How to Make Your Vacation Pictures Not Suck
Combine Multiple Photos for Maximum Scenery
If you’ve ever been to a beautiful place, you know that it can be hard to capture the entire scene in one photograph. By bringing together multiple photographs, you’re able to combine different elements from each photo into a final product. In this case, we take the sky and ocean from one photo, the palm tree from another, and composite them into our original image. Compositing objects with complex edges like a palm tree can be tough, but we show you a quick and easy way to make it appear realistic.
The rocks in the foreground look very flat in the original picture. By adding shadows and highlights, they appear much more three dimensional. Adding color to the plants and water makes the environment much more lush and exotic.
Changing the Sky
By creating random shapes and combining them with layer masks and blur effects, we can create light flares in the sky that look like they were there to begin with. This is an amazing technique for making anything look natural rather than Photoshopped and faked.
Before & After
DISCLAIMER: These effects have been pushed completely over the top
Today I'm going to show you guys how to make your travel photos not suck.
Hey guys, welcome to Phlearn. My name is Aaron Nace, you can find me on Twitter at aknacer. I just got back from a great trip in Mexico. I was down in Playa del Carmen and Tulum area. I was a photographer and I took some pictures and they all suck. I'm like, "Wow, this is great. I thought I was supposed to be good at this whole photography thing." Apparently, I’m not.
What we're going to do is load a couple of these images into Photoshop and turn these images that really are not that good at all. We're going to make them a bit more interesting in Photoshop. If you do take a vacation and you take some cool pictures along the way, and they turn out to be not so cool, Photoshop can be a real lifesaver. Let's get into it. We actually got a lot of things to do and some real fun stuff to do today. I've got three different images and this is actually of Tulum in Mexico. We're just going to go ahead and start by combining these images together. Let's just go ahead and move one down over here and we're just going to use the move tool and click and drag. I really don't like tabs to be honest.
You can use the move tool and just click and drag from one to the other. If this is confusing to you, you can go to "window" and then you can go to arrange and then you can go to "tile" or "cascade" or whatever. Let's go to "tile." Now we can see we have all of our different images. I'm just going to hold the shift key and with my move tool I'm going to hold shift and click and drag from one image to the other. It's just going to copy your background layer on to the other document. There we go. Now you can see this document now has all three images on it and then we're going to just close up those other guys. Then, I'm going to his "F" to full screen this.
This is our, my amazing images here and yeah, they're totally horrible. It was an overcast day. In general, it was really pretty here. I just want to make sure I bring out the natural splendor of the area. It was really nice. First of all, these images just compose horribly. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it's just not really good at all. This is kind of interesting what's going on over here with the beach and with the clouds and things like that. What we're going to do, we're going to start by combining these two photos together. If you want to go for maximum accuracy, don't do stuff like this because I'm basically just changing Tulum, but if you want to make a cool photo, why not? Just don't submit it into a contest like National Geographic and say it hasn't been altered because then you're going to look like a bad person and you're going to give Photoshop a bad name, so don't do that please. Other than that, you can do whatever you want.
What I’m going to do is lower this opacity here of this layer and I can see where this layer and the other layer beneath it blend together. What I want to do is try to line up the horizon. In this case, the horizon is pretty much just the ocean. It makes my job a lot easier. I’m going to come right over here and align most of what I can to the beach and things like that. There we go and that looks like a pretty good start. Let's go ahead and zoom out and we'll bring our opacity back up to a hundred percent. I actually don't really like the cropping of this image either because I think it needs to lose a little bit on the left and gain a little bit more on the right. We’re going to see if we can include some of this over here. I'm going to hit "C" for the crop tool. I want to make sure to unclick that delete cropped pixels, so we're just going to click over here and drag in like that and then I want to say, "Yeah, let's just see a little bit more of that beach. That looks really good." We would just click that check box up there, so that's okay. Maybe just bring this up a little bit. We have a combined a couple of exposures right now. I want to just get away … that little guy is too small there, I want him to be bigger.
What we're going to do is use our layer mask and on this layer above, what we're going to do is just use our regular brush tool and I’m going to paint black on our layer mask right over top of this area. There we go. We're going to reveal all these nice rocks and things like that are right over here. Very cool. Any time you're doing something like this, you're going to have an area that overlaps. If you can get those overlapping areas to be relatively similar as far as subject material goes, that's really the best way to do it. In this case, we're relatively fortunate because the overlapping area from one image to another is ocean, so the ocean pretty much looks like the ocean. You don't have to work too hard with that one, so that's nice.
