We spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to make our image files more versatile, or easier to use for composite artists. While we might spend a lot of time experimenting and the results never see the light of day again, we do also manage to create image files that make it to the store.

One example that was challenging to create but has proved highly versatile is The Mill:

The Mill gif

With 100 megapixel resolution and over 30 adjustable light sources, this enormous Photoshop file is a highly versatile and customisable composite background. You can completely adjust the lighting, crop if you want to, or even alter the depth of field. It affords Photoshop users immense freedom when they want to create composite images.

Unfortunately, this kind of set-up isn’t transferable when it comes to making stock images of models. Wouldn’t it be great if you could add some rim-light here or fill more from the left? But creating these multi-layered images is only possible with a totally static subject and this mill wasn’t going anywhere, unlike a model.

But now we think we have cracked it. Well, at least partially. The principle behind it comes from the tutorial Colors and Photoshop. You can see below how the table tennis ball was photographed from two directions using different colors. Then you use channels to separate them into two different layers.


In the RGB image (left), you can see two shadows while the red (center) and green (right) channels only show one of the light sources each. The flicker of inspiration became a theory, so we tested it using set-a-light.

Here we have a pure red background, a green main light and a blue fill light. And all of these lights can be easily separated using channels.

Now it was time to put our theory into practice. We headed to the studio and tried it out with a real model. We colored the background entirely red, using simple foils, we set the main light–a softbox–to blue using filters, and the fill light was colored green. Here’s what it looked like:


We did have to write a Photoshop action to help us here. It copies the color channels into normal layers, because you cannot change opacity in channels. So, open up the picture, apply the action, and then the fun begins.


These six images are actually just one shot – but, by using the opacity layer you can mix the light sources exactly as you wish.

This is what it looks like in Photoshop:


And because we know how you would love to give this a go yourself, here’s a little .zip with the action and three pictures: DOWNLOAD (2MB)

But, please don’t get too carried away. There setup does have a few issues:

  • It only works with black and white photos. Although you can (re)color them later.
  • The fight against banding is taken to a whole new level.
  • The setup is quite difficult to gauge and the lighting is very complicated.
  • Retouching can become quite complex.

So it might not be without its problems, but it’s still mighty cool. Have fun playing!

Recommendations from the Pros


Alice’s Garden


Tim Burton style background at 10,000px x 5,625px
12 lighting moods, mix and match freely
Depth and sky channels


300 files in over 11GB
Perfect for smaller photo studio
Backgrounds, Textures, Ambient Effects & Stocks
Everything for creepy, gloomy & morbid composing

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Retouching Toolkit

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Retouching Tools for Professionals
Photoshop CC+
For both Mac and PC


Elements Bundle

Rated 5.00 out of 5

Over 900 files and textures
Up to 36 MP resolution jpg files
Commercially licensed

Average rating of all bundled packages:
Rated 4.8 out of 5

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