Sometimes something awesome happens right in front of you when you're lucky enough to have a camera in your hands. But, sadly, your luck isn't perfect. The subject of the photo is one of the most adorable kids you've ever met, who's just happened to ride his bike right up to you and flash the cutest smile you've ever seen. But the background is a drab cement street.
This exact situation happened to me and this was the best photo I could make of it with light processing in Lightroom. It's cute, but not the sort of picture on which a photographer builds a career (or even a portfolio for that matter. So, my choices were to forget about it, or find a better background and make a composite in photoshop.
Fortunately, I had just the shot, taken a few hours later on the same day. My wife's colleague took my wife and I on a tour of the cosmos fields near Nago, Okinawa and, in addition to some really nice shots of bees on the cosmos, I managed to shoot this wide angle image of the whole field.
In terms of subject matter, this was a perfect image for the background. Unfortunately, it was taken with a different lens, on a different stop, at a different angle and focused at a different distance from the lens. That means that making a believable composite out of the two photos (i.e. a composite that doesn't look like a composite) would require making some adjustments.
The first thing I did was to place the foreground in its own file and mask out the road so that all I could see was the boy. Next, I opened the background as a separate file, cropped it and added a blur filter using the gradient tool so that it got blurrier toward the top of the image. This gave the background the appearance of having a much narrower depth of field than it did. On top of the cropping, this simulated the compression effect of the telephoto lens with which which the boy was photographed (the field was taken at on a 24mm lens on a different camera).
I made a new layer and brought in the background by means of copy and paste (placing and embedded or linked file would have worked too). I felt that the crop was not enough to make it look like the flower field was taken on the same lens as the boy, so I expand it using the transform function. I then performed another gradient blur to intensify the effect, and place a gaussian blur filter over the whole layer. This worked.
All that was left to do was make the colors and contrast match. This is harder than it looks and it is very much a matter of judgement. Basically I just played with the filters until I got what I liked. What seemed to make the most different were the vibrancy and saturation filters on the boy, which brought out the color and shadows in his face. Bringing up the vibrance, lowering the saturation and fine-tuning the contrast, I found the right balance in the foreground.
One of the keys was in the boy's hat, which in real life was bright, bright orange. It was so naturally vibrant that it looked fake. So, to tone it down, I masked it off and reduced the saturation using an adjustment layer, clipped to the foreground layer.
All that was left to do was refine the mask on the photo of the boy and position the background perfectly, leaving the horizon out to preserve the sense that we are looking down at the boy. The angle is still a bit of a cheat, but nobody has ever seen this and believed it was a composite. To me, that is a sign of success. Here is the finished photo.
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