In order to get a smooth transition, you can see this transition here is a little bit hard, what I've done is I brought my flow down. We can bring our flow down to 20%, you can hit shift two to do that with your brush. Here on your layer mask, you don't want a relatively hard edge right there. Make the brush really big and really soft. You can right click on it and you can bring your hardness all the way down and your size pretty high up, or you can hold down the control and the option key and drag to the right to make it bigger. What we're going to do is paint with black now and just really lightly, press over there. It's just going to transition us from the light side to the dark side. We can see this is now what our layer mask looks like. It's just a quite a bit more of the softer shade [inaudible 00:05:50]. Already, we're looking better, but there definitely are a couple of things I still want to take care of. Namely, the exposure is a little bit different. You can see this is actually a little bit darker here than the image underneath it. What we're going to do is, I'm going to grab an adjustment layer and we're going to go up to the curve.
We have a curve adjustment layer that, it's right on top of the other layer right now. What we're going to do is I'm going to right click and I'm going to say, "Go to create a layer mask." I'm going to make this layer visible only where this layer is visible, so it's only in effect in this layer. What we're going to do is just click right here and brighten it up. What that's going to do is it's going to match the exposure of this image, let's show you the before and the after. It's going to match the exposure from this image to the one beneath it. We're just combining things together and matching it [inaudible 00:06:52]. Let's go ahead and clean up our layer mask a little bit. There we go. We’re just going to zoom in and paint this in black on our layer mask, like where these rocks are and things like that. If it's something like this, you're just going to have to crop up from there. There's not really anything else you can do in that case because there's no detail over there. If you do have something like this that you want to include, these rocks and things, that's certainly cool. Grab your crop tool and you're going to have to crop up to that. There we go. I also feel like painting a tree which you totally can. Cool. We're already up to a better image. You can see how this before it was just boring. It's getting a little bit better which I dig.
I want to add a palm tree in here, because you know what? It was in Mexico and there were a lot of really nice palm trees and I think a palm tree in this image just could be really cool. We're going to do that because I want to. It's just not totally right, there was not one there. This was looking some other place, but hey, one out. To do that, what we’re going to do is I'm going to grab our magic wand tool. Our background is relatively simple here, we should be able to magic wand tool out for the most part [inaudible 00:08:14] and things like that. We're just going to click right here on the background, and if you want to add more to your selection, just hold down the shift key and we're going to continue to add to our selection. There we go. You can see it's selecting basically similar areas to what you click on. There we go and we'll just click on the "T" and that looks pretty good to me.
We've made a selection right now out of basically this area here and this area there. If you want to see what your selection looks like, hit on "Q" for the quick mask and it will just give you a visual indication of your selection, or you can just go ahead and load it as a layer mask. Our [inaudible 00:09:13] selection is the layer mask, it looks a little weird right now because we have it inverted. To get it back the right way, what we're going to do is hit command "I." That's going to invert it the correct way. Now we have like a forest and we can place it wherever we will or we can just delete out part of it, which I think is what I want to do as well.
What we're going to do is here on my layer mask, I'll just going to grab my lasso tool. All this area here on the right, I don't really think we need that so we're going to select that out and then I'm going to hold option and hit delete and it's just going to delete that out. Now, if I want to bring this into the foreground, let's say I wanted to … well, I can shift everything over here. Let's just grab our crop tool, maybe extend out our border a little bit more and say, "Alright, cool." Let's get this tree going on. I'm going to bring it up there. There's some people who are going to be, "Why are you just manipulating the mess out of this? It doesn't look like that at all." The answer is, "Just because I want to and that's what you get to do when you have Photoshop. You get to do whatever you want. So there, that's why we're doing it." Alright, there we go. Now, we have a palm tree that's going to come in here and that's going to be in our foreground.
You can see it works relatively well. There's still a couple of areas that I want to fix up here. Here on my layer mask, delete this old shrub out of there. There we go. Then, a couple of areas that look like this, there's a cool trick you can use to take care of this. What we're going to do is I'm actually going to disable this layer mask temporarily because I need to see through these little branches. To disable your layer mask temporarily, just hold the shift key and click on your layer mask. Then, what you can do is go to select, click on the layer first, go to select and down the color range and then I can just select the color range that's actually the background color there.
