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How To Composite Images Using The Photoshop Pen Tool

In this tutorial I will be showing you how to remove the background of one image so the it can be placed onto different background. We call this “compositing”. While there are many ways to do this, we will mainly be using the Pen Tool. The pen tool can be difficult to grasp at first, but once you have it down it is an essential, irreplaceable tool! It’s an absolute must have for any professional level of compositing.

Program: Photoshop Cs6

Level: Intermediate

Time: 30 min.

Here is a image showing what a path, direction line and anchor is:

Step One – Prepare the Background. We are going to prepare the background very quickly. First, using the crop tool, I elongated the bottom half of the image so there is more foreground. Using a large soft round brush I feathered out the edge.

I then duplicated the background image and moved the layer below the original background image. I enlarged the duplicated background large enough to where it filled the empty checkered part of the canvas.

Note: that this will only work with simple images with low detail. If I were to do this with a field of grass then the grass would become blurry and low quality.

Next, we are going to add more light to the left side of the trees. Create a new layer, and with a large soft round brush set to “Overlay” paint white on the left side of the trees in the background. Lower the layer opacity to around 40%.

Finally, create a color lookup adjustment layer, and set it to “Filmstock”. Lower the opacity to 20%.

Step Two – Extracting the Models Body First we are going to focus on the body. We are going to ignore any part of the image that is not a smooth line, such as the hair and any fur or feathers.

Choose the Pen Tool (P) and zoom in very close to your image. I will be starting on the shoulder. Left click on the very top of the shoulder. A small square box will show. This is called an anchor point. It’s the beginning of the path.

Click about a third of the way down the arm and drag down. This will make the path curve. You want to curve it so it is outlining the edge of the arm.

We want to make big lines when we can. The less anchor points the smoother your edges will be.

Once you have the curve how you would like it stop, let go of the mouse and hold Alt then click and drag the direction line into the anchor point. So you will basically only have the top half of the direction line showing


If at any time you mess up and need to delete one or a few anchor points you can just hit the Delete key.

Click down where the models arm and dress meet. Do the same thing as before. Drag your mouse around until the path is outlining the arm, and then let go. Hold down Alt, and then drag the bottom direction line into the new anchor.


Keep doing this until you get to the feathered part of the dress. Be patient, and accurate.

Here is what we have zoomed out.


We are going to skip the feathers, so just make quick clicks around that area. Here is what mine looks like.


Now go back to making long smooth lines, outline the models legs. When you get to the shoes your lines will be shorter. Here are mine:


Keep repeating the steps above until your whole model is outlined. When you finally make it back to your first anchor point simply click on it to connect everything. Once your path is connected, all it’s anchor points will vanish and you will have just the path.

Now you can create a new starting point anywhere you need to. In this case between her ankles and legs.


Now that you are finished creating your paths, add a layer mask to your model’s layer. With the pen tool and layer mask selected and with black set as your foreground color, right click > Fill path. Hit Ctrl+I to invert the layer mask so the background is hidden and the model is now showing.

Finally, right click > Delete Path.

We used a layer mask so that if there are any mistakes, you can fix them easily. If you are happy with the edge then right click on the layer mask and “Apply Mask”

Step 3 – Extracting  the Models Hair, and Feathers Now we are going to use the Magic Wand tool (W) on the areas we skipped. The feathers and the hair.

Set the Tolerance by going to the top tool bar and choosing the correct amount. In this case 8.

Click on the bottom left background area first then hold Shift and click on the rest. If you click on the wrong area just hit undo. If you are selecting too little or too much, adjust the Tolerance level. The higher the Tolerance level the more the it will select.


Add a layer mask to the model’s image. Hit Ctrl+I to invert it.


As you can see the edges are very rough and look horrible! This is where we tap into the power of the Refine Mask tools. Double click on the layer mask and click “Mask Edge…”. You will see something like this:


First, make sure “Smart Radius” is checked. Now Drag the Radius amount up. The amount will depend on your image. Usually something between 6 and 8 will work.

Now, with your mouse, drag the brush along the edge of the feathers and hair. You will see the edges changing. Here is what mine looks like. I am working with a very small image, so it is less effective. The larger the image the more accurate this will work.  It will essentially do 80% of the work when it comes to cutting out things like hair, fur, feathers and anything else with soft, tricky edges.


If you have any left over edges showing then just go in with a semi soft, black brush and erase them on the layer mask.

With that same brush, switched to white, you can also paint back in some of the hair if you need to. Or any part that should not have been masked. Be meticulous.

Once you are happy, right click > apply layer mask.


Step 4 – Placing Your Model In Their Environment Place your model on the background image from earlier, and resize her accordingly. Make sure not to make her too big. Also make sure the lighting is consistent.

In this background image all the lighting is coming from the left, so I flipped the model to make sure her lighting was also coming from the left.

When placing your model onto her new background, you must take the environment into account. In this case it is snow. So we want to make her sunken into the snow a bit.

A very quick way to do this is to add a layer mask to your model’s layer, and mask out the bottom half of her feet. Make sure to make the edge more curved, not straight.


Make two flat dark blue (#0d2640) circles under your model’s feet. The bottom edge of the circle should be right where the edge of her feet end. With the Smudge Tool, smudge out the edges of the circles so they are not so harsh. Here are what my circles look like with and without the model.


We want to add highlights and lowlights to the hole. Use a small semi-soft white brush and paint around the circles. Close to their edges. Set the brush flow to a low amount so you can slowly build up the light.

Now with the same dark blue as before, paint with a soft round brush around the white you just painted.  This is out lowlight. It should be stronger/darker on the front right side.

The longer you take on this step the better your results. Try and look at references of other people standing in the snow if you need too. We are trying to mimic this visual.

Step 5 – Adding Shadows To add a shadow, duplicate the model’s layer, drag it below the original, and add a “Color Overlay” layer effect. Set the color to another dark blue (#2c527b).

Using the Transform Tool, click on the top Transform Line and drag down

Right click on the Transform line and select “Distort”. Play around with it until the shadow looks correct.


Lower the opacity to around 30%. Add a layer mask and mask out the part furthest from the model with a large soft round brush.

Select the same area with the Lasso Tool set to a high Feather amount. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian and set it to an appropriate amount. The amount will depend on the size of your shadow. Here is mine:

Step 6 – Lighting and Shading your Model

Finally we are going to add some lighting and shading to our model. First, clip a new layer to your model’s layer and set it to “Soft Light”. With a soft round brush set to a Flow of 25%, paint white on the left side of your model. Focus on the areas that would be catching the most light.

Now do the same but opposite with black. Paint with black wherever that shadows will be darkest. This includes her ankles in the holes in the snow.

Try and be precise  so the image does not look flat. Zoom in close to be more accurate. Name this layer “Lighting”

Create a new layer and clip it above the “Lighting” layer. Set it to “Multiply”.

Withe a soft, round brush set to a dark brown (#1f0f0a) paint on the inside of the model. Set the layer opacity to 24% to darken the body of the model. Do not paint on the face or anywhere you think light would be hitting. Name this layer “Shading”

Clip a “Brightness and Contrast” adjustment layer above the “Shading” layer and set the Brightness to 50 and Contrast to -20. Select the layer mask and hit Ctrl+I to invert it. Using a soft, round brush paint white on the layer mask to brighten up the models legs.

Clip a “Color Balance” adjustment layer above the Brightness and Contrast layer and set it to Red -1, Green 8, and Blue 29.

And finally, above all your other layers create a “Color Lookup” adjustment layer and set it to “FallColors”. Bring the opacity down to 38% to give everything an overall color. This helps bring everything together.

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