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Getting more out of your Background Drape

This past week I had a discussion on a very common problem which is “What do I do when I need more backdrop than I shot?” This will happen when we have larger groups than shooting space or something gets in the way like a light, light stand, Uncle Joe, or we just run out of background.

Well let me first say that Photoshop was not conceived to make our lives harder but to help. Many times we make it harder with easy 83 step solutions or over-thinking the problem. My approach to any project is to first look at what might be the easiest way to fix it. This can be anything from just one or two tools or even re shooting. After all if it is going to take 5 hours, two supplemental software programs, and home delivery from the local Starbucks wouldn’t it make more sense to just call the client and schedule a one hour re shoot.

So here are some super easy Friday Photoshop Quickies for those times when we need to stretch a background or cover a problem.

First, the next time you have a studio sessions take a couple of shots of the background with no one in it. “Wait Bill why would I need a shot of the background without anyone in it?” So if you ever need to patch an empty spot you already have this image sitting in your computer. This is true for seamless paper and mottled drops. In fact you can take 20 minutes and just shoot all of your background done under your normal lighting set ups before or after a session. Before the wide use of digital many photographers who used a back drop system of projected slides would be out shooting all the time anything interesting so that they had a box of great backgrounds. You are just doing the same but in your studio with what you have now.

Here is how this works. You have your Kate plus Eight all set but notice that you key light is in the shot but the light is wonderful and you don’t want to move it. Or your family values candidate brought in his current wife and rented nine kids for wall portrait but now they are only four inches from the walls of your shooting room.

Well sitting at the computer you can do a couple of things. In the case of a light in the photo just bring up the empty shot of the back drop and match the area as close as possible, a quick clone tool or a selected copy and some blending, bang you are done. Place a slight blur on the background area with the Blur Tool and no one is the wiser.

However with the large family and short wall it does take a bit more work. I suggest first to increase your canvas space (Image>Canvas Size) and throw some elbow room on both sides. A 26 wide image can become a 30 or 33 inch plus with just a small increase in file size. (Don’t worry about ratios or anything like that, we are creating a masterpiece here) It will come in as transparent but that is fine, it is just working room.

Go back to your background images and find the same background. This really works well for drapes and canvases. Move the background image on it’s own layer and match it up. If it doesn’t cover the whole image just worry about one side, you can do the same on the other side later. A little blending with a layer mask or just use the clone tool. Pick an area on the blank background and using the Alt Key pick it as a source and then on the other image (On a new blank layer) clone it in. With this on it’s own layer you can use the move tool to position it or even use a little Transformation to stretch it into shape. Put the layer under the image and the transparent areas will do most of the work. Remember as Portrait Artists we often will darken the outside edges so make this a slightly darken version on the layer. Blend and Blur and you are done. A quick crop and it is ready for the printers.

Bonus Tip… For a solid seamless background you can make a selection of the outer edge with the Marque Tool Selection (The square one) and with an enlarged canvas area just do a Ctrl T(Command in Mac) or Edit>Free Transform and grabbing the center outside handle pull it out. Keep in mind that sometimes this can distort or smooth the texture of the background so copy it on to it’s own layer and add a touch of Noise (Filter>Noise>Add Noise) to match the rest of the background.

Have fun

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