If it's white, it's going to be selected, if it's black, it's not going to be selected. In this case, white is selected, our background is selected, I'm going to hit, "okay." Keep in mind, my layer mask is not visible, so it's selecting everything based on an invisible layer mask. We're going to click on there again, hold down shift and click on there again. Now, I can just paint with black on my layer mask because we selected out the sky, so the sky is the selection. Now, we're going to paint black on the layer mask which is going to make it invisible on this layer. To do that, all you have to do is paint black. We’re going to hit command "H," yup, command "H" which is going to hide our selection. Painting black on our layer mask, we can see a pretty easy way to just get rid of all that area that we didn't want to be visible. There we go, cool. If there's anything else and any other areas you want to take care of … alright, that looks pretty good.
Now, if you do have any light fringing, I didn't plan on teaching all this stuff, but why not? If you do have fringing and things like that, this is where it gets light towards the edge, it's going to look horrible pretty much every time. There are couple things you can do. My favorite way of taking care of that is create a new layer above it and you want to clip that layer. Here we go, and we're going to create clipping now, just like we do with these curves. With this, you can either use your brush tool or a number of other tools, your content tool. You just want to select the darker color and just paint over that. Again, if it's stuff like branches and stuff, things like that, a brush tool will totally work.
I'm doing a very quick and not very accurate job. If you want to do a more accurate job, I would recommend using the content tool. Basically what this is doing is because this layer is only visible where the unaligned layers visible, this layer visible, I'm just selecting out a darker color and then where the fringes are visible, I’m painting the darker color right over top of the fringes. Now we see it looks a lot more natural. I did a quick and a very not good job at that, but you can spend some time to make it look very good.
Now we have our slightly different landscape. We started with something like that which was cropped a little bit different, we added some interest on the right, fixed our exposure, and we put a palm tree in there. That's pretty cool.
Let's go ahead and group all those things, shift [inaudible 00:13:28] command "G" and then we're just going to do some color toning because this water was super blue and it was like turquoise, it was really nice. It's just not coming through in this photo at all and I want it to. What we're going to do is go to the curve adjustment layer. I'm going to grab the green channel and we're just going to crank that green up and we'll go to our blue channel and pull the blues up as well. We're going to pull the greens up even more. This water was really just amazing, turquoise and really pretty. I want to make sure we stay true to that.
Now what we're going to do is paint this visible on the layer mask. There we go. We can see how … I'm trying to make it look like it actually did look in real life which it did look like this, but the whole rest of the photo was totally manipulated. If you try to stick to some scruples here, don't follow this tutorial. In general, this was how it looked, the sea, anyway. If you want just enhance the sea, just do this part, don't do the other part of the tutorial. Then, this was a bit blue. If you go too far, obviously that looks horrible, don't worry about it. Just go back to your blue channel click and just drag this down until it looks not horrible. That would be my suggestion, make it not look horrible. There you go. We can see it's getting quite a bit more interesting.
If you're using a soft end brush like I am, maybe grab a marquee tool and then you can just make a selection right over here on your horizon and then fill this layer mask with black and it's going to make sure that you don't have any spill unto [inaudible 00:15:20]. Now we have a sharp edge on top of our layer mask, going to make sure it doesn't spill into our sky. We don't want to color a sky like that. All right, already looking good. Now we've got some contrast into the sky. We're going to our curve adjustment layer, bring down our dark and I want to really bring up our light. There we go. We paint this in as well. I'm going to hit command [inaudible 00:15:46] and just inverse the layer mask. Now, we can paint in detail wherever we think it's cool. Just enhancing what was already there after a lot of composite work to lie to you basically, but whatever.
Let's go ahead and darken some of these areas down as well which is going to help draw attention over to this beautiful sky. Let's grab a curve adjustment layer. I'm going to brighten this area up now quite a bit. I'm going to double click on this curve adjustment layer and here I'm going to hold alt to option and click on my underlying layer and drag this from left to right. What that's going to do is not allow this underlying layer to be visible where the dark … it's not going to allow this underlying layer to be visible where the underlying layer is dark, only where it's lighter. That's going to do a really nice job of confining it to these clouds. It's going to give a really nice bit of contrast there. Here the beach looks pretty cool too. Create a layer mask and paint this in again just where we want it to be visible.
