Blending a photo into your background paper


This is probably one of the most popular techniques right now in the digital scrapbooking world. And why not! It can can add a stunning effect!

One of my recent posts had a layout using this technique (see it HERE). There are lots of online tutorials on this for Photoshop, but not much help available for Elements users, so I decided it’s time I put a tutorial for this technique on my Blog!

  1. Begin by creating a NEW FILE (CTRL + N or for Mac users CMD + N)
    (12″ x 12″ with Resolution of 300 ppi for this tutorial)
  2. Add a piece of background paper. I’m going to use a textured light brown paper.
  3. Add a NEW LAYER above the background paper layer.
  4. Name the new layer, “PHOTO MASK”  ***DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP***
  5. Add your photo … this needs to be on the layer above the PHOTO MASK layer.
    In case it helps to see my screen . . . my layout looks like this:01-layout-before-grouping
  6. Press V to activate your move tool. We are going to change the size of our photo layer.
    I’m going to resize my photo so the little girl fills the layout (height-wise . . . and don’t worry about pixelation . . . we are blending it into the paper so it won’t show) so, I will need to  to zoom out several  until my canvas area is only filling a small portion of my workspace.If you are going to increase the size of your image you are going to want to zoom out now.  Trust me on this! You are going to want to be able to see those corner control handles as you move them beyond your layout boundaries!As you can see by my screen shot I’ve zoomed way out! If you don’t trust me on this … you’ll be back!
  7. Now I’m going to begin resizing my image by grabbing one of my corner control handles .It is important to make SURE you don’t stretch your photo disproportionately … make sure “Constrain Proportions” is locked (checked) on the options bar! Nothing is more distracting or unsightly than a photo that’s stretched out of proportion . . . ugg! (Unless it’s a photo of me … in which case, please stretch me to be taller and thinner NOT shorter and fatter!)01c-resizing-photo
    See what I mean? I needed all that empty workspace area! I repositioned my photo so the little girl would be on the left half of the page … this is just because of my page design (the plan!)  After committing my changes (resizing, repositioning) my layout is now looking like this:02-layout-after-resizing
    Now, I know some of you are going to think … “HEY! I could just grab my eraser and start erasing the parts I don’t want to see! Why bother with all this anyway?” … Am I right? That’s what you are thinking, right? Well, let me just say , “Don’t do it!” Or at the very least … try your way and my way, then compare the results. You’ll be amazed at how much better the results will be doing it this way!
    Again I say, “Trust me!”  Press on, fnish this tutorial!

    Hum…where was I? Oh yes! We are about ready to apply a MASK over this photo so only portions of it show. Here’s the GOOD NEWS! You don’t have to do an extraction! Not in the purest sense of the word anyway!

  8. Your layers palette should be looking something like this:03-layers-before-grouping
    Are we good to go?
  9. We are going to GROUP the photo layer to the mask layer now . . . Activate the photo layer and then press CTRL + G (Mac users use CMD + G).
    Your layers palette should look something like mine (if all went well). Notice how the thumbnail icon of your photo layer has shifted slightly to the right and now has a small arrow in front of it?
    04-layers-after-groupingYou’ll also notice that your photo is no longer visible on your canvas, right? No cause for alarm!
    It’s still there! It’s just that you can’t see it because we’ve just told Elements to only reveal those portions of the photo layer through the filled pixels in the mask layer . . . and . . . well . . . we don’t have any filled pixels yet!
    That comes next!
  10. Activate the PHOTO MASK layer.
  11. Change the settings on the PHOTO MASK layer …  Blending Mode (see “A” in the picture below) and Opacity level (see “B” below).09-layers-after-setting-blendmode
    Right now yours says, “Normal” … and NO that isn’t referring to you or me! We aren’t “normal” … we are extraordinary! We’re digi-scrappers!!!Let’s change Opacity to 70% and Blending Mode to OVERLAY or SOFT LIGHT.
  12. Press G (just the letter … no other keys!) to activate the Gradient tool.
  13. Let’s take care of some of the settings on the Gradient tool, shall we?  First we need to make sure it is set to the Foreground to Transparent setting (see below). Color doesn’t matter, but the “. . . to transparent” part does!05a-foreground-to-transparentIf you can’t find this drop down box, you need to click on the little down-facing triangle right there below the little icon of a floppy disk … see it? It’s on the right side of the little “Gradient Picker” field on the far left side of your options bar.
  14. Next we need to make sure you have the Linear Gradient option set (see below):05b-foreground-to-transparent
  15. Now you are ready to apply some FILL to your PHOTO MASK layer!
    To achieve the results I want I’m going to click&drag the gradient tool from about the 6″ horizontal mark to somewhere around the 9″ horizontal mark (see below).
    (I’ll explain a little bit about the gradient tool below)06-applying-the-gradient
    Some tips on working with the gradient tool:

