color and light, which is essential to make the final composite believable. For more on my photo composites, also read my recent article that I wrote for Alien Skin Software:  Exposure for Photo Composites

Exposure for Photo Composites with Frank Bramkamp – Alien Skin Software

Examples of my Photo Composites


In the following, we will place a model into a landscape scenery. The model is supposed to walk across the field.
The landscape is a typical view of German country side, where I live.  For the model, we use this free stock image.

The final photo composite


Step 1

The first step is to cut out the model from the original photo and to place her into the new background.
Obviously, the dress is far to bright and the colors do not match to the new scene. In the first step we considerably darken the model using curves. This way we can darken the highlights more than the shadows. Best is to use a Curves  adjustment layer, so you can still modify it afterwards. Since we make several changes, the option to finetune the Curves  in a non-destructive manner is very useful.

MANUAL_step_1Original photo of the model, placed into the new background
MANUAL_step_2Darken the subject using curves

Step 2

For the landscape, I applied a texture to give a painterly feeling. In detail it is the texture Rice Paper  from OnOneSoftware Perfect Effects. I kept some of its color to obtain a stained look. To match the texture, we also apply the same texture overlay to the model. Textures are often applied in a contrast blend mode, e.g. soft light. Here a stronger effect is achieved using the vivid light  blend mode at reduced opacity. Furthermore the saturation is slightly reduced.

MANUAL_step_3Apply texture to the model

Step 3

After the texture has been applied, the skin takes on too much yellow of the texture and the hair is still too red. One technique that I use all the time for color matching  is to use the Average filter  in Photoshop. This will produce a representative color for the background image. The layer filled with this color, set to the Color  blend mode at a low opacity, allows a good matching. Since we only want to apply the color layer to the model, we use a clipping mask.

MANUAL_average_colorUse the Average Filter to obtain a representative color of the background
MANUAL_step_4Match the foreground color using the averaged background color

Step 4

In the last step we want to account for the light that shines from the sky on the hair, and we also want pick up some of the light that is reflected from the ground onto the model and the dress. To account for the variation of color and light of the background, we blur the background layer until details vanish and we obtain a smooth variation of the color. Next we project its colors on the model, by choosing the Soft light  blend mode, at reduced opacity. Again, we use a clipping mask, to limit the effect onto the model. The hair gets a beautiful rim light and the skin as well as the dress take on the color of the surrounding. This completes the color and light matching.

MANUAL_gaussian_blurBlur the background
MANUAL_step_5Project the blurred background on the model


Hover your mouse over the picture to see the before/after effect of the blurred layer


Brand NEW: My Backgrounds for Everyone

Im pleased to offer my backgrounds now to everyone. This way you have the chance to use them for your own creative composites or designs. My photo composites have been published in Practical Photoshop, UK, and by Alien Skin Software. They have been viewed over 40000 times. On Google Plus, my images have been enjoyed over 4 million times in total. Find more information how you can enjoy by backgrounds on my following site:

Find my Backgrounds here


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One Response

  1. jon miller
    | Reply

    thanks for the info, great tutorial

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