Composite line drawings are a fascinating study of a specific location
or a subject using line art.
With Elements you can easily duplicate this really interesting look.
Together with the work of other photographers, Idris Kahn's
photographs, featured im the New York Times in their March special for
the run-up to the Olympic Games, show the iconic landmarks of London
through overlaid images.
Each landmark is made from a series of
different perspectives as line drawings superimposed. As
landmarks dominate the sky line, they also dominate your impressions of
the place. Your memory becomes a blurred collection of those
In this Photoshop Elements tutorial we will build a composite line
drawing from a series of different perspectives as line drawings.
You will need at least three different images of your subject taken
from different perspectives.
The ultimate composition is your choice; Kahn overlaps his images; one
image runs into and over another; I’ve chosen to isolate my images
The four stages in this tutorial are ...
Conversion of the individual images to line images
Assembling the composition
Converting the composition to the final line image
Toning the image
- Image to Line Image
For each image which you’ve selected to be part of your composite
you’ll need to carry out this process
Don’t convert them to greyscale;
keep them as RGB 8 bit; save each of the images as a separate TIFF file
to call on them later.
For each of the images in turn Filter
> Blur > Smart Blur, Quality to High, Mode
to Edge only
The original image is 4500+ pixels wide, so I needed to choose a radius
of 48.2 and a threshold of 62.2, but you’ll need to experiment with the
As you can see, the Smart Blur filter creates a rather amazing line
drawing which stands on its own!
Anyway - save the file as a TIFF and close the image.
Now do the same with the rest of the images you've selected and save
them as TIFF files as well.
Following the same steps, the following are the second and third images
that will be used in this tutorial.
The Composite Line Drawings
This is where your WACOM tablet comes in useful; you can use a mouse
but precision placing and adjusting of the images is easier with the
tablet. Should you need to make slight changes to the line images, the
pressure sensitivity of the "brush" can be put to good purpose.
Many of my images are 4500+ pixels; I made a blank new image of 5000 by
5000 pixels. File
> New > Blank
File to make a new base layer.
Invert to convert this bottom layer to black (It's a good
to change the Background to black so that any mismatch when you line up
the images can be hidden).
Open the TIFF files you created.
Drag the first image into the working area from the tray. CTRL-A selects the
copies the image and CTRL-V
pastes this copied image as a
Set the blend mode to SCREEN
Repeat this until all of your images are pasted in. At this
it is a good idea to save this file as a PSD file; then close the TIFF
If the Photo Bin is open then just drag each of the TIFF files onto the
Using the MOVE tool, move and adjust the size of each of the layers to
make your composition.
Kahn overlaps his images; I chose to separate them; a triangular
arrangement is dynamic; a linear arrangement is calm. Use the brush
tool to paint out in black parts of layers you want to ‘lose’.
TIP – to make it easier to move the layers, click onto the “eye”
symbols of the layers you are not moving to hide them.
At this stage it is a good idea to save this file as a PSD file under a
new name – just in case you need to go back.
Composite Line Drawing
Now flatten the layers using Layer
> Flatten Image and move on to the toning secion.
Toning is a matter of preference, that is, you either like the black
and white look of your composite line drawings or you would like to
experiment with some toning.
With Elements 10 there are a couple of different methods you can use to
tone your composite line drawings. Simply, the ‘shadows’ are your black
lines, and the
‘highlights’ are the paper areas.
You can make the tones very sophisticated using the method that was
fully explained in the Variations
I went for the simple approach. Open the dialogue with Enhance > Adjust Color
Select Shadows and move the Adjust Color Intensity to
Click on Increase Red and then on Decrease Blue to
slight brownish tone. A couple of clicks on each might be needed to get
the tone you want.
Select Highlights and move the Adjust Color Intensity
Click on Increase Red and then on Decrease Blue to
slight yellowish tone.
My cityscape was Auckland, New Zealand.
A Gradient Maps Adjustment layer is an amazing method to do a whole lot
of different things, including toning the composite line drawings.
Here are the steps ...
After inverting the image go to Layer
> New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Maps ... to
this adjustment panel.
Now click on the area inside the red box to bring up the Gradient
default is the black to white gradient which is pretty
much what we've got already.
The idea is to change the dark part of the gradient to some other color.
To do that first click on the black color stop (the left one below the
gradient - circled in red).
This makes the color picker available - click on the color swatch
(outlined by the red elipse) and now you've got access to thousands of
colors and a whole bunch of different gradients.
The great thing about this is that as you select a new color, it is
instantly applied to the composite line drawings.
When you find the one you like the best Click OK to exit the Picker and
then OK to exit the Gradient Editor.
Now flatten the whole thing with Layer
> Flatten Image.
At this point you can modify the Levels if you feel it is needed.
Here is a quick toning done with the Gradient Map ...
And here's another one - the Gradient Map adjustment layer makes toning
Composite Line Drawings
Two other examples here are the control
tower of Fernilee Reservoir in the Goyt Valley, UK.
The Composite Line Drawing of Fernilee
As a true Kahn, the various stages in
the opening of a
flower bud of Rhododendron var plena flores. The latter being blue grey
This technique can be used to create quite complex line drawings. We
can tone each of our line image layers a different colour before
merging them. If you have
specific colours in mind you may need to refresh your memory about colour theory.
In this part of the tutorial we will ...
Look at the way in which any of the colours may be changed
by the process.
Tone each one of the layers separately.
Merge the tone into the layer.
Merge the layers iinto a single image.
Produce the final image.
Look at the way in which any of the colours may be changed by the
Since the final step involves making a negative image, all colours will
the final step, becomes
When the layers of lines are merged using
the ‘Screen’ Blending
mode, the areas in which they overlap will change colour.
this colour line
becomes this colour
Tone each one of the layers
In turn click onto the layers in the stack, and then click the Create new fill or adjustment layer
button *that's the one outlined in red below).
Choose ‘Gradient Map’.
Click on the Gradient in the Adjustment
Panel (inside the red box, top left screen shot above) and this
will open the Gradient Editor
(right screen shot above).
Now click or tap on the white colour stop (the little colour stop on
the bottom right as shown above). Now move to the bottom left and
click on the white colour at the bottom left to open the Select Color
Stop dialogue (a different name for the normal colour picker).
Select the colour you want for the LINE part of the layer, click OK to
exit this dialogue and OK again to exit the Gradient Editor. Your
lines should now be the new colour you've chosen. Don’t edit the
Layer > Merge Down for
the Adjustment layer into the layer to which it belongs.
Do this for all of the layers. one by one.
Merge the layers into a single
When all of the adjustment layers are merged into their respective
layers, set the blending modes to Screen.
Now we need to bring all of the layers together.
CTRL-left click (Windows)
or Cmd-left click (Mac)
onto all of the layers in turn will select them all.
Layer > Merge Layers
converts the layers into a single layer.
Produce the final image
Filter > Adjustments >
Invert or Ctrl-I (Win) or Cmd-I (Mac) turns the composition
into a multi-coloured on white
image, so that you can see your final results