    * It’s all UNDO-able! Remember, you’ve always got the CTRL+Z quick key  right?

    * Don’t worry if your first try doesn’t get the results you want.  Really!
    I often try two or three different times before I’m satisfied!

    * If you press the SHIFT key while you click&drag you’ll get a perfectly horizontal (straight) application of paint … nice!

    * The spot where you “CLICK” and begin dragging … defines the right edge of 100% fill, everything after that will be a lesser percentage of fill … feathering out to 0% fill at the point where you let go. You think it will all make sense when you try it.

  16. My PHOTO MASK layer is looking like this right now:07-layers-after-adding-gradient
    Your fill area is likely to be different than mine … that’s ok.
    We are working with different photos.
  17. My layout is beginning to take shape (see below) but
    I think I want to remove additional areas of the PHOTO MASK …
    especially around the edges so more of the paper shows.08-layout-after-gradient
  18. Activate the Eraser tool (just press E).
    Let’s select a brush tip that will help us remove pixels without leaving hard edges.
    Open the brush picker window:08b1-modifying-the-mask
    I’m going to choose the 300 pixel soft-round brush.
    This brush has a nice, feathered edge and this size will make quick work of the erasing I need to do. If your image requires you to get into tight places I recommend changing the size of the brush frequently.
    NOTE: You can quickly change the size of any brush tip (eraser, paint brush, clone, etc) by pressing either of the bracket keys … [ or ]
    [ decreases the size of your brush tip and
    ] increases the size
  19. There’s another setting on the options bar that I’m going to use. That’s the OPACITY setting. I’d like to use a very light touch as I erase, so I’m going to drop the opacity of my eraser brush to 30%.08b3-modifying-the-mask
  20. Now I’m ready to begin erasing. I only want to erase bits and pieces along the edges on the left half of my PHOTO MASK layer.
    WARNING! Do be sure you are ON the PHOTO MASK layer when you are doing this! There’s NO point to the mask if you are just going to erase information off your photo layer!
  21. My PHOTO MASK is now looking like this:
    08c-modified-maskNotice – I am working on the PHOTO MASK layer! See how there’s a transparency to the areas I modified with the eraser? That’s because I used the soft round brush and a low opacity. There won’t be any of those unsightly, hard edges visible in my layout.
    How’s your blended photo looking?
    Here’s mine … I’m pretty happy with it.
  22. Now all I need to do is embellish my layout and Voila!
    Another masterpiece!11-final-page(… go ahead! … pat yourself on the back … you deserve the accolades … this is a long tutorial, with lots of  tips and tricks along the way. IF you made it this far, you should stand up and do a Happy Dance … celebrate! You ARE amazing!)

If you are interested in design ‘thoughts‘ about effective use of blended images in page design the graphic designers at posted some insights  just below the layout at the link above.

I hope you found this tutorial useful! Do grab a cup of coffe and stop by from time to time … you never know when I’m going to decide to add another tutorial!


About Linda Jacobson

Wife, Mom, Grama, and Dreamer! I love all things crafty - sewing, pattern making/designing, quilting, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, digital photography, digital scrapbooking, ... see? I really DO love all things crafty! If I listed ALL the crafty things I've done this list would require an entire page!

One response »

  1. Great tutorial – I’ll be using it very soon! I added it to my blog, linking them back to your site – hope it helps others too!

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