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"Dragon Whisperer" (August 2020 Sneak Peek) Compositing Tutorial

Hello, fellow creators!

 Today’s Dragon Whisperer is the premium membership sneak peek released just for August. This image is being made into a jigsaw puzzle available this holiday season in major retailers worldwide like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and through the toy company itself!

You are going to learn about lots of free and paid stock sites while you build this composite.

Gather Castle ImagesFirst, find your stock images to build your composite.

This image uses a castle, a dragon, candles, smoke flames, sparks, a crystal ball, and a sky.

There are several free sites like PNGtree, Unsplash, and Clipart Library to browse. Visit Adobe Stock, PixelSquid, or Shutterstock if you’d like to invest in a premium stock site. 

 Pro tip: having at least one high-quality premium stock membership gives you images you can always rely on. 

To begin, first set your image size to at least a minimum of 3,000 pixels on your width and height.

Castle, Windows and Sky background building Next, use the quick selection tool to extract your subject. 

For tricky details like in the castle, use the polygonal lasso tool to edit the windows. Deleting the window backgrounds allows you to use a dramatic sky in the background layer. 

 Make smaller points with the polygonal lasso around your windows to create a smooth cut out. Once your outline is in place, hit delete.

 There is a newer updated function, the select subject; you can use here, too. The quick selection tool, just masking, or even the pen tool also to complete this step.

 Creative tip: play with these tools to see which ones best fit the stock images you choose! 

Continue around the castle with a hard brush and mask away around the inner areas you don’t need.  Hit the shift key to delete.

Use the rectangular marquis to select your sky image. Copy and paste it underneath the castle later. 

Pro tip: start naming your layers to help keep you organized!

Resize and move the sky to where you want it. You may even flip the image horizontally to achieve the sky look you want.

 Select, size and mask the dragonUse the select-subject to grab the dragon. Once you copy and paste the dragon onto your castle background, hit control/command T to grab and resize the dragon into his spot. 

Convert the dragon to a smart object so you can move him later without losing any pixels. 

Use a hard black brush to mask your way around the dragon. Masking is a time-consuming step, but worth the time to create a crisp image. The closer you zoom in, the more control you have.

Creative tip: some images on white backgrounds may still require a bit of masking! 


Dragon Whisperer Subject 

 Use select subject to now grab your model. Be sure to zoom in and make sure to catch things like tips of the nose, eyelashes, fingertips, and other fine details.

 Go to select>mask and run the refine edge brush around the image. 

 When your image is in good shape, hit Control J to put it on its layer. Save as a PSD, so you don’t have to cut it out again! 

 Pro tip: hold down the shift key between points when masking straight lines to speed up the process a bit.

Click filter>liquify to pull some volume from her hair. Use the forward warp tool to pull the hair out as needed. Later, the clone pattern stamp will also add some cool designs to her hair! 

 Right-click to apply the layer mask. 

 Use the marquee tool to select your subject and control C to copy, control V to paste her onto the castle. 

Hit Control T to grab her to resize the model. Work with your subject and dragon to find complementary sized and placements. Remember to save room for the dragon’s fire breathing flames!  Be sure to convert your subject to a smart filter before you resize!

 Click on camera>raw filter to adjust the lighting on your subject. Bring down the highlights or adjust saturation as needed to match your image into the background. 

 Turn things on and off as you edit to see the changes you are making.

 You may even decide to copy and paste additional pieces of the dress to cover the models’ shoes or feet. Using liquify or warp, you can adjust the dress pieces to achieve the look you like. 

Once your subject is perfectly in place, convert again to a smart filter. Click Filter>camera>raw filter, to bring down the highlights and exposure. Try bringing down the curves and use a soft black brush on the face to bring in more light to the face.  

Zoom in and adjust the hue and saturation as needed in your image.

Editing tip: save and rename your layers and always keep a backup copy.

Fire Breathing Dragon Select a piece of fire stock and use the normal lasso tool to grab it. Make sure your pixels are at 0 to keep your feathering from being hazy. Set the blend mode to screen and resize it. Name the layer and turn it off to adjust later. 

Repeat the process with your smoke and sparks overlays.

Light the Candles  Use some of your candles, lantern, or other castle stock images to build your background elements. Play with the perspective and angles to resize and blend images into the background.  If you can’t get the right view, you can sometimes flip images horizontal or vertical to get the best fit with your stock images.

Turn down the opacity when you are masking the edges of your images into the background. 

Control G will group images so you can save each set of images.

Turn the candlesticks in different directions on the stairs, so they don’t all look the same.

 Work your way up the staircase, resizing the candles accordingly. Make them smaller and smaller as you go up the stairs.

Editing tip: put the candles all in a group to simplify the curves adjustment on all the candles at once!

You want all the flames to be different, and you can use an overlay or brushes, whatever you like for your candlelight

Place the flame on the candlesticks. Resize and warp each flame to light the staircase. Be sure to group the candles and torches altogether. 

Gaze into the crystal ballUsing a crystal ball from PixelSquid, copy and paste the ball into the subject’s hand. Put a mask on it and zoom in. With a hard brush, take off the edges of the crystal ball you don’t need.  

Zoom in as far as you can. You want to see this part pixel by pixel, so it looks like the ball is really in her hand. 

 Pro tip: look for natural images that will be easy to mask in the composite!

 Global AdjustmentsIn the curves layer, bring the midpoint down. Adjust the red channels to bring those up a bit. Find just the dragon for an individual adjustment and bring some more red into him.

Click on the just background, and make another adjustment on the background to darken.

Use a soft white brush at 100% around the subject. Be sure the shadows match around the subject. Don’t let it go too dark.

Pro tip: merge the crystal ball and your subject (or any other images you want to be grouped) by holding down the shift key and click, then control/command E.

 In the layer behind the candles, get a solid color, and invert it so you can choose the shadow colors that are in the images. 

Get a brush and turn it to create shadows behind the candles. Make your brush smaller the Adjust the opacity.

Filter blur Gaussian blur and adjust the opacity  

Pro tip: Try the smoke brushes available in the TLE deluxe brush set! Add a different smoke element to each top of the candlesticks. Lower the opacity as needed.

Play with the tones in your sky to make the colors pop. Choose a solid color layer and infer it.

Use a soft white brush to emphasize some of the lightings around the sky. 

Pattern Stamp tool and Eyelashes Brushes

Get a blank layer and set it to color dodge.

Click the pattern stamp on the left side toolbar.  Open up the image you want to use, then click Edit>Define pattern. 

Click the pattern and brush it on your subjects’ hair, working along with the pattern naturally on the subject. You can create custom embellishments or accessories!

Next, use one of the TLE eyelash brushes or overlays. Grab the lash and right-click to manipulate the perspective and warp the last to fit. Zoom in to closely examine the lash line.

Fine final details 

When you are happy with your image, it’s time for the final adjustments!

Go to File>Save As and save it as a photoshop document. Click layer>Flatten image. 

Make a copy. Click Filter>Camera Raw Filter and in the effects, add more post-crop vignetting. In the main menu, bring up the texture for more of an HDR feel or bring down for a softer feel. Pop up the highlights to watch the fire glow!

This sneak peek just one of the hot items available in the TLE Premium Membership. Join today and set your editing on fire! 


Happy Editing!


Kristin Mantta


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