'Alone' by Joseph Xerri

What are Photo Manipulation and Photo Compositing? – The Secrets Revealed

Before I started doing photo manipulations and photo composites, I used to stare at cool adverts on magazines and wonder, "But how did they do it? What is required to do such great artworks?".

Joseph Xerri

Joseph Xerri

A digital artist with a passion for photo manipulation and co-founder of Pigeon Pixel

Joseph Xerri

Joseph Xerri

A digital artist with a passion for photo manipulation and co-founder of Pigeon Pixel

At that time, I had very little Photoshop knowledge but had always been intrigued by the subject. One day curiosity reached its limit, so I started looking for the proper keyword to search for tutorials on how to create such artworks. I tried ‘combining imagery’, ‘Photoshop collage’, but no luck.

Then, after a few more attempts, I found it! There it was! My life’s passion in two words: PHOTO MANIPULATION.

So the search began.

The Photoshop tutorials on Youtube were endless, and this, for me, was literally like winning the lottery. I couldn’t wait to start watching them! At that time, I was studying to graduate in mechanical engineering, but the assignments could wait.

I remember binge-watching one tutorial after another without realizing that it was way past my bedtime. I got completely hooked, and I couldn’t get enough. I swear I even dreamt about photo manipulation that night. I couldn’t wait to start my first photo manipulation projects – I had too many ideas I wanted to try!

I still get excited thinking about those times. Every day was a new creative adventure, and I was learning so much. And although today I’m not the beginner I was back then, I still find myself learning something new every day.

Photo manipulation (a.k.a photo composite and photo montage) is a very vast subject that offers loads of opportunities to express your creativity. Every artwork is a story of its own. You can essentially create everything that you can imagine using photo manipulation. How cool is that?

Pigeon Pixel | Joseph Xerri | Netflix Junkie
Before (Photo by Aaron Lau)
After ('Netflix Junkie' by Joseph Xerri)

What is photo manipulation / photo compositing?

If you’ve looked at movie posters, album covers, and clever print ads, chances are they involved some sort of photo manipulation.

Photo manipulation is a specialized creative field that allows artists to tell a visual story and convey the right emotions. It’s no wonder then that the movie, music and advertising industries use this tool so frequently in their marketing campaigns.

A photo composite is an artwork made by blending different elements from different source photographs. With the right photoshop skills and some essential fundamentals, one should be able to create a convincing final image. With the proper knowledge, the final artwork can be striking.

This is a broad medium that helps you create surreal, dramatic, fantasy, and artistic composites. You can create anything that you can think of using photo composites – from flying dogs to a gigantic octopus in a fountain.

I’m sure that it’s not the first time that you have seen these kinds of artworks.

'Octriton' by Joseph Xerri

Maybe you never really thought about it, but photo composites are everywhere, and they are convincing you to attend events or buy products.

Why use photo composites?

Digital artists and marketing agencies use photo composites to help with the narrative and make adverts more exciting. Businesses use such artworks to engage and persuade their customers. Some use composites in their art for self-expression or plain fun.

When compositing, a skilled digital artist, can place elements in places where they usually don’t belong – like, for example, a floating fish in the sky. I typically create these kinds of artworks to improve my skills while telling unusual or bizarre stories.

'Whimsical' by Joseph Xerri

So among many other things, with photo manipulation, you can visually create something that doesn’t exist in real life. But also, you can create images that are not practical or expensive to shoot.

A lot of creative agencies resort to photo manipulation for budget purposes. Imagine you’re an agency in the U.S. working on a campaign for a fashion line, and the client asks for photos of models with a landscape of Paris behind them.

In a traditional photo shoot, you’d need to travel with your team to Paris and shoot your models there. But, with photo manipulation, you can photograph the models anywhere and then place a stock image of a Paris landscape behind them. Job well done and loads of money saved.

3D Elements vs. Stock Images

Although convenient, stock images can sometimes be limiting as you’re always at the mercy of what’s available on online stock libraries.

Of course, you can solve this issue by shooting photos of the subjects or elements yourself. But what if it’s not possible to shoot what you need?

That’s when 3D modeling can come in handy. 3D models or even scenarios can be built from scratch and rendered at the desired camera angle and perspective. Some popular 3D applications are Blender, Cinema 4D, and Maya, among others.

So your final artwork can consist of photos you’ve shot yourself, stock images, and purposely rendered 3D images.

The three most important things you need to grasp to create world-class photo manipulations

Some think that creating exceptional photo composites is difficult. However, I’m going to make it easier for you by sharing with you The Secret to creating impressive photo manipulations. This would be your shortcut to creating amazing artworks.

The secret of photo manipulation consists of three important things — Perspective, Light, and Color Correction. Yep, there you have it. That’s the blueprint to your artistic career, right there.

A well-executed composite image depends on these three factors, which I call the ‘Three Pillars of Photo Manipulation’.

Understanding these pillars will help you create composites that look realistic and feel natural and make your artworks absolutely epic!

Learning the Three Pillars of Photo Manipulation

Although the three pillars have been shared in bits and pieces by many talented artists, this is the first time that the three of them have been assembled in a cohesive way, in one place. I had to discover them the hard way, over long months of trial and error.

It was such a frustrating period for me. I remember staring at the artworks I was working on, failing to understand why they were not looking right. After three years of trying to learn and improve, I found myself struggling to get to the level of my idol artists. I eventually got fed up, and I wanted to quit. However, as they say, if you don’t fail, you won’t be successful. So I pushed myself a bit more – this was my life’s passion, after all.

In time, I started noticing that whenever one of my artworks wasn’t working, it was always due to at least one of three reasons; wrong perspective, wrong light, or wrong color correction. And that’s how I started discovering the three secrets.

I’ve been fine-tuning techniques and tricks on how to use perspective, lighting, and color correctly and efficiently in my artworks ever since. Today, with these three aces up my sleeve, I can create stunning artworks, with no guesswork, and indeed less frustration.

I want to tell you more about the Three Pillars, so I’ll be writing about them on this blog. I am also working on video tutorials, where I will be explaining the secret in detail.

Of course, you still need to have some Photoshop skills, and you cannot expect to create impressive composites from day one. But I promise you that understanding these three pillars will help you skip the first levels of the game. Getting straight to where the real action is.


The below images show where I started and where I am today, and I promise that you can get there in no time. I want to make sure that you won’t waste time learning by yourself and help you improve quickly. Since this is my first blog post (I never thought I would be able to do this), I would like to welcome you to the Pigeon Pixel community where together we are going to create breathtaking stuff.

Pigeon Pixel | Joseph Xerri | Apple
My work when I first started out.
Pigeon Pixel | Joseph Xerri | Snow Princess
My work today using the Three Pillars, and improved Photoshop skills. ('Snow Princess' by Joseph Xerri)

I hope you enjoyed my first blog post – it’s been a pleasure to share my story with you.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below or send me an email.

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3 years ago

Thanks dude, this has really helped me, I´m waiting for the new content!

Joseph - Pigeon Pixel
3 years ago
Reply to  Vicente

Hi Vicente, I’m glad it helped you ;)

1 year ago

Please help me where can I read about Perspective, Light, and Color as you mentioned

Joseph Xerri - Pigeon Pixel
1 year ago
Reply to  nyizay

Hi, you can learn more about Perspective, Light and Color in my course — The Three Pillars of Photo Manipulation which you can find here http://www.pigeonpixel.com


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