Self-Isolation | Photoshop Composit


So self-isolation is going "great" as you have seen in the illustration. What you don't see it that my current housemates consist of two hampsters and a ferret. Always did say I prefer animals to people but it's not exactly what I had in mind... oh well the irony.

Another life problem showed up - after two weeks of doing nothing I cannot lie to myself anymore that "if I had time" there would be so many things I could accomplish. I mean I always knew it deep inside that was a lie, simply didn't need anyone or anything (like a natural disaster for example ) to prove it to me.

The first two weeks or cleaning the flat and talking politics with Eleanor (one of the hampsters) was a slightly different experience to a running a pub, but there's only so much I can discuss my thoughts on how the government is dealing with the current situation with my "Flatmates". Going out for long walks in the city with my camera and taking photos of strangers isn't exactly an option given London lockdown so I had to come up with other things to do in my "Free time". And here's why the composites and Photoshop came to mind. I decided to give it a go and given the amount of time wanted to do it properly.

Failed first attemp of creating composite
Failed first attemp of creating composite

Intentions were there but the First attempt didn't go well, I mean I watched tons of tutorials but was lacking a decent idea. By now I do care a little bit more about creating something with a story behind it, funny, sad, thought-provoking and my first attempt definitely wasn't any fo the above. The moment you come up with an idea though... oh the excitement!


Lost a big part of the day to create this illustration, about 2 -3 hours on working out where to start, taking photos, refocusing camera, taking more photos and working out details that didn't think of at first. Seems I've learned a bit from my past mistakes (Read: Puzzled Man) and made absolutely sure that the mirror was spotless before the attempt of taking any photos. Other than that as most things you do for the first time I was going pretty much blind. It took me a good while to get the right angle of the mirror, me and a camera. To get the focus correct did take shots of my face, my hand, and mirror focusing on each separately. To help myself with focusing and making sure all photos are in the same position used red electrical tape to mark the position of the chair, camera, put a piece on the mirror as well to make it easier for the camera to focus on it. Potentially could have moved the camera to the back but the cable to the laptop was too short, for that reason switched from 70mm lens to my nifty fifty to get more in the frame.

Had many doubts if the idea will work out at all, wasn't sure if I'd have to flip horizontally the image (Because mirror and all), and if so would I need to take another set of shots with flash from the other side so the shadows would be right, should I take a shot of my reflection from the mirror or take it normally and then composite into the photo an so on but finally did what I always do - said "Fuck it" and went with it not expecting much and things somehow worked themselves out.


Whenever you watching tutorials or little loops of photo editing on youtube everything seems so damn smooth and easy nevermind it takes only 10-15 minutes. Possibly for more knowledgeable and experienced people it is. For me, it was more of six hours full of mistakes, two steps back for every step forward experience. Even though that being quite a difficult process it was enjoyable, and the last couple of hours when I started seeing things coming together exhausted and with a headache from looking at the computer screen still coun't stop smiling thinking "Fuck - did i do that?"

Worth mentioning I ended up not sticking completely to the theme as originally it was meant to be a lot darker, scarier illustration expressing the feeling of self-isolation which doest still express the feeling, just not exactly in a way I thought it would. Did also come up with ideas along the way, for example, nor the face or hands were meant to be squished to the mirror to start with, it was only meant to be me choking myself through the glass, that was until I noticed the body scale and decided to take more shots of myself (don't worry, I've cleaned and disinfected the fuck out of it before it got anywhere near my face) Face. Also little details like blurring parts of myself behind the mirror that didn't touch the glass also came in when editing and weren't thought of at the very start. What it showed me (of which that website is the perfect example) is that in the process of creating, whatever is the concept, you will probably change it slightly on the way, evolve ut and in most cases add detail - it shouldn't be something discouraging, quite opposite.


Video is a cutout from hours of recording at high speed and as I said I did a lot of mistakes so if you flip between the frames you might notice that some layer that was there before in bottom right aren't there anymore, that simply because of said mistakes I had to take few steps back and start from the beginning and including it in the video seemed pointless. But all essential work with time slots, techniques, links to the tutorials I've learned them from is there. Video is at high speed so if you want to see exactly what's happening slow it down

*If you are completely new to photoshop and have no idea where to start pop into Appendices section of the side, lots of less and more complicated tutorials and other useful links (and more coming)

Otherwise, let's get started...

**You can click on the time to start the video from there.

3:12 Pen-tool - Something that I never used before and dreaded of trying to learn it but when doing this wouldn't manage to cut out or mask most of different photos in this illustration. Simple to tutorial Here.

Tutorial: Master the Pen Tool in 30 Minutes | Photoshop In-Depth Tutorial

4:18 Now as you can see not the whole hand fit in the frame so had to improvise and fill in a missing bit - Seems simple but wouldn't be as obvious to me if I didn't watch that video:

Tutorial: Broken: A High Speed Photoshop Composite

4:36 Blend If - For the sake of cut-outs and understanding how to cut out/blend different layer you need to understand what it is. You'll find yourself using it a lot in photo composites.

