How to quickly match colours for fast composites in Photoshop

Tips & Techniques

One of the things many people struggle with when it comes to composites is matching the colours of the two (or more) shots. Manually dragging sliders around and trying to match two completely different images is just plain tricky, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with it.

But this tip from photographer and digital artist, Dustin Valkema shows how we can very quickly match up two or more images together for compositing using a simple curves adjustment and a little known option it offers in the “auto” settings.

Essentially, all you need to do is add your two layers in Photoshop as normal, with your background underneath and the cutout layer on top. Then add a curves adjustment on top of the whole thing. You only want to adjust the top cutout layer, though, so clip the curves adjustment to that layer by alt+clicking the line in between the two layers.

In the curves adjustment properties, and you might never have actually clicked it before, there’s a little button marked “auto”. Now, just clicking this often destroys your image, but if you hold down alt while you click it, a dialogue box pops up offering several different “auto” algorithms. Side note: I’ve been using Photoshop since version 3 and I had no idea this was a thing until I saw Dustin’s video. I need to start holding alt while I click on stuff in Photoshop just to see what happens.

Anyway, in the dialogue that pops up, you can click to specify the colours for the highlights, shadows and midtones, and you actually get a colour picker to let you choose from within the image itself. So, you can click your background layer highlights and shadows colours and it’ll automatically shift things over. You’re not going to be using this technique for high-end stuff, but for a quick and dirty composite or as a starting point, it’s a pretty cool process.

Dustin explains it a little bit more in-depth in the video and talks about a couple of possible gotchas that might catch you out, so be sure to give it a watch. And make sure to visit Dustin’s YouTube channel, too.

How do you quickly match colours when compositing?

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