How to make a new picture from old shots

Author: Pieter De Pauw

3 Cormorants enjoying the setting sun
3 Cormorants enjoying the setting sun

In this article, I want to share how I used 2 different pictures, from completely different locations, to make a good looking picture.  In fact, this was more a “play and try”, rather than a deliberate attempt to make use of old stuff, but it turned out to be a nice picture.  One might be surprised or even be disgusted that this is fake and not real.  But the truth is though, that many pictures are built like this.  Up till now, this is the only picture on my portfolio, but I might start liking it...

 

The above picture could have been real: a sun just about to set and some wooden posts with cormorants in sea.  This picture could have been taken with a long zoom lens (e.g. 400mm) to get to a sun that large.  The wooden posts and the cormorants would then be probably 100 meters away from the photographer.

 

But in fact, it is not.  The setting sun was taken in Italy, whilst the picture of the cormorants was taken in Alaska.

cormorants in Alaska
cormorants in Alaska
background: setting sun in Sardinia
background: setting sun in Sardinia

The steps I took to come to the final results, were the following:

 

First, improve the background.

The background of the setting sun was a good starting point, but not good enough,  Colors were a bit flat.  I increase vibrance to +45%, saturation by 15% and contrast by 10%.

Background: improved vibrance, saturation and contrast
Background: improved vibrance, saturation and contrast

Secondly, select and improve the foreground.

I decided to put the select the cormorants from the original picture and put them in a real, though nicely composed way in front of the sun.

Following the rule of thirds, I put the plaid with the selection so that the left bird would be approx 1/3 from the left.  Given the hypothetical light was coming from the sun, thus in front of me, I had to fake backlight on the 3 cormorants.  I made the selection a bid darker by adding more contrast.

Foreground selection and increased contrast
Foreground selection and increased contrast

Third, merge the background with the foreground.

This is the fun part as you can choose different compositions.  I decided to get the sun in between the 3 cormorants, using the fact that the 2nd cormorant comes a bit lower.

Merged pictures
Merged pictures

Last, improve picture and remove noise.

There was a bit of banding in the sun (you can see bands of different colors) which I removed by placing a layer with lower red saturation over the sun only, and by adding guassian blur to the sun.  I reduced the noise which was generated primarily in the first step by increasing vibrance and saturation on the background, and in the 2nd step by increasing contrast on the birds.  I personally like the end result.

End result
End result