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Maddy Rogers Photography: How To Use Digital Props

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They look so easy to use because someone else has designed, created, built and photographed a wonderfully creative and probably expensive flower arrangement. All you have to do is pop a baby in it and hey presto you have a convincing composite, right? Well yeah, with practice, you can, but they can be tough to do well.

The first thing you need to do is learn how to use layers and masks in Photoshop, because if you can’t do that, you can’t use these wonderful digital props and backgrounds, so before you read further, pop to the Phlearn website and swat up. Sorted? Ok, so l’ll explain simply the things to look out for, and the simple rules to follow. Do understand that much depends on your eye, and your editing skills. If you’re new to editing you may need practice to hone your skills, but this will at least help with the basics.
The first thing to understand is this. You MUST shoot the baby for the prop you have. You can’t buy a cute prop and trawl your portfolio looking for an image of a baby that looks like it will fit. lt won’t.

Egg prop by Little Posers Overlays

Take a good look at the prop you have. Lets say this egg because its a good clear example. Look at the light. Its clearly lit gently and very naturally from the right. So, you must take an image of a baby using the same lighting style. You also need to look at how the prop will support the baby and what position he will be in. On the egg one l used my curved stool. Next, do not shoot a baby on pink if the prop is using a green background. Use the same colour fluff. Thats why the creators often use the same flower wreath but with a choice of colour fluff centres, so you can choose, and shoot on a mixture of colours. Whatever the baby lays on will colourcast their skin, and you will see this mismatch in the final edit. So here you can see l chose the same colour as the egg contents.

The next thing to NEVER do, is cut out just the baby to paste on to the prop. Under baby are real shadows, and they are almost impossible to fake, so you need to preserve those shadows to get the realistic end result. So, make sure the coloured fluff that matches that in the prop surrounds the baby fully so you can cut around that, and not the baby, hence keeping all the real shadows.
Ok, so you have baby in an image on the colour you’re wanting, and in the right position for the prop, and lit in the right way. Now you need to look at the baby, and the prop. Have they got a good match in terms of colours, saturation, warmth? You may now need to edit the baby image so when she is in place, she isn’t looking cold against a warm prop, or isn’t exposed differently. You can of course do adjustments once she is on the prop, but get it as close as you can before that

Now take your lasso tool and cut out around the baby. Copy> go to prop image> paste.
Once the baby is on the image use your move tool to get baby in the right place, but remember to hold the shift key down so you don’t distort the image.

So in the above image baby is in place, and l’m pretty ok with that edit match between baby and prop images. Now l will add a layer mask:

Using a black brush on about 50% opacity and flow, l’ll paint away the top layer image to reveal the prop underneath. You need to adjust your brush as you go until you think it looks convincing, switching back to a white brush to paint back if needed. Having done that you may feel the colours don’t quite match. On mine l decided her wrap wasn’t matching the flowers, and the wool she is on wasn’t quite yellow enough, so heres what l did. On a now flat image l created a new empty layer:

Then, where it says ‘normal’ there is a drop down. Go to ‘colour’:

Now take your brush, and using the alt key, sample the new colour….for me it was purple of a flower. Now it will paint that colour where you want it. l did her wrap. Its a colour wash and is transparent so you lose no detail or tones. Below you can see the greyish colour the wrap was before and the new richer colour that now matches the prop flowers. You can do this for all sorts of colour adjustments.

Don’t expect to get this right first time, but play and practice, and you’ll get there as long as you follow the basic rules. 🙂 Pop to Luisa Dunn Photography for more props.

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