How to extend your image background for composites

Hello Friends!

One of the questions I get asked the most when it comes to photography and composites is: How can I extend my image background? 

Often, you'll pick the perfect photo you want to use for a composite, only to realize your stock image won't fit. 

Of course, if you already know that you want to add a stock image to a photo for a composite, then the easiest thing to do is leave enough room in the image to place your stock. 

But if you didn't plan to accommodate the stock, then you're going to have to work a little magic, and I'm here to help you with that part. 

I'm going to use my "Baby, It's Cold Outside" image as an example. 

To start off, I suggest shooting with your lowest F-stop so you can get all the compression in the background. This will not only make it easier to extend the background, but it'll also help you out if you plan to cut your subject out of the background. 

Before you begin, you can roughly measure how much you need to extend your background by placing your intended stock image in Photoshop first.

Ok, now you're officially ready to begin:

Step 1: Use the crop tool to drag and drop and extend the background to the size you'll need. You'll see an area of mini checkered gray and white boxes after. 

Step 2: Use the rectangular marquee tool to select the checkered area you just created when you extended your image. You can do this by right-clicking, selecting "fill" and choosing "content aware."

Keep in mind that the smaller the possible area you can grab to do a content fill, the better because it won't grab from everything else in the background. The best thing you can do is do section by section. Most of the time, this technique won't leave you with a perfect background extension and more tweaking will need to be done, but it's the first step.  

Step 3: Select the marquee tool again and hold down ctrl + J (use command instead of control if you're on a Mac). This will duplicate the active layer into a new layer. Then use ctrl + T to grab it and drag it to the extended background area. 

At first, the extended background portion will look like an exact copy of the surrounding area but don't worry, we're going to fix that now. Click to put a mask on the part we just extended and use a black brush to blend the hard edges. 

I recommend you flatten the image before moving on to the next step. 

Step 4: Make a new layer copy using ctrl + J again, then click on the filter and select the liquify tool to move around small areas and little details to make sure everything looks different and not like a copy. You may want to flatten your image again at this point. 

Step 5: At this point in the process you can go in and use the clone stamp tool at about 40% to grab a sample and go over some areas to make sure there isn't too much repetition. 

I like to use the clone stamp tool at 40% so everything blends in and I'm not just copying more patterns over and over again. You can also go in and add a bit of blur in the background too. 

Step 6: Now you can finally add your stock to the image, mask the parts that need it, and do global adjustments.  

  Before & After

You can use these same techniques to extend studio backgrounds. Every image is different so they will all benefit best from different techniques, but these top 3 methods work well whether you're trying to extend a studio background or outdoors: 

  • Content fill aware 
  • Copying a section of the background and moving it over 
  • Using the clone stamp tool 

These are the methods I use to extend all my backgrounds, even if the combination of techniques varies a little. 

I hope I was able to give you some insight into how you can extend the background of your images. To see the full tutorial for the "Baby It's Cold Outside" composite and gain access to my complete library of compositing tutorials, sign up for a premium membership today by clicking here.