Why use digital backgrounds in Photoshop?
Using digital backgrounds, overlays and textures is a great way to add interest to your photography images, without the expense of purchasing backdrops or requiring a tonne of space to store your fabric or canvas backdrops. By using overlays, textures and digital backgrounds you can also change the overall mood and color tone of your image or add things that were not originally there like pretty skies, light flares, snowflakes, falling leaves, smoke or clouds, grunge or other interesting textures on backdrops or even completely different scenes! In this tutorial, I will use botanical-inspired digital backgrounds and overlays from my Peony Collection to demonstrate a couple of the most common ways I use digital backgrounds and overlays to add interest to a portrait in Photoshop.
Bring Your Assets Into Photoshop
I recommend storing all of your digital assets by type in a file on your hard drive or external storage device so you have them all in one place while editing.
To begin, open your image and digital background in Photoshop or editing software of your choice – anything that allows you to use layers will work but in this tutorial I will show you how to do it using Photoshop CC. Once your background, overlay or texture is open in photoshop you can click and drag it over to your base image. You may also use the “place” feature to copy your digital asset over to your base image. To do this, select and copy your digital asset, go to your base image and select Edit>Paste. This will add your digital asset as a layer on top of your base image.
Adjusting Your Backgrounds, Overlays and Textures
Now that your digital background is applied as a new layer over your base image you must adjust your digital background, overlay or texture to blend it into your base image. You can do this in several ways, depending on the look you want to achieve and the characteristics of the two layers.
Method 1: Change the opacity of your digital background, overlay or texture
In your layers panel reduce the opacity (drag the opacity slider, or type a value in the opacity text box) of your background, overlay or texture to blend it with the background. Depending on the effect you would like to achieve you may want to add a layer mask to control what areas of the image are covered. I often brush the digital background, texture or overlay off the subject using a soft brush.
Make sure your digital background layer is active and create a layer mask by selecting Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal all (or click the button that looks like a little rectangle with the circle inside it at the bottom of the layers panel). This will add a white layer mask to your background image. Ensure you click on the white layer mask, select a black brush, and paint over any areas you want to hide or remove the digital background, overlay or texture. You can adjust the softness/hardness and opacity or flow of your brush to control how little or how much of the layer you reveal or hide. The great thing about using the layer mask method is that if you make a mistake then you can simply change your brush back to white and paint back over your mask to reveal more of the background.
Method 2: Change the blending mode of your digital background, overlay or texture
Blending modes in Photoshop change the way layers interact with each other. Each blending mode will affect how the layer affects the one below it, and the best way to learn and get to know them is to experiment.
To use blending modes, look for the box at the top of the layers panel that says Normal. By clicking the dropdown menu you can see all of the different options. Some of my favorites to use with digital backgrounds, overlays and textures are Multiply, Screen, Overlay and Soft Light.
In the example below I have used one of the digital overlays from my Peony Collection in softlight mode at 50% over the entire base image to change the color tones and create a warmer mood and feeling.