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Create a Miniature Scene Using Stock Photography

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When you are creating a photo composite, you can have quite a bit of fun playing with the size and scale of the photography that you place onto your canvas. In this tutorial, we will create a miniature scene using a handful of stock photographs. Let's get started!


Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.


Step 1

Open the Windowsill image. This will be our working document.



Step 2

Before we do any work to our scene, we need to first open the Bison image.


Next, we will use Calculations to help us extract the calf from the background. To do this, go to Image > Calculations and blend the Blue Channel with itself using Linear Burn as the Blending Mode. Make sure to select "New Channel" as the Result. Click OK


Open the Channels Panel to see the new channel (labeled "Alpha 1").



Step 3

To continue editing the channel, use the Brush Tool, set to White, to paint out the other two animals.


Lastly, set the Brush Tool to Overlay. Paint with Black and White colors to refine the mask. Using the Brush Tool set to Overlay makes the process of cleaning up the Mask much easier.



Step 4

Next, we need to invert the colors of the Channel. With the Channel still selected, press Command/Ctrl + I to invert.



Step 5

Command/Ctrl-Click the channel's thumbnail to convert into a selection. With the selection active, go into the Layers Panel and Copy (Command/Ctrl + C) and Paste (Command/Ctrl + V) the calf onto a new layer. It's a good idea to save this file in case you want to return to it.




Step 6

Go back to the document with the windowsill image. The calf should already be loaded to the clipboard from Step 5. Go ahead and Paste (Command/Ctrl + V) the calf into our scene and name the layer "Calf."



Step 7

Before we do any work on the calf, let's add the rest of the components to the scene. Open up the Plant image and use the same techniques to extract the plant.






Step 8

Place the isolated plant into our scene and rename the layer "Plant." Right-click this layer and select Convert to Smart Object.


Position and resize as you see fit.



Step 9

Next, open up the image of the lion. We will use a different method to extract. Using the Pen Tool, draw a path around the lion.



Step 10

In the Paths Panel, Right-click on the path layer and choose Make Selection to convert the path into a selection. Copy (Command/Ctrl + C) and Paste (Command/Ctrl + V) the selection into our working scene. Rename the layer "Lion."



To clean up the edges of the lion, use the Blur Tool set to 100% and blur the edges all the way around the lion. Add some extra blurring over the areas where the fur appears softer (such as near the paws, the tip of the tail, and by the ear).



Step 11

Convert this layer to a Smart Object and position and resize the lion as you see fit.



Step 12

Re-order the layers so the plant appears to be overlapping the lion and move the calf to its final location. It's worth pointing out the each image was carefully selected because it matched the perspective of my background image. This is an important (and often overlooked) step in creating a believable composite.


Next, place each layer into its own group by selecting the layer and pressing Command/Ctrl + G. This will help organize our layers as we build the scene.



Step 13

We are now ready to blend each component into the scene using a combination of compositing techniques. Starting with the calf, we will try to recreate the proper lighting from our scene. Create a new Levels Adjustment Layer that's a clipping layer to the "Calf" layer. Adjust the Levels until that calf appears to match the contrast in the scene.



Step 14

Next, we will introduce a lighting effect to make it appear as if the window in the scene is lighting the calf from behind. Apply an Inner Shadow Style with the settings shown.


The calf should now appear to be lit from the back:



Step 15

The Inner Shadow Style gives us a great start to the lighting, but it only highlights along the edges of the calf. The next step will focus on manipulating the Layer Style so it adds more realistic highlights all over the calf.

Right-Click the Inner Shadow FX in the Layers Panel and select Create Layers. This will separate the Style into and editable layer.


Next, select the newly created "Calf's Inner Shadow" layer and use a soft, white brush to paint in some additional highlights. Try to picture which areas the window's light may fall over the calf.



Step 16

Next we will darken the side of the calf facing away from the light source. Add another Inner Shadow Layer Style and adjust the contour map so it is inverted. This will apply the correct shading.




