Using Backgrounds to get Arty and Have Fun

I’m no expert. I’m really not a techy, as I’ve said before. But with practice in Photoshop, it’s not too difficult to make some arty looking images from pictures of your friends. You might even be able to make an image of them that will make them smile. It all started when my photography magazine arrived with some free backgrounds and basic instructions on how to use layers to overlay another shot. So I thought as Christmas is coming you may want to try it and perhaps surprise a friend or two with a unique present.

You need a background images to start with. Mine in the shot above was one of the downloads offered with the magazine CD. However, since then I’ve been busily taking my own collection for future use. Scroll down to have a look at the kind of ideas you can use. I’d recommend that you take your own background shots at the same resolution and size as the image you want to overlay. This will make the layers easier to align and merge together.




Now, below I’ve used a background I shot myself of a slab of rock on a beach (background3, above). It was a landscape image and I wanted it to be portrait to fit my image of my friend the comedian Randy Wornhole. So I rotated the image by 90 degrees.

Randy Wornhole

The combined layers merged.

Assuming you now have the images on your computer as jpg, now open the background image. You might want to play around with how light or dark this background layer is. As you’ve overlaying someones’ face, or perhaps an animals profile, you don’t want it to disappear into too dark a background. Don’t worry about this too much, however, as you can still alter it later. Try to choose an image with a very simple background so you can cut out the person’s outline using the quick selection tool.  Now on the top bar of Photoshop, go to window-arrange-float in window. Using the move tool, drag the outlined image into the window of the background image and move it around until you like how it’s lined up. You now have two layers.

In the layers bar (bottom right) double-click on the top layer and you’ll see a menu come up on-screen. Now you can blend this layer with the background. Try different settings. This screen allows you to view your experiments as you play. I’ve found the blending mode the most useful, and in Randy’s image I used multiply with an opacity of 92 and in advanced blending, a fill opacity of 71. I didn’t like the effects of any of the blending options on the styles list for this image, but did use them for the picture of my son above. It all depends on your picture and background choice as to what will work for you. You may at this stage decide the background is too light or too dark. Simply click on the background layer and alter this shade either using curves or exposure.

Once you are satisfied with your results, you’ll need to close the blending window and choose layer-flatten layer to save as a jpg. Have fun with it. Be aware that I’ve tried quite a few different images before I found ones that really worked for me. This is another chance to play! The image below is one I teased a friend with. I managed to line up the bark on the background with his face and chin, and it gives him an ancient, gnarled look. He did laugh, honestly.


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. hemlock1981
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 16:08:31

    Very creative and informative. Nice outcome.


    • chriscaff
      Dec 09, 2010 @ 16:41:04

      Thankyou Hemlock. I fear you may have read half a blog, though, as your comment came through just as I realized that an interruption as I was writing meant I published before I’d finished uploading all the shots! I’ve corrected that now. I like your moody rail line shot. Thanks for calling and commenting.


      • hemlock1981
        Dec 09, 2010 @ 16:54:00

        Ah, indeed. I now have seen the completed intentions! And you do not disappoint! Great mergers. Good luck with the rest of your captures.

  2. chriscaff
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 17:22:03

    Thanks Hemlock!


  3. Bob Zeller
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 19:06:58

    Hi Cris,

    I have been enjoying your posts. You are very creative and imaginative. And, of course, I appreciate your little lessons or tutorials. Very informative. I shoot mostly wildlife and I don’t know how many of your ideas I can put into use, but I will keep watching and learning.



    • chriscaff
      Dec 09, 2010 @ 20:17:30

      Thanks Bob you’re very kind. I do mostly nature photography myself (you might want to have a look at my website at I have played with putting flowers onto backgrounds but haven’t done anything yet I’m really pleased with. But how about a seascape in rock? Just and idea.


  4. Bob Zeller
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 19:19:31

    By the way, Chris, I have added you to my blogroll. Maybe someone else can enjoy your articles, too.



  5. mariegoodwyn
    Dec 09, 2010 @ 21:45:45

    Thanks for coming to visit – using layers is brilliant fun and a great way to artify an image – I really like the one of Randy!
    Can I ask a wordpress q.? If you reply to a comment on your blog – on your blog – is the person you reply to automatically notified. I like the way you have conversations on yours!


    • chriscaff
      Dec 09, 2010 @ 22:09:18

      Thanks very much Marie. I liked your post. I agree, layers are fun, and as long as you have the original picture you lose nothing. Just remember to save the new combined image under a new name so you don’t end up saving over the original background. Re replies…you can either view them by going to my account-track my comments, tick the box where you are posting the comment to be notified of replies or subscribe to the blog you’ve commented on and revisit. I hope that helps. Don’t be afraid to chat to people, I think that’s why we’re here!


    • randywornhole
      Dec 12, 2010 @ 21:25:03

      it is in part down to Chris’s fabulous phot skills, but what a fab model too XX


  6. randywornhole
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 21:23:37

    OMG……immortalsied in rock…..always liked it hard. Fabulous……


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