I don’t much play with image layers because I find the process a little tedious and time consuming. However, when you’re bored and looking for something to do, why not have a go, it’s all a learning experience after all.
That being said, what this article does not attempt to do is to tell you how to do every fiddly editing task required. What is does do though is cover is the basic process in enough detail so that you have all the information you need to go do it yourself. With these points in mind, let’s get started.
The first thing you are going to need is a bunch of photos. The image above is made up of 4 images taken hand held using a Fuji x-T1 on burst mode. I actually managed to capture around 10 images but layering up all 10 would have made the final image look cluttered and overly busy. I therefore chose just 4 that would give me the feeling of movement that I wanted and that wouldn’t take the rest of my life to process.
Once you have your selected images, you need to create a layered image. To do this simply highlight all of the images you wish to include in your composite – you can do this in BROWSE by pressing Cntrl + Left Mouse Button while hovering over each image (they will then have boxes around them) and then clicking on the Layers icon on the RHS of the screen. This opens a dialog box asking if you want to continue to create a stacked layer image – select OK. On1 takes a little time to do this but of course, this is hardware dependent. Once On1 has done its thing you’ll see a new image with say 4 layers (or as many images as you selected), each layer holding one of the 4 images selected. The bottom layer in the stack is going to be the base layer that contains all of the information in the photo ie the people, wall, background, everything. You are not really going to do anything to this layer unless you want to develop it or change the style. If you need to change the order of the images you can simply drag and drop them into their new locations. Bear in mind though that the lowest layer in the list is your base layer, everything else is composited onto that layer.
With regards pre-editing each image, personally I tend to leave any post-processing until the end of the process. I also tend to work on RAW so as to include as much information in the final image as possible.
When starting to work on a particular layer you need to isolate this. You do this by clicking on the small orange dot to the LHS of the small image in the layers panel that you want to turn off. When the layer is active, the dot is orange. When off, it’s grey. Once these are off, you are left with just the layer you want to work on.
The key tool to use now, and this is repeated for the other 2 layers, is the MASK tool on the LHS of the screen. Click on this and choose AI from the list of 3 icons top left of the editing screen. Make sure that MODE: KEEP is on and you are ready to start painting. With MODE: KEEP on, everything you paint over is in green. Now, you really don’t need to be ultra precise at this point so just run the brush (which you can change in size) top to bottom and left to right of the guy in the air. Then, with MODE:DROP enabled, run your pointer (it’s now turned to red) around the image pretty much as shown here to mark all of the parts you don’t want to keep. Now, I tend to use a drawing pad for this but you can just use your mouse if you don’t have one. Either way, here’s what it’s going to look like before you hit APPLY.
Once you hit apply, this is what you are going to see (hopefully). Basically the red areas are transparent which of course is exactly what you want for layering up a complex image.
The next step is to refine the edges of your green selection so that any parts you don’t want to include are dropped. For this operation you simple use the REFINE tool on the LHS making sure that you set MODE: DROP. There are several tool options but I use mostly the REFINE and CHISEL brushes as these clean up the image pretty well. You need to take your time but you can do a great job with care and patience. Here, I spent just a few minutes on the cleanup process but you can see that the end result looks pretty good.
That’s it for this image, you simply repeat this process for the other 2 layers and you’re ready to compile them into the final composite. You do this by turning all the layers ON (orange dot is showing) and then setting the OPACITY for each layer so that the layer below bleeds through. Because I wanted the effect of motion, I set the very top layer to about 20%, the next to 35% and the 3rd to 50% initially and then modified them slightly to get the effect I wanted. You can play with these faders as it’s all a matter of taste. Once you are happy with your composite, highlight the very top image and go to export. This will ensure that all 4 layers are exported to the final composite image. Here’s the resulting 4 image composite I ended up with.
You can of course stop here but I tend to like to stylise my images using Nik Efex so the very first image (header image) used Nik Silver Efex while the one shown below used Nik Alanog Efex. I hope that this has given you a few ideas for playing around with layers.