You can see I'm not spending an incredible long time on this and it's already looking cool. Ten more minutes of this stuff and you're on the front page of Flickr. Good job. Just some color here.
Let's go ahead and add some interest to some rocks and things like that and then we're going to do some color toning and then some more contrast. Then, we'll be done and then, we'll take some travel photos that were totally boring and sucked and make them pretty cool.
Here we go. Let's add some interest to these curves. I'm going to add a bit of contrast to the rocks that we have here. There we go. That's a nice contrast for there. Let's hit command "I" on that. What I want to do because the rocks have relatively hard edges, I'm going to choose the brush and then hold control alt option and drag down to make my brush relatively hard as well, something like 80 or 90% hardness. I'm doing that because we want something that's actually going to mimic the shape and texture of the rock. If you do something that's relatively soft edge, it's just going to look a little bit weird if you're painting a hard edge rock and then you have a soft edge on what is actually supposed to be effected. It looks a lot better if you use the hard edge when you're painting hard edge objects.
Alright, then we'll put some contrast up there. You can see what we're mostly doing today is curves, nothing incredibly complex, just adding some contrast to some areas that we want to see. If you want to see more, just hold down the shift key and then click on your layer mask and that's going to temporarily disable your layer mask. In this case, what it's doing is just showing me how everything would look with, here we go, with that contrast applied to it. For the most part, these rocks pretty much all look decent with a bit of contrast on them.
We should put some green on that grass, shouldn't we? Definitely. All right, so a little bit of contrast on those rocks just to make them more interesting because they were pretty boring before. Let's grab a curve adjustment layer and darken down quite a bit. Now, what we're going to do is paint in some areas like underneath the rocks. There we go. I'm trying to stick with the general shadow areas here. I'm not looking for the highlights. I’m looking for the areas that already are in shadow. This is going to help tone and carve out some of the details here on the rocks, any areas that are dark, just make them a little bit darker, just like landscape, dodging and burning, which is fun.
You don't even have to be really that good at it, just paint around with your brush and [inaudible 00:20:11] look cool. That's good. You can do something that doesn't require any skill at all, go for it. It's like, "Yeah, Aaron just said you can do whatever you want. You don't even have to good at it." See? I'm not even paying attention to what I'm doing right now, I'm looking cool. There we go. I'm just darkening some things down which is going to wind up bringing the lighter things to light. [inaudible 00:20:48] which is why I'm totally loopy right now. Alright, let's make that visible and invisible and then you can see that it [inaudible 00:20:54] better, yeah. This is before, really flat rocks, not that interesting. Then, after it just gets quite a bit more interesting there. Pretty cool.
Let's grab our curve adjustment layer again. I'm going to add a bit of green into our plant. That's probably way too much green. You can counteract the amount of green if I put a little bit more blue in there, it would have more blue. If I pull that down, add a little bit more yellow. Let's put a little bit of blue in there as well. We have green, but oftentimes, I won't just use one color channel because it will tend to give you something that looks a little bit fake. This is still way overdone, but you'll get the idea in just a second.
You would probably want to spend more than two minutes on this. I’m just doing a very quick job, but you'll get the idea here. You can just paint on your layer mask and have this be visible where your plants are. "Wow, Aaron, you sure did make all those plants really ugly on this image." "Thanks, guys." All right, they look horrible, right? What we're going to do is go back into our color channel and now I just need to adjust that out a little bit. We're going to our red channel and I'm going to pull some reds in there as well. There we go, that's going to balance everything out quite a bit better. We have quite a bit more color, quite a bit more interest in there, but it's a color that's a little bit more appropriate too, which is cool. Then, we can just lower the opacity and things like that. Even after doing, that was a very, very quick job, still looks quite a bit better, which is cool.
Alright, let's go ahead and do a couple more things. I'm going to grab my curve adjustment layer. I'm going to drag that way down. Over here on my layers, I'm going to hit command "I." We're going to use our gradient tool and I'm going to go from the top down and just give that a nice gradient from the sky there. Let's see what that looks like there. Now that looks pretty cool. We just need to make sure that it's not visible where our palm tree is. I'm just going to take my layer mask and I'm going to just paint black on my layer mask where our tree is.
