by Melissa Ashcraft

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo

How To Create Outstanding Compositions

Shooting a model in a studio environment gives you a lot of freedom. Use different lighting setups and you will have the perfect raw material to combine the studio shoot with exciting backgrounds. Digital artist and retoucher Michael Baierl from Germany explains how in this step-by-step tutorial of his project “Winter Tale.”

This tutorial was previously published in Digital Photo.

1. Cut-out
Shooting on a grey background makes it easy to cut your model out. Use the Pen-Tool to create a path around the model; remember to leave a bubble around the hairs. Then use Ctrl/cmd+Enter to turn the path into a selection. Ctrl/cmd+j to copy it to a new layer.

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo

2. New background
Place the new background beneath the cut-out layer and free-transform ctrl/cmd+t as necessary. Set its layer mode to overlay so that you don’t need to worry about painting your model’s shadows – the original shadows will shine through. Adjust the background luminance by using a tone adjustment layer.

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo

3. Hair and transparency
Add a layer mask on the layer with your cut-out model. Paint with a soft brush and low opacity over the edges of the hair. You’ll see how the old grey background will slowly disappear and integrate the hair into the new background.

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo

4. Painting snow
Create a blank new layer on top and choose a soft, low-opacity brush to start painting snow on the handrail, the bench and the floor. Vary from white to a soft grey to put in some depth. Add a little Gaussian blur if you think you painted a little too harshly.

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo

5. Dodge & Burn
Add a new 50% grey layer on top and set the mode to soft light. Set your dodge and burn tools to about 10% on mid-tones. Strengthening lights and shadows on the dress and the surroundings you give a faint painted touch to your composite.

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo

6. Light source
Put a white 100% soft and huge brush stroke, just like a round spot on an empty layer on top. Use the move tool to position it or free-transform it into size and position.

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo

7. Let it snow!
Of course you could paint each falling snowflake with a special brush, but the easiest way to get those particles is to shoot some falling snow at night with a built in camera flash or a mounted flash. Why at night? Because the background will be black. Using the layer mode screen will hide the black and only the snow will be visible. So screen that layer and free-transform the falling snow into position.

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo

8. The Look
I generally create the final look of a composite at the end once all the retouching has been done. I tend to experiment a little with colours, luminance and contrast. Here, for example, I’ve been using a colour-balance adjustment layer for the bluish tone and a curves layer to adjust final brightness. Add a soft vignette using curves or tones to focus on the model – and you’re done.

How to Add Your Own Background to a Photo