How to: Photo Compositing with an iPhone

I did this photo composition for a workshop about iPhoneography. I’m really excited about what kind of photo editing can be done on a telephone or a tablet computer.

The composition consists of two photos: A castle and a cloudy sky. I added the moon using Alien Sky iTunes App Store Link.

The Photoshop Touch App was the app of my choice to create the composition. First, I opened the photo of the castle that I took with Camera+ iTunes App Store Link in Photoshop Touch for the iPad (which has been discontinued), removed the sky and added the cloudy sky on a new layer. Finally I added a blank image containing the moon as a third layer.

iPhoneography compositing with Photoshop Touch for iPad

A tutorial on how I created the photo "Moon Rising" within 15 minutes on an iPad using Photoshop Touch and Alien Sky.


You need two Apps for this tutorial:

  1. Photoshop Touch for the iPad (discontinued)
  2. Alien Sky

Be sure to grab the correct version of Photoshop Touch. There is one dedicated version for the iPad and another for the iPhone. We need the iPad version for this iphoneography compositing tutorial.

First, we'll create a background image containing the stars and the moon with the Alien Sky app.

Create the stars and moon background image using Alien Sky

Alien Sky allows you to place all sorts of astrological objects on to existing photos. As we are creating a "night shot", we need a black background image first. One way to create a black back ground photo on an iPhone is:

  1. Place your iPhone or iPad on a flat surface like a table, the back camera facing towards the table.

  2. Open the camera app and make sure the app is using the back camera. You should see a black screen, obviously. Take a photo with the camera app and save the black photo to the camera roll.

Next open the Alien Sky app and Tap "load photo" on the start screen to load the black photo you've just created. Now we'll add the stars and the moon.

  1. Locate the toolbar at the bottom of the screen and tap "Effects". A scrollable list of effects appears. Swipe through the list. The stars are located in the middle of the list and are labeled "Star Group" and "Star Cluster". Choose the effect that appeals most by tapping on it.

  2. Drag the star effect to the top of the photo and pinch to resize the effect. It should cover the entire width and about a third of the height of the photo.

  3. Now add the moon. On the toolbar at the bottom of the screen tap "Effects" again. As we want to add an additional effect to the stars we just added, press "Render / Add" at the toolbar at the top of the screen. Alien Sky asks if you want to freeze the current effect and add another effect layer. Tap "Ok". Now tap "Effects" from the toolbar at the bottom of the screen again and tap on the "moon" effect. Pinch to resize the moon to fit almost the entire width of the black photo, leaving a few pixels to the top, left and right.

  4. Tap "Save" on the toolbar at the top of the screen. Alien Sky will save the photo to your camera roll.

At the time I wrote this tutorial, Alien Sky could save 4 Megapixel (2048 x 2048 Pixel) at best.

Compositing in Photoshop Touch for iPad

We'll begin with the foreground photo. I used a photo of a castle that has a fair amount of clear blue sky that I can erase with a few taps.

  1. Open Photoshop Touch for iPad. In the toolbar at the bottom of the screen tap "add existing photo". It's the symbol containing an icon of a photo and a "+" in the upper right corner. Choose the photo of the building you want to use for the foreground and tap "add".

  2. On the left side of the screen, select the magic wand tool: Tap the first symbol in the toolbar. The toolbar changes and displays all available tools. Tap the 4th icon, that's the magic wand tool. Once you tapped on the magic wand tool, locate the "selection mode" buttons right below the magic wand tool. Tap the one with the plus symbol. Depending on your photo you might want to modify the tolerance setting. Now start selecting the background that we want to remove.

  3. Once you selected the complete the background, locate the edit button (it looks like a pencil) in the top toolbar and select "cut" to remove the background you just selected.

  4. Next we'll add the clouds. On the right side of the screen is the layers toolbar. Tap on "+" and choose "photo layer". Choose the appropriate sky background you want to use. Photoshop Touch will hide all toolbars and allow you to drag, resize and rotate the added photo. Modify the cloud layer, so a small area of the clouds is visible.

  5. Next remove the blue sky from the cloud photo as we've done it before: Choose the magic wand tool, don't forget to tap the "+" option and select the portion of the sky you want to remove. Tap "edit" again and cut the sky.

  6. Now add the stars and moon we've created with alien sky. Tap "+" in the layers toolbar again and choose "photo layer" again. Select the background containing the stars and the moon and tap "add". Now drag the photo to fit perfectly to your composition

Adding a final touch

As we'Re creating a night shot, darken each layer by first selecting the layer and then taping effects, then brightness. Change to your liking. Repeat that for all layers. You can also play with the contrast settings if you like

Usually, the light of the moon is a pale and "cold" light. With each layer, choose the effects menu and select "color temperature". Move the slide slightly to the left into the blue area to create a pale and cold moon light.

When you're done, tap the back button in the top toolbar. Photoshop Touch will ask if it should save the image. Tap "Yes" ;)

Now share your masterpiece by taping on the share button, choose "share". Then tap the photo you want to share, make sure "jpeg" is selected and tap "ok". Now choose how you want to share the photo. Photoshop Touch supports Mail, Twitter, Facebook, Add to contact, save to camera roll, print and copy. Additionally you'll see a list of other photo apps which you can share to. Enjoy!

If you have created a masterpiece, let me know by posting a photo reply to this article. I'd love to see it!