Step 17

Create a new layer named "Atmosphere" and place it above the "Calf" layer and its Clipping Layers. Set this layer's Blending Mode to Linear Dodge (Add)


Use a large, soft white brush set to an Opacity of 10% and paint in spots over the highlighted areas of the calf. The goal is to create the effect of a glare from the highlight



Step 18

Next, we will add some shadows. Create a new layer called "Base Shadow" and use a dark brown color sampled form our scene, to paint in an area of color under each hoof.


Apply a Motion Blur (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur) and change the Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 82%.




Step 19

Make a copy of the shadow and rename it "Ambient Shadow 1." Give this layer another Motion Blur then add a Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur>.




Move this layer slightly offset of the calf's hooves to appear to flow away from the light source. Reset the Opacity to 100%.



Step 20

Next, we will create the 'direct' shadows. Typically these are the strong shadows casted by direct sunlight; however, since our scene is being lit with very diffuse light, the 'direct' shadows will be very soft. To start, select the "Calf" layer and use the Lasso Tool (L) to make a selection around the back leg.



Step 21

Copy and Paste the selection to two new layers. Name one of the copies "Leg Shadows" and the other "Leg Reflections." Move both layers directly below that "Calf" layer.



Step 22

For now, hide the "Leg Reflections" layer. Working with the "Leg Shadows" layer, adjust the Levels (Command/Ctrl + L) so the layer is completely back.


Right-click the "Leg Shadow" layer in the Layers Panel and select Convert to Smart Object (this will make it easier to edit any transformations at a later time). Next, Transform (Command/Ctrl + T) this leg so that it appears to be falling away from the window.



Step 23

Make a copy of this layer and add it to the other legs. Transform (Command/Ctrl + T) each leg to tweak the shadow.



Step 24

Add a Layer Mask to each "Leg Shadow" layer and use a large, soft brush to make each shadow appear to fall off.



Step 25

Select all four "Leg Shadow" Smart Objects and go to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object. Give this Smart Object a Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with a Radius of 8.6 pixels.


To finish the leg shadows, set this layer's Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 41%.



Step 26

Unhide the "Leg Reflection" layer and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical.


Position the layer so that it appears as the leg's reflection. It may be necessary to rotate the leg a little more to fit.



Step 27

Make copies of this layer and repeat with the remaining legs.



Step 28

Just like we did with the "Leg Shadows," Add a Layer mask to each leg.



Step 29

Select the four "Leg Reflection" layers and Convert to a Smart Object and give it a Gaussian Blur of about 2.2 px.


This is where you can experiment with the Blending Modes to find which one works best. I found that a Blending Mode of Luminosity with an Opacity of 28% produces a good result.



Step 30)

Next, add a new layer called "Ambient Shadow 2" directly above the "Ambient Shadow 1" layer. Sample a dark brown color from the scene and use a large brush to paint in a shadow under the calf.


Give this layer a high Gaussian Blur.


Set the layer's Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 25%. The ambient shadow is meant to be very subtle.


I've repeated this process to create another, larger ambient shadow.



Step 31

The calf looks good except for one thing; the hooves are too light. Adding a shadow over the hooves will help the calf appear to be apart of the scene. Create a new clipping layer to the "Calf" layer and use a brush with a dark brown color (sampled from the scene) to paint in some shadows. Make sure to set this layer's Blending Mode to Multiply.



Step 32

Now that our calf is done, we can use the same techniques to blend the lion into the scene. It may help to hide the "Plant" group for now.



Step 33

Start by adding the same Inner Shadow for the highlights as we did in Step 14.


Next, Right-click the effect in the Layer's Panel and select Create Layer to separate the effect.


Use the Brush Tool to edit the effect by manually painting in additional highlights.



Step 34

Next, add another Inner Shadow for the shadows with the same contour map used in Step 16.


Separate the effect with the Create Layers command and use the Brush Tool to edit the shadows.



Step 35

Add another layer called "Detail" as a clipping layer to the "Lion" layer and use a dark brown brush to paint in additional shadows around the base and folds of the lion. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply and set the Opacity to 66%.



Step 36

For the reflection, make a copy of the "Lion" layer and name it "Reflection." Move it below the "Lion" layer.



Step 37

Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical and position the layer as shown


Add a Layer Mask and hide the bottom of the lion.



