Merge photos into digital paintings

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to integrate photographic elements into your digital painting to add an unbeatable sense of realism and textural detail.

Merge photos into digital paintings

Digital painting maestro Richard Tilbury shows how photography can complement your artwork without necessarily disrupting the realism of your painted aspects.

Of course, the painted image you’re creating will partly dictate the types of photos you end up using – and the act of selecting these images can be a key part of the creative process.

You’ll explore the key techniques used to blend photos into digital paintings, and the types of image adjustments that will ensure your photos work seamlessly with the digitally painted elements.

You’ll also learn how blending modes and brush selections can play a crucial role in integrating photos. These are important techniques within digital painting – particularly in concept work, for example for computer game environments – and can be hugely effective when it comes to enhancing your images. When used together, the tricks you’ll learn will help you add richness, vitality and believability to your artworks.

Merge photos into digital paintings

01. Start by creating a new canvas in Photoshop measuring 4691-x-3508 pixels, with a resolution of 300dpi. Now using only greyscale brushes (black to white) start to block in your composition very roughly, thinking in terms of tonal values and where you want to place your light source.

Merge photos into digital paintings

02. Don’t be afraid to make random marks at this stage, and use a number of custom and textured brushes to suggest the forms. At least three brushes have been employed to describe the tree here, with the standard Hard Round brush used to draw the trunks. Keep this tonal stage on a single layer to begin with and think purely in terms of shape and areas of light and dark. step ow.

Merge photos into digital paintings

03. Now create a new layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N). This will be your initial colour scheme, so choose an appropriate scale of greens and start blocking in, being sure to set the blending mode to Overlay (in the top left of the Layers palette, next to opacity). The actual colours can be seen in the bottom right.

Merge photos into digital paintings

04. Now open a suitable sky image (you can download one for free from stock.xchng at (tinyurl.com/c5uho9) and select an area that will fit into the painting. Copy and paste this into your image and, using a soft-edged Eraser (Airbrush Soft Round is good) blend the edges. Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast and adjust the sliders to help integrate it better.

Merge photos into digital paintings

05. Now open the image file Trees01.jpg from the cover disc and go to Select > Color Range. Using the Eyedropper, select the sky area and set the fuzziness to 200. Now go to Select > Inverse (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I) and then copy and paste this into your image.

Merge photos into digital paintings

06. Now go to Edit > Transform > Scale and resize the trees so they match the scale in the painting. To better integrate them go to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance (Cmd/Ctrl + B), ramp up the yellow value and slightly increase the red. Now set the blending mode to Overlay and use a soft eraser to delete some of the bright sky edges.

Merge photos into digital paintings

07. Now let’s repeat the process for other sections of the opposite treeline. Open the image file DSCF0014. jpg from the cover disc and Trees01.jpg again, and use the Lasso tool to draw a rough selection area around the sections highlighted in red. Copy and paste these into the painting and resize them accordingly.

Merge photos into digital paintings

08. Here you can see how various selections have been pasted in and transformed to blend in. Trees 01.jpg is in the bottom right (with the blending mode set to Normal and the opacity at 75%) and the other tree occupies the far left (again, set to Normal at 65% opacity). Experiment with the Blending modes and the Opacity values as well as the Color Balance to maintain the tonal range established at the beginning.

Merge photos into digital paintings

09. Now for the foreground: open the files P1000186.jpg and b14vickysheperd006.jpg (this came from tinyurl.com/c4nkrb) on the cover disc. Make a rough selection around the areas highlighted above in red. These will occupy the right-hand side of our image. As in the previous steps, alter the brightness and contrast to match the lighting and scale accordingly. Don’t be concerned about them being perfectly integrated at this stage – focus again on the tonal range and contrast.

Merge photos into digital paintings

10. Once the image adjustments are made, select the Eraser tool (E) and use a textured brush with some randomness or scattering in order to erase an irregular shape. This will help blend it in better and make the edges between the photo and painted elements less discernible.

Merge photos into digital paintings

11. For the left side of the tree canopy, open the file b17geoff_vane027.jpg from the cover CD (this came from tinyurl.com/dhkj5n) and open it. Select the sky area, invert the selection as we did before, then copy and paste the trees and building into our image. Here we’ll use another method of blending the photo into the picture. Go to Image > Adjustments > Curves (Cmd/Ctrl + M) and then click on the line, creating two points to tone down the lighting.

Merge photos into digital paintings

12. To form the base of this tree line open b17maartent1366.jpg from the cover CD (this came from tinyurl.com/c9zuq2). Make a selection area as shown in red. Copy and paste this into the image and scale and colour-correct it so that it blends. Use the Clone Stamp tool to fill the remaining area. Use a textured brush to form an irregular edge in a similar fashion to the method of erasing.

Merge photos into digital paintings

13. To add detail to the foreground trees open images P1000194.jpg and P1000206.jpg from the cover disc. Make a rough selection around the main tree and ivy in the first photo and the far left tree from the other one. Once integrated you can then repeat the process and use the Clone Stamp tool to fill in the gaps. The sky areas can be deleted with the Eraser tool or by going to Select > Color Range and removing it this way.

Merge photos into digital paintings

14. We’re onto the final steps now. Add in the three characters, which you’ll be painting in manually. The key here again is to get the tonal range correct. Start by simply blocking in a silhouette, as often the shape of your characters will determine how the viewer reads them, particularly when they’re in shadow, as in this instance.

Merge photos into digital paintings

15. Once you’re satisfied, start filling the characters in with colour, making sure to keep the tonal range narrow and the brightness low. Often a well-placed highlight is enough to suggest form and the brain easily fills in the gap, but bear in mind where the light is coming from. Paste in photos of clothing, hair and so on to blend the characters in more, using the techniques you’ve learned so far.

Merge photos into digital paintings

16. In the final stage, flatten the layers and then make refinements on a new layer. I added some sun glare by using a soft round airbrush and painting a white circular shape next to the right hand tree. Then go to Layer > Layer Style > Outer Glow and apply a pale yellow. Click OK and then set the layer’s blending mode to Hard Light with around 80% opacity.

Author:- Richard Tilbury

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