This here, you'll get this sometimes if you are doing some compositing. This is leftover probably from my palm tree layer, which is right over here. Just make sure you paint black around the edges of any layers that you're moving around or else you'll also get that little bit of fringing that's going to look just horrible, so don't do that. Let's group those. You can see what a difference that makes. We're already getting into pretty cool-ish. All right, so curve adjustment. I'm getting more and more excited as this image goes out. Let's just create a weird shape up here, something like this. A lot of things that I do in Photoshop, I don't want it to look "Photoshop-py." Some good ways to do that is to make irregular shapes and things like that. I'll make weird shapes and all kinds of things all over the place because it'll just look like less that it's done in Photoshop. We have a pretty irregular shape there. We’re going to go to "filter, blur, motion blur." I'm going to blur that from the left to the right, why not? There we go, that looks pretty cool.
Then, let's go ahead and thrust that out as well. Remember, this is just like a curve adjustment layer. There we go. Let's give that a little bit of a Gaussian blur as well. It's just this curve adjustment layer that's making this area brighter. It's a bit brighter here and our layer mask looks just like that. I’m just wanting to paint something in here that doesn't look totally like it was done in Photoshop, that maybe, since is somewhat has a shape there, it might look like it was actually done by God. If you did it right, it'll lot look like it was done by God. There we go, but that's the hope, to make it look like somewhat natural.
There we go, cool. We're just adding some brightness and interest and things like that right into that image there. The tree on top here, just because where it is just has too much color in it, so what we're going to do is grab this and paint that dark where the tree is. Because of the contrast, the tree is supposed to be quite a bit darker than the background. Think of how your eyes look when you're looking at something. The background is going to be quite a bit lighter than whatever you see. You can't have, unless you want to go to HDR effect, you can't have super light in the foreground and the background most of the time, because your eyes and the camera lens and all of it just need to adjust to that difference. That's one good thing to think about there.
All right, let's do a couple more things. I want to focus in again on our horizon line and see what I can do here. It's not even really … I didn't make the horizon flat or anything like that, but whatever.
There we go. Let's just brighten this up again. Then, I'm going to grab my gradient tool and I'm going to paint with black. My foreground is transparent which in this case is black transference. We're just come down there and that's going to create a little bit of interest right there on the horizon. There we go. We're just going to paint that away. We'll just blur that a little bit because it's not a super light, solid horizon. Yeah, there we go, kind of cool.
If you decide you want that darker, just click and drag that darker and then you can see what it looks like both ways. "Oh, it's nice out there," and it's just like, "A storm's coming." I don't know. I don't know what I'm in the mood for. Looks like a little bit lighter, why not. Let's go ahead and do some general curve adjustment layers. The whole image I think we could use a little bit more green and a little bit more blue in the image as a whole. There we go. Just going to tone it just a little bit so it's like that fresh island color which I like a lot. Let's go ahead and brighten up the whole thing just a bit as well. We'll put a thing in there.
We're still building a focal point just like we do in portraits and things like that. In this case, it just happens to be a landscape. I still want to build a relative focal point and that's going to be guided by this light area here in the sky. All right, looking good.
I want to add some dodging and burning, but I'm going to do it in a cool way. We're going to make [inaudible 00:28:11] layer, I’m going to de-saturate it and then I'm going to change it to soft light and then, we're going to go to "filter, other," and then I'm going to go to "high path." Here we go. What you want to do here is to choose a pretty high radius. There we go, something like that, way higher than you would normally use. It's just going to exaggerate your lights and your darks a little bit. It's going to give you that extra little bit of detail, but it's going to look bad in some areas so I would recommend lowering your opacity a good bit and then you'll get something that looks good. You can even put a layer mask over here the tree. I don't think you it needs to be visible, things like that, but in some places, it definitely does look good.
Alright guys, so that's our image. We started with something that looks like this, totally boring and simple, and we turned it into that which is a bit overdone. Just lower the opacity of some of these layers. I’m like, "Yeah, it looks great," and I'm changing my mind about that, "No, actually it's way overdone. Congratulations, Aaron." That's just part of being a human, we tend to overdo things. I would just like to turn these layers on and off and you can just see, "Okay, maybe we're looking a bit more like on the natural side here."
Guys, thanks so much for watching this super extended, very long in-depth episode on making your travel photos not suck. Thanks again, guys and I will phlearn you later.