Step 38

Next, open the Layer Styles and add a Color Overlay, using the same color as the shadows in the scene.


Change the layer's Opacity to 19% so that it is barely visible.


To soften the reflection, add a Gaussian Blur with a Radius around 11 px.



Step 39

To finish the lion, create a new layer called "Shadows" and place it under the "Lion" layer. With a soft brush set to a low opacity, paint in some shadows using a dark brown color sampled from the scene.



Step 40

Now we'll focus on the plant. Just like we did with the Calf and Lion, add an Inner Shadow Style for the highlights and use the Create Layers command to make it an editable layer. Edit this layer by adding additional highlights to the tips of random leaves.



Create another Inner Shadow Style for the Shadows. Use the Create Layers Command to separate the effect.



Step 41

Create an layer named "Atmosphere" and add some glow to the hotspots like we did in Step 17.



Step 42

Next, make a copy of the "Plant" layer and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical. Name this layer "Reflection."


Position the layer so that it appears as a reflection



Step 43

Add a Motion Blur and a Gaussian Blur with the settings shown to soften the reflection.


Change the layer's Blending Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 44%.


Finally, add a Layer Mask to hide the top of the reflected plant.



Step 44

Create a new layer called "Base Shadow" above the "Reflections" layer and use the Elliptical Marquee Tool to draw an ellipse in the shape of the base of the plant. Fill with a dark brown color sampled from the scene.



Step 45

Go to Filter > Blur > Blur More to soften the base shadow. Use the Arrow Keys to nudge the shadow down a bit so it becomes visible under the plant. Make sure to change the Blending Mode to Multiply.



Step 46

Make a copy of the "Base Shadow" and rename this "Ambient Shadow. Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur with an Angle of 0 degrees and a Distance of 105 px.


Next, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and use a setting of 16.8.



Step 47

We will now create the direct shadows for the plant. Unlike the Calf and Lion, the Plant is sitting almost equally between two windows. Both windows will act as a light source; therefore, the Plant will have two shadows. (You may be thinking that the sun is shining through the windows—and since the sun is one light source—the plant should have one shadow. Technically, this is true, if we had direct sunlight. Since the scene contains very diffused light, we can assume it's probably an overcast day. The diffused light will 'spill' in from both windows, acting like two independent light sources.

To create the first shadow, make a copy of the "Plant" layer and Transform "Command/Ctrl + T" it into the shape of a shadow.



Step 48

Add a Color Overlay Style, using a dark brown color sampled form the scene.



Step 49

Add a Motion Blur and Gaussian Blur Filter. Remember that the scene is using a diffused light source, so the shadow's edges will not be sharp.



Step 50

Set the Opacity to 34% and add a Layer Mask to fade the shadow out as it gets further away from the plant's base.



Step 51

Repeat this to create a second shadow casted from the light coming from the other window.



Step 52

Create a new clipping layer to the "Plant" Layer and use a dark brown color, sampled form the scene, to paint in some shadows near the base of the plant. Change the Blending mode to Multiply. This will help ground the plant, just like we did with the calf.



Step 53

Our scene is almost done. The next few steps will focus on some touchups that we can do to complete our image. In this case, I want to add comical eyes to the calf to give it more character. I'm just copying and pasting a set of eyes that I painted from another tutorial.



Step 54

The next few steps will focus on some tricks to help blend every component into the scene better. We will start by adding a Photo Filter and Saturation Adjustment Layers. These will apply a similar color treatment over our entire scene, blending the colors of each component.




Step 55

Next, we will focus matching the quality of each component to the scene. Looking closely at our entire scene, we might notice that the plant and lion (which are positioned towards the back) do not match the focus of the original background photo (as slight as it might be). To fix this, go back into the "Plant" and "Lion" group layers and apply a small amount of Gaussian Blur to each original smart object.


Another trick we can do is to Add Noise to the Smart Objects (and also the "Calf" layer). By adding noise with an amount of around 1.5%, we can artificially match the graininess of the background photo.



Step 56

Next, crop the image to balance the scene. One last trick is to save the image at a lower size. This trick tends to help hide any imperfections, and since we were working at such a high resolution, we can save it to a smaller size without too much concern for losing quality.



Final Image