Creating Composite Images

Foxy baby boy final composite

Today’s tutorial is from Shannon Jilge.

When working with clients that are difficult to give direction to, you may need to what are called composite images. Shannon has some great ideas how to achieve this result!

Shannon says:

A composite image is final image that is made up from several similar images. Some of the most common types are eye swaps and head swaps. This technique is also used regularly and often in newborn portrait photography.

Being able to create a composite image in Photoshop gives you the freedom to do some newborn ‘poses’ that may be otherwise considered dangerous or unsafe if you were actually executing the pose you want to portray.

In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through the steps I take in creating an image composite of a newborn shoot that I did.

Things To Consider Before and During the Session

If you are shooting a difficult pose and know ahead of time that it will be a composite image, take extra shots and be very attentive to detail during the session to help reduce the amount of editing that you will have to do during post-processing.

Also make sure to try and take a shot of your setup before the client is posed; this will give you an image that shows all the elements of your setup that can be added via a layer mask as needed.

With the newborn fox image (at top of post), I knew it would require a spotter that would need to be edited out later so when I was shooting that pose I made sure that my images would line up easily by keeping my camera in the same spot and at the same angle.

The majority of the final image for that pose was made from 2 images – one for the left side and one for the right side (below).

Base image used for left side of final image

Base image with spotter's hands, used for right side of final image

Before Working on the Composite Images

Before I begin to work on a composite, I adjust the color balance and levels of all of the images I took in the session by doing a batch process in RAW.

By working in a batch, I guarantee that all of the images will have the same base adjustments and will blend together better in the final composite.

Choosing the Images

Once the basic adjustments are completed, I choose  the images that will be combined into the composite. When I do this, I make sure to choose images where the subject is posed at similar angles. If I can get the backgrounds to line up a bit too, that’s even better.

For this image of the twin girls, I had two cute photos but really wanted a final photo with both girls looking straight at me.

Here are the two images I used for the composite:

Twins base image, used for right side

Twins base image, used for left side

And here is the final composite:

Twin girls composite

Creating the Composite.

To do a composite like the one above, just a few steps are required.

After the basic level and color balance adjustments click have been made, click and drag one image onto the other in Photoshop, creating a new layer just above the background image.

Lower the transparency of the new layer to about 50 percent and adjust the size and placement of the layer so that your images line up.

Screen shot of layered files. The opacity of the second layer is lowered so it is easier to line them up.

Once the layers are lined up, increase your opacity back to 100 percent and create a layer mask by clicking:

  • Layer> layer mask> hide all.

This will make the top image invisible and you can begin painting in just the parts that are needed.

Make sure black and white are selected as your foreground and background colors, then click on the black layer mask and use a soft round brush and begin painting in white.

Start with an opacity of 35 percent and increase or decrease as needed. If the images are lined up well, simply paint over the parts that need to replaced and the hidden layer will appear.

If you find the images weren’t lined up quite right, just drag them into place as needed. As you paint watch to make sure you aren’t leaving extra hands, fingers or pieces of clothing where they shouldn’t be.

Masking in progress. There are one too many hands at this point and I need to paint a bit more.

Use a larger brush in big areas and decrease the brush size near edges and small details. If you paint too much, just switch to black and repaint the area.

Pro Tip: increase and decrease the brush size quickly by clicking the left and right bracket keys and switch easily between the foreground and background colors by clicking the X key.

After the main parts are completed, zoom in and check the little details, making sure there isn’t anything in the background that is out of place.

Zoom to check background details and paint the layer or clone out as needed. A final composite should look like a single image.

You may have to do a little bit of cloning in some areas but most of the time I’ve found this to be pretty minimal.

For the last step, save the file you’ve been working on as both a layered PSD file in case you need to come back later and make any further adjustments and as a jpg.

That’s All There Is To It!

Composites do require a bit of practice to master but once learned, it is a technique that will allow you to do more creative photo shoots and to present images that look just the way imagined them.

Shannon used a Canon EOS 50D (affiliate link) with a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens (affiliate link), but this can be done with any lens and camera setup.

Shannon also recommends using Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop CS 6 (affiliate link) to accomplish this particular technique.

Shannon Jilge is a Oklahoma City Newborn, Children, and Maternity photographer.

Click here to see more tips on Editing.


If you still need help navigating Photoshop, look no further than Lynda.com (affiliate link). There are hours upon hours of tutorials on various aspects of Photoshop.

Plus, click here (affiliate link) and you can check it all out for free for 7 days!

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About Shannon Jilge

Shannon Jilge has been working as a photographer for the past 12 years, and has recently gotten back into photography full time with a focus on portraits of newborns, babies, and young children. In the few moments between shooting and editing, Shannon can be found reading a book, baking something tasty or running amok with her three kiddos. Other than her family, her great loves in life include coffee, good music, corny jokes and of course, photography.