SIMPLE PHOTO MERGE IN PHOTOSHOP
As with most techniques in Photoshop, there are several ways to get a task accomplished. While lots of people will use layer masks but the process can be a bit tricky for those not familiar with some of the steps used and in the end are not completely happy with the results, especially if the colors and subjects aren't a perfect match. Most ways include using the Brush tool to work around parts of the one image or part of an image onto the background layer. If you are able to find two images where backgrounds are extremely clean, there's a very simple way to bring to parts together to make one shot you had in in mind that you didn't quite get while on a shoot.
While in Bosque del Apache one of the popular shots to get in the evening is of a sandhill crane coming in to a pond with a beautiful sky as the background. Quite often, the cranes don't coopeprate exactly as you wish, either coming in in a group where you can't get one isolated or they don't go right in front of the part of the sky you want as the ebautiful background.
In this instance, take several shots of the sky and mountains just as a background fill shot with no birds in the sky. A shot such as this can almost stand alone by itself, but when put togethere with the second element, it provides just whay you were looking for.
Next, in doing flight shots of the cranes coming in to the outer ponds for the night, try to capture a good silhouette even if the sky isn't that good to be able to use as the foreground for trying out this popular Photoshop technique. Getting shots of the cranes coming in even without the right sky behind them is also good in that it allows for practice in both tracking their flight as well as some exposure testing.
If you've ever been afraid of trying to do this type of merge, given the right two shots to work with it's easier than you ever imagined. If what you're using is more complicated than a nice sky in one shot and and simple subject with a good background it probably will be more complicated that the example here.
The first image below is of the sky and mountains facing west right around sunset. I liked the color of the sky and the only post processing work done was adjustng the temperature up to 6600K in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to warm the color of the sky just a little bit more.
Canon 5D Mark III, 600mm f/4 lens, -2/3 EV, Cloudy white balance
While the crane in the second shot was a good silhouette already, I upped the blacks just a little bit in Camara Raw. Notice the bland background. This is a shot that very easily could not have been taken because it did not have much punch due to the lack of color. Knowing I wanted to play around with the merge process, the position of the sandhill crane wasa perfect for experimentation. And, again, it's always good to practice tracking techniques and getting birds in flight shots whenever possible.
Canon 5D Mark III, 600mm f/4 lens, 1.4 teleconverter, -2/3 EV, Cloudy white balance
In Photoshop, select the Magic Wand tool and click inside the crane. This did a really good selection of the bird as it had a lot of contrast from the background. If the initial selection with the Magic Wand too doesn't pick everything up, hold the Shift key down and add parts such as the legs or a wing tip that might have been missed and it will add to the initial selection.
There are two ways to now place the selected portion from the second image onto the first. One is to do a copy and paste or the second is to do Window > Arrange > Tile to get the two images on the screen simultaneously. Then, using the Move tool, click inside the crane and drag it into place onto the image with the good background.
When first placed in the background image, the size of the crane was too large for the scene as you can see in the image below as the proportions seemed a bit out of place. Some may like this fine but I wanted it to fit more like it's actually seen with the eye at this location.
Straight copy and paste of full size bird into sky after using Magic Wand to select
Goiing back to the second image with the silhouetted crane, resize the whole image a little bit smaller and redo the Magic Wand selection, copy and paste into the sky shot and as you shown, the proportion is much better as seen in the fourth image in the series below.
Copy and paste of crane after reducing the dimensions of the bird image
When doing a shot such as this, it's important to let others know this was a combination of images put together in post-production rather than trying to pass it off as an original photo. This is an image I would tell a magazine or contest that it was a merge of two images. You never want to try and pass something off as an original and then have them find out later that it wasn't as they would then think differently of you and your work and they might not use your work again for publication. Some places don't have a problem with this, especially for advertising purposes as they do this all the time, but you would should still let them know. In selling prints at shows, online or a gallery is another place this is acceptable and commonplace as the people purchasing the image are only interested in the final product and how much they like the photo.
Just like everything else in Photoshop, there are several ways to do processes such as this, but the Magic Wand, copy and paste was the easiest for this setting. When doing a composite such as this you want to make the final product look as if it was from one shot without a lot of manipulation done to it.