Creating a composite picture in Photoshop

The joy of photography for me is capturing a unique moment in time and freezing it. Motion is beautiful, to be sure, but it happens so quickly, we don’t see what is actually happening. Professionals can use slow motion photography, but that sort of thing is beyond my means. However, I do have a Canon D550 DSLR and Photoshop.

Not so long ago, I was down the beach with my camera taking pictures of the shore break when my husband hollered, “Beside you.” I turned and a pelican was coming in to land on the sandbar right beside me. I had the camera in ‘sports’ mode, so I held down the shutter and was rewarded with a series of shots as the bird came in. It occurred to me that it would be nice to stitch a few of them together to show what the bird did with its wings and feet as it landed.

picture of pelican shaping to land Pelican2 Pelican3

The difficulty was matching the background. Essentially, I selected one picture as the background for the whole shot. This is the picture. I used it because it had the best balance of beach for my purposes.

picture of pelican shaping to land

Then I used Photoshop’s Magic Extractor to remove most (but not all) of the background from the three shots I had selected. I made sure to include the reflection of the pelican in the Pelican landing1pools and enough sand around them so I could blend each picture into the others. Here’s the sequence of additions. Notice I seem to have two birds the same. In the final layer I pasted over the top of the bird in the middle and came up with the final shot.

Pelican landing2








I spent some time with Photoshop’s tools to blend the backgrounds together so the joins between the layers were invisible. And here’s the final shot. Poetry in motion.

Pelican landing

11 thoughts on “Creating a composite picture in Photoshop

  1. rinellegrey

    Beautiful. One of the hardest things about photography I think is capturing animals in the wild. They can be so unpredictable, and unexpected. It’s not like you can ask a pelican to please land again because you missed it! Great photoshopping job too.

  2. pattyjansen

    Two things:

    1. Awesome!

    2. I’m glad I’m getting to see this, because I was about to take my camera back to the shop to have it fixed, but was wondering if other cameras did this, too, and if it’s a function of the light hitting the lens at certain angles. You see all the fuzzy black spots on the left and right of the first pelican, but especially the left? Yeah, those. They’re always in the same position. Lens and sensor cleaning doesn’t get rid of them, but they’re not always there, just most of the time, and they’re most common at either end of the zoom lens’ range.

    I edit them out manually. I think it’s a function of light reflection inside the camera. Now I wonder if the problem persists if I buy a $2000 lens. This is a dangerous thing to wonder.

    1. Greta van der Rol

      I suppose you get what you pay for. 🙂 I suspect part of this is in sports mode the camera automatically picks its own conditions. Resolution suffers accordingly because the shutter speed is so high. Dunno. It might be better with a raw image.

      1. pattyjansen

        I usually work in the entire opposite spectrum. Imperfections are really magnified at exposures of 30 seconds.

  3. Marj

    Very nice. One can spend hours fiddling with pictures on Photoshop. I always tell myself afterwards that it was not a waste of time, but the development of a valuable skill.
    I can’t do as well as you have, though.

  4. J.S. Colley

    Okay, dumb question of the day, but why didn’t you just use the bird you ended up with in the middle to begin with? I know nothing about photography, as you can probably guess!

    1. Greta van der Rol

      If you look at the backgrounds behind the birds, you’ll see the one I chose is less complex, so it was going to be easier to match and blend when the time came. And no question is dumb, and no approach is ‘right’. I did it that way because I figured I could make it work.

Comments are closed.