Photoshop Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers

Compositing with Silhouettes in Photoshop

Adapted from Photoshop Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers (New Riders)

By Corey Barker

Here, we’ll composite a photo inside the silhouette of another. This is an effect I’ve been seeing a lot lately, used everywhere from movies and TV to magazines and the Web. The reason, I think, is that it definitely can look pretty cool and is really not that hard of an effect to create if you have the right images.

Step One:
Start by opening the image we’re going to build the silhouette from. You can download the Chapter 3 archive from the site, which contains the images used in this tutorial. Here’s an image that has nice drama to it and has the subject on a white background, which will make it easier to extract the silhouette shape.

Step Two:
Open the Channels panel (found under the Window menu), press-and-hold the Command (PC: Ctrl) key, and click on the RGB channel to load the luminosity as a selection.

Step Three:
Create a new Alpha channel from this selection by clicking on the Create New Channel icon at the bottom of the Channels panel. Then, press Shift-Delete (PC: Shift-Backspace) and set the Fill dialog’s Use pop­up menu to White. Click OK, then press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect.

Step Four:
Now press Shift-Delete again, leave the Use pop­up menu set to White, change the Blending Mode to Overlay, and click OK. This will make the white area even whiter, while leaving some subtle detail in the face area.

Step Five:
Go back to the Layers panel and click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the panel. Then, go under the Select menu and choose Load Selection. Select Alpha 1 from the Channel pop­up menu and click OK. Then, use the Fill dialog to fill this selected area with black to create the silhouette effect (I turned off the Background layer here, so you could see it better).

Step Six:
Now, open the padded room image that will be composited inside the silhouette. Currently, this image is not very menacing, so we need to make it unpleasant to go along with the theme of the image. So, click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Hue/Saturation from the pop­up menu. Turn on the Colorize checkbox, and set the Hue to 190, the Saturation to 69, and the Lightness to –10. This will add a light blue cast to the image. We’ll darken it (and make it more menacing) by changing the layer’s blend mode to Linear Burn.

Step Seven:
Let’s apply a texture to grunge it up a little and make it even less pleasant (or as pleasant as a padded room can be). Open a rough texture file, like the one I have here, and use the Move tool (V) to drag it over to the padded room image.

Step Eight:
Desaturate the color by pressing Command-Shift-U (PC: Ctrl-Shift-U), as we’re only interested in the texture and not the color. Change the layer’s blend mode to Overlay to finish the effect. Then, create a merged copy of this image by pressing Command-Option-Shift-E (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E).

Step Nine:
Now, use the Move tool to bring this merged layer into the silhouette layout. (I cropped it a little and filled the Background layer with white to give it more of a movie poster feel.) Position the padded room layer just above the silhouette layer and create a clipping group by pressing Command-Option-G (PC: Ctrl-Alt-G). With the Move tool still active, move it around within the document, and position it wherever it looks best. If you need to, you can resize it by pressing Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to go into Free Transform. Press Return (PC: Enter) when you’re done.

Step 10:
Next, click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a layer mask to the padded room layer. Then, get the Gradient tool (G) from the Toolbox, click on the down­facing arrow to the right of the gradient thumbnail in the Options Bar, and choose the Foreground to Transparent gradient in the Gradient Picker (the second one from the left in the top row). Click on the Linear Gradi ent icon (the first icon to the right of the gradient thumbnail), make sure the tool’s Opacity is set to 100%, press D, then X to set your Fore ground and Background colors to their defaults of black and white, and draw out several gradients to fade the image on all four sides, just like you see here.

Step 11:
Now, let’s add a text layer. Set your Foreground color to white, then get the Horizontal Type tool (T). Here, I have “THE ASYLUM” set in a condensed bold Helvetica. Then, using the Character panel (found under the Window menu) and Free Transform, I scaled and positioned the text across the neck of the silhouette, with each end touching the white edge of the background around him, giving the symbolic effect of strangling the subject, which goes along with the whole theme of the design.

Step 12:
Now, let’s add one more design element. Go to the Toolbox, click-and-hold on the Rectangular Marquee tool to access the other tools beneath it, and choose the Single Row Marquee tool. Click on the Create a New Layer icon to create a new blank layer, then click at the top edge of the word “ASYLUM.” This will load a selection across the width of the document that is only 1 pixel tall. Press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill the selection with your Foreground color (white), and then click to add another selection along the bottom of the text and fill it with white, as well.

Step 13:
We need a tagline, too, so we’ll use a smaller bold condensed Helvetica. First, though, we’ll change the font color to closer match the design, so click on the color swatch in the Options Bar and set it to R: 60, G: 83, B: 92. Now, click near the top of the document and start typing.

To give the little bit of detail in his face some color, go ahead and click on the padded room layer, and add a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. In the Adjustments panel, turn on the Colorize checkbox, set the Hue to 190, the Saturation to 90, and leave the Lightness set to 0. Some areas in the hair are picking up the blue color, and it looks kind of messy. So, to fix this, just click on the adjustment layer’s mask to select it, then get the Brush tool (B), and with a softedged round brush, paint with black in the area of the hair. This will mask away the color effect, keeping it only in the face area.

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Adapted with permission from Photoshop Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers by Corey Barker. Copyright © 2012 (New Riders) Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.