Tutorial: What the Heck is Blend-if in Photoshop?

5:52 Hue/Saturation - Tutorial below is about using it to remove blemishes as I did in the video. Saying that I can imagine I'll be using it a lot to change colors of... well, absolutely everything. Think background, clothes, sky and whatever else comes to your mind.

Tutorial: How to Remove Reds from Skin in Photoshop

6:26 High Pass - Used to bring in the contrast and some detail to the photo, especially when it feels a bit flat or touch out of focus.

Tutorial: How to Sharpen Images in Photoshop

7.20 Dodge and Burn - Something I have already used quite a bit when learning how to retouch portrait (Read: My ugly mug)

Tutorial: High-End Skin Retouch with Dodge & Burn in Photoshop

As you noticed around 8 minutes in I moved to the lightroom. Whether you do it or not is down to your preference. For the most part (when I could still go outside) I walked around with a camera to take photos of all kinds hence use of photoshop was very limited or close to none at all until recently and hence lightroom is a lot closer to my heart and finds using it for last touches and color corrections a lot quicker. Saying that if you prefer to stay in photoshop you might find "camera raw" very useful.

Tutorial: Photoshop CC Camera RAW Trick

8.24 Curve Tool - Very underestimated tool that for bit-part until around 6 months ago I left untouched, still cannot force myself to spend more time on it but by now got some understanding that helps me working with the photos - basic of it in the tutorial below

Tutorial: Master Curves from Start to Finish in Photoshop

As you might have noticed all but one or two tutorials link to #piximperfect, that's mostly because guy teaches you why and how it works where most of the tutorials will only tell you what button to push without explaining why you doing it. Also, I am yet to in someone else other than him that when listening to his tutorial I am not felling asleep.

Last but not least, if you paid enough attention to the video you might have noticed that eyes in the picture have changed as well towards the end and there was nothing in the video about it. That's because I already did photoshop my eyes in another project when learning frequency separation and portrait retouching, Read: "My ugly mug" or go to Appendices in the top menu for tutorials on portrait retouching.


(Or what I used in taking the photos for this composite)

  • Camera: Nikon d7200 - Had it forever now, it's great peace and you can get it for a reasonable price, even not being full-frame that some "professionals" call necessity to create something good it works magic. Everything I own is second hand mostly from eBay and that camera by having built-in focus motor lets me grab some great older lenses for third of the price I'd have to pay normally. Saying that is you have a decently new mobile phone you probably can take photos with that, just make sure you put it somewhere steady so all photos are from this same position.

  • Lens: Nikkor 50mm F1.8 - As mentioned to keep the camera connected to the mac had to keep it pretty close to me. Normally I would use my new favorite 70mm 1.8 that's perfect for portraits but got to say and everyone will confirm - nifty fifty never fails, it's the sharpest thing you can buy for £60 or under - must have with your first (or last) camera.

  • Speedlight: Nikon SB-80DX, it's so old it's ridiculous, missing screws and some other parts that should be there but aren't, not mentioning broke sensor as it doesn't work as a slave (it's possible am not smart enough to set it up). But hey! It works and got it for pennies. Is it necessary? If you are shooting indoor probably best you have something to lower the ISO and reduce the noise. If you shooting in the garden or open space on a sunny day you'll be perfectly fine without.

  • Neewer wireless remote flash - cheap salvation to my slave problem, your flash on one side remote on the camera. Kept it up to 3 meters away and had no problem with the connection

  • Soft Box: Got £4.73 light spreader so soften it a little and not get hards shadows, not a big price to pay for a quite dramatic difference, this composite might not be a perfect example as I was going for stronger shadows to get more atmospheric shot but can promise it does the job.

  • Tripod - I bought that thing from a friend for £10, have no better clue if it was even worth it and for the first 3 years until I started taking some photos at home it was used as a jacket hanger. All I can say about it is that it works, I could not care less about the brand or what it's made from. If you want to buy one, get it cheap and save money for lenses, alcohol, drug addiction...still better than spending stupid amount on carbon fiber... three legs and a stick.

  • Remote shutter - again, got mine for under £7, it does exactly what it's job supposed to be, surely there are some more posh options but what you need it to keep the camera stable and press a button? Had it for months now, no issues.

Other than that you still need is a computer that can run Photoshop. If you do editing, even just small retouching do your self a solid consider buying a tablet. Again, it doesn't have to be anything fancy, I've bought Wacom Intuos recently as my old tabled died a horrible death, saying that I was using it for nearly two years and originally bought it for about £20 with delivery, no need for any fancy tablets with a screen, etc - simple basic at cost of mouse you'd buy will be great. Might take you a couple of days to get used to it but drawing tablet will be your best friend forever after.

Anything I've missed? Or you do have photoshop experience and want to correct me on anything (other than my grammar)? Drop me a line or leave a comment below.

Keep safe, have fun and #STAYTHEFUCKHOME



Recent Posts

See All