Not very long ago I got to visit my buddy Joseph Parry. We drank (quite a lot of beer), we ate (lots of chocolate brownies) and we took photos. Like any normal person, when they go visit a friend I brought with me a cowboy outfit. Wait! What, that’s not normal!!?? Well welcome to my world.
Anyway, I got Joseph to don the cowboy outfit, which suited his manly yet strangely conditioned soft beard, and we set up to shoot a portrait. As part of the setup Joseph had recently bought a Gravity Backdrop which we were going to use as the background. For me, this was the first time using an actual hand printed, textured, background and I was stunned by how awesome it made the images look straight from camera (and of course you can fake it, but it is no longer out of camera). It gave us a great base to work from, the result of said shoot being the image below.
Now, not everyone can afford to buy hand printed backgrounds from Europe, I’m sure on the side Joseph was selling his body on the street to fund his photography buying habits. So what I am going to do, is to show you how to easily add texture to any background in your images, in Photoshop! This a technique that I learnt when I first started experimenting in Photoshop, and I have used it since on many images. Its quick, easy and can give you great results without having to spend time with over complicated selections (although you will need to make a quick rough selection).
This is a technique that I learnt from, and is still used by 2 Photoshop greats Glyn Dewis and Calvin Hollywood, and I recommend you go check out their websites which hold a wealth of Photoshop knowledge, tips and tutorials. I learnt so much from them in the early days, and I think you could too.
Anyways, on with the tutorial!
Before we start, for this technique to work, you need to have shot your image with a grey background. To keep the image interesting make the lighting interesting. If you light it so it looks flat, it will more than likely lead to a boring looking image….be dramatic. Play with light and shadow.
First, open up your image in Photoshop.
As you can see, I shot against a grey background. I used one flashgun with a portable softbox, camera right. I feathered it away from the model, more towards the background, which gives us the nice effect of light and shade on the model. It also makes it look like the light now could be coming from a light source, on what will be our wall (once the texture is added).
Your next step is to make a quick (and can be rough) selection around the model. For this purpose I more than likely use the magic wand tool.
I usually have my tolerance set to around 10-13, as what tolerance does is set how different in tone and colour a pixel can be. So with our tolerance set to 13, Photoshop will select any pixels that are the same colour, and any pixels that are 13 shades darker, and 13 shades lighter. You can up the tolerance if you wish, but I find it easier to control at a lower amount.
Once you have your model selected it should look something like this:
Now you have made your selection, we need to save it for later.
- So go up to your top bar in Photoshop and go to select, and choose save selection from the drop down menu.
- The save selection box will pop up. Go to the name dialog box and type in whatever you would like to call the selection, in this case Shelly mask.
- Click ok.
Once the dialog box disappears, your selection is saved, so press CTRL+D to deselect.
Next open up your texture in Photoshop. I chose this concrete wall texture.
Bring it into your Layers panel, and make sure it is above the model layer.
- Now what we need to do is load the saved selection from earlier. So go back to your top bar and click select. Then move down with your cursor and click on load selection.
- The load selection box will pop up. Go to the channel box and choose your saved selection from the drop down menu. We saved it as Shelly mask. Click ok.
- Your saved selection will now appear on top of your texture layer.
Next go down to your adjustment layers, and click add new layer mask. Your model should appear masked in.
As you can see this does not look very good, the mask looks rough and the texture, and the model do not blend together seamlessly. Well this next step is when the magic happens.
What you need to do is change the blend mode of the background texture from normal, to soft light.
Boom!! Look at that, the texture now blends in with the lighting on the grey background. The masking around the model also looks far better (but may still need a quick clean up).
What the soft light blend mode does is darkens or lightens the colors, depending on the blend color. If the blend color (light source) is lighter than 50% gray, the image is lightened as if it were dodged. If the blend color is darker than 50% gray, the image is darkened as if it were burned in. In layman’s terms it basically blends the light and the darks of the texture image onto the grey background, even blending in with the light on the model layer.
You can also use the technique with the overlay blend mode, but the results will be more contrasty.
Using this technique also blends in perfectly to the hairs of your models, although our mask on here was a little rough.
Zoom into your subject to make sure the mask is looking good, if you spot any sections which need a little cleaning up, like the hair at the back of the models head…
All you need to do is select the brush tool, make sure it is set to white, on a very soft setting and a flow of around 15-25% and slowly brush over the hair. It will paint the texture back in and blend perfectly with the hair.
And that is it, quick and easy textured backgrounds. All the effects you see in the final Image, the textures, blood and writing were all added using the same technique…….and using the same saved selection and layer mask to mask it off the model.
Once you get the hang of this easy technique, play around with it and see what you can create. It opens up many more possibilities. I also use it in model portfolio shoots, if I feel the image background needs a little character adding to it.
Here are a selection of other images I have used the same technique on.