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How to Combine Pictures for Several Different Effects

One of the most fun things about being a photographer today is that digital post-processing opens up a whole world of possibilities for your images. While many of the effects you can achieve could be duplicated in the darkroom, working with digital photos and software make the process much faster and easier. One great example of the difference is combining multiple photos for various reasons. We'll explore some of those reasons in this article, as well as what you'll need in a software package to achieve the desired effects.

An Overview of Compositing

Technology has a way of introducing new terminology into our vocabularies. One term that's made its way into photography in recent years is “compositing”. Please note the spelling carefully and don't confuse this with “composting”, which is something you probably don't want to do with your photos.

Quite simply, compositing is a reference to the process of building composite images by combining multiple photographs. Since that's the term most commonly used, we'll use it in this article. It's a process that's fun and useful for several effects.

Multiple Exposure Effects

Many digital cameras will allow you to combine multiple exposures in one frame, but it isn't always an easy thing to do and the results are hard to predict. Compositing with a good software package is much easier and gives you much more control over the outcome.

You have a wealth of options for effects. You may want to fade one image into another, or combine two portions of the same scene at different exposures. The latter of those is often used for tasks like combining a correctly exposed moon with a correct exposure of the landscape below it. That's a very difficult shot to achieve in-camera.

To achieve these effects, you'll need to stack your images in layers and use clipping masks, transparency and blending options to control how much of each photo is visible in the final image. High-end software packages such as Photoshop and Luminar have all the tools necessary to blend several exposures into one image.

For a quick overview of how to use layers for double exposure and other effects, see this informative video.

Texture Overlays

This technique also involves overlaying multiple photos and blending for the effect you want to achieve. Usually, however, the base image is the main focus of the composite, with one or more images added that were taken specifically for adding a textured effect to the underlying photo. It might be a closeup of wood grain, sandstone, burlap or anything similar. You can easily find downloadable images for this purpose if you don't have any of your own.

The basic technique is also very simple and similar to those you'd use for multiple exposure effects. You'll start with your basic image on the bottom layer, then add the texture image on a layer above it. You then adjust the opacity of the texture layer and may also adjust the blending mode to achieve the effect you want.

It's also possible to use various masking techniques to select the areas of the photo that the texture is applied to. For instance, you can easily use a brush to apply the mask. I recommend watching this quick video tutorial to see how easily this can be done with Luminar.

Sky Replacement

How often have you taken a landscape, seascape or cityscape photo and wished that the sky in the shot had been more interesting? Sometimes you just can't wait for the right day or hour. Thanks to digital photo editing, you can add it in later!

This technique is so easy and effective that many photographers, including myself, shoot sky photos specifically for this purpose. When you see an awesome sunset or a cloud formation you like, shoot a good photo of it and add it to your library for later use.

One of the most effective ways to replace a sky starts with your landscape or other image on the bottom layer and the sky you'd like to use in an upper layer. You can then easily bock out the unwanted portion of the sky with a gradient mask. This mask gradually fades the layer so that you can blend it naturally with the original sky and horizon. Depending on the skyline, you may need to refine the mask with brushes or other tools.

Here's another great video tutorial from Macphun demonstrating this technique with Luminar.

Other Effects

This isn't, of course, a complete list of the things you can achieve by combining multiple photos. You can also create panoramic shots by “stitching” images together. You can increase the dynamic range of an image by blending bracketed exposures with HDR software. You may even want to create a time-lapse or other video using stacks of different images. We'll cover those techniques and more in other how-to articles.

Whatever you choose to do with compositing, the simplicity of the post-processing and the quality of the results is very dependent on the software you choose to work with. There are several applications that can do the job.

Mac users will have a difficult time finding a more simple, powerful and effective software package than Luminar. It's also extremely affordable and one of the most well-supported packages on the market. See everything it has to offer for yourself.

For Windows users, a PC version is coming soon. Meanwhile, Adobe® Photoshop® offers the same features, although it requires an ongoing subscription and has a longer learning curve. Be sure to check the Macphun website often to find out when you'll be able to get your own version of Luminar!

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