Most of the photos I post on my blog have very little manipulation done to them in Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. while others get more of the full "treatment." I have no qualms about talking an image and playing with it until I get the image on screen that lives in my head.
My last post, which featured pics of dandelions, had almost no tweaking done to each image. I think I made a small adjustment to the contrast on a few, while most were just cropped so that the image showed more detail of my subject.
Yesterday, while sitting in my bedroom, I noticed the bluebirds happily landing on the big iron plant hook next to our fence and so I grabbed my camera in hopes of capturing one so that I could create a composited image with some cherry blossoms I shot more than a week ago...see photo above.
In order to combine images...you have to first start off with really good quality pics. Even if you plan to add layers, use actions, etc. to create the finished image, I believe that there is no real substitute for good original images.
In the picture above I have cut and copied the bluebird from the original picture, rotated and cropped the original cherry blossom picture, and combined the two...all using Photoshop.
As you can tell...it looks like a photoshopped image...the bird has way too much sunlight on it compared to the blossoms...and the whole image looks very cut and pasted.
The next thing to do is to soften the edges of the bird to make it blend more seamlessly into the other image, and to mess with the exposure levels, temperature, saturation levels, and contrast levels to make the two images appear more as one...but it's not there yet...it needs layer masks and other tricks to help the two images marry one another.
Time for a few texture layers to be added, all the while, adding and removing the texture from various parts of the image to make them recede or pop out more from the image. Here, the bird is still too bright and his left claw is way too in focus compared to the out of focus branch he's standing on...so still more work to be done.
More actions and many more layers later...I probably have 30 to 40 separate layers on here by now, and a multitude of actions...but I'm getting closer to what I want. It looks less photorealistic...check. The brightness of the bird is now gelling better with the paleness of the cherry blossoms...check. And I've added some decorative swirls and distressing to make it look more vintage...check.
When I say actions...I don't often use the pre-packaged actions sold by various companies, though I have used them in the past, I find they don't allow me to fine tune things as much as I sometimes want. I prefer to make my adjustments by hand, using various software, to achieve the results I want...but if you find that you love pre-set actions, then go for it! The beauty of photography, or any art form, is that there is no right or wrong!