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Perspective Insets in Photoshop

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From: Wayport, LA
  >  Can you help me put an image into
  >  the screen of a laptop computer?
Create crafty insets using Transformation and layers
I've had quite a few requests such as the above, and any time you insert an image into another image, whether it's in perspective or not, you are creating an "inset". Of course if it's perfectly square, or even circular, it's a snap. You just copy and paste. However, if the new location for your inset happens to be in a window, on a billboard, or on a computer monitor as our letter above, you've got to apply a bit of perspective to your image.
      There are no silver bullets for making your inset look natural because the software cannot predict the angles based on the image recipient. You've got to do it by hand.
      Rather than inventing a tutorial on the process using a computer screen, I'll use a project that I had to deliver recently. The client in this case had to get a billboard design approved by a committee. Well, if you've ever worked with committees you know that the results include as many corrections as there are committee members. In this case I could sense that the members were having a difficult time envisioning what the billboard would look like once installed.
      Any time you run into this sort of situation, it's a good idea to go out and grab a quick shot of the actual billboard, and then put your layout in position on the board so your client will see how it looks.
      Also, understand that this works in Photoshop 5 through 7, and the same clicks apply no matter what the image is. the board
Preparing the site
I can never control where the client has rented the billboard space, so we have to work with what they give us. This board happens to be in a location that's not so hot, but has good visibility on a main, dual-lane highway. I positioned myself a fair distance away for the first shots, then moved in closer for a detail. As you can see in photo #1 there isn't much to work with.
      The first order of the day is to clear the workspace where the inset will be placed. In photo #2 you can see I've carefully cleared the existing advertisement from the actual board where my client's image will go. Notice I had to 'move' the wires to make way for the new image -- but I'll put them back later. You don't really have to do this step, but I like to because it makes positioning the inset so much easier to see.
Placing the Inset
Next we import the image to be inset into the photo.
We use the Move tool (V) with the Shift key as we drag and drop the image into the file. A new layer will be created with the newly imported image. You could also copy/paste, or use the import function if the file is in another program. This one happens to be an Adobe Illustrator EPS file.
 
In photo #3 you see our image has now arrived. I've set the Layer Opacity slider to show just a bit of the board surface in the underlying layer.
      Now open photo #4
Transforming the Inset
Choose Edit > Transform > Distort (7)
A solid bounding box will appear around the opaque pixels in the image, and you'll see handles all around the image. Also beware that if other layers are linked to this layer, they too will adopt any transformations you apply to this layer.
      (In previous versions of Photoshop, back to 3.5, you need to first SELECT the object on the layer, then use Image > Effects > Distort.)
 
Now start dragging the handles until your outline fits the outline of the receiving shape. It's that simple.
Finishing with details
Once the shape fits correctly, return opacity to 100% and take a look. Does it look natural? Is it convincing?
      If there is unique lighting in effect for your receiver image, then you'll have to use Levels, Saturation, and/or Brightness/Contrast to adjust the inset to look natural. I advise using an Adjustment layer for this purpose -- just go to Layers > New Adjustment Layer (submenu) or click the Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of the layers palette. (The circle with half/slash)
      Should there be light reflections or other image overlays? In the case of the computer monitor scenario, a light reflection might add realism. In the case of our billboard, we had to "dumb down" the color a bit to match the slightly overcast daylight lighting, and then return the electrical wires into position.
      If you look closely at illustration #5, you'll see I also had to restore the footlight at the bottom of the board. (The wires have not been restored in this example either.) shots
Presentation
I printed the final version onto a color laser printer. I used the "long shot" of the billboard so the client could have an idea of viewing the board from the window of a vehicle. Billboard design has to be very simple and direct. This one is more of a compromise of "committee" desires and is not really as simple as I'd like it to be.
      Once this was delivered, the next thing I heard was a full approval and demand to get the board produced and installed. Good! Job done.
      If you remember our piece on "Offset Paths" and the "Pathfinder" from the June 2002 issue of DTG, then you saw the image at right which uses the exact same technique.

      That's all there is to it. Have fun.
 
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