How to place text behind objects in a photo

One of the most eye-catching ways to combine text with a photo is by making the text appear to be inside the photo itself. And doing this is actually pretty simple when you know how!

To follow along with the tutorial, feel free to download the photo we’re using.

Download Photo

Step 1

Write some text and style it

The first step is coming up with something to write. We’ll be combining just one word with the photo — UNWIND — but you can use this technique to blend pretty much any text or shape. Start by writing the word and then style it. We’re using SF Pro Display, the Apple system font with a bold weight and a size of 450 px.

Step 2

Reduce the opacity of the text layer

To make it easier to see the parts of the photo behind the text, reduce the opacity of the text layer. To do that, make sure the text layer is selected and adjust its opacity in the Layers sidebar or using the Style tool.

Step 3

Mask out parts of the text behind objects of the photo

We’ll use a mask to nondestructively hide the parts of the text that should be behind the leaves in this photo. In the Layers sidebar, Control ⌃‐click the text layer and choose Add Mask. The mask will automatically be selected for editing, indicated by the blue outline around it.

Choose the Paint tool (the B key) and select one of the Hard Basic brushes, which you’ll find in the Basic collection. In the Tool Options pane, set the Size to 50 px, the Softness to 30%, and the Opacity to 100%. Set the color to black — you can quickly do this by pressing the D key (for Default colors).

Note

When painting on a layer mask with the brush color set to black, the areas you paint over will be hidden. Painting with white reveals areas. To learn more about masks and how they work, see How to use layer masks and clipping masks.

Once you’ve customized your brush, paint over the parts of the text that you’d like to put behind the leaves. Zoom in to make it easier to be more precise. To make the effect more believable, it can help to imagine the text inside the photo and only hide those areas that are behind objects at the front of the photo. But feel free to experiment and see what looks best!

If you make a mistake, change the color of the brush to white and paint over an area to reveal it again. After you’ve finished masking the text, set the opacity of the text layer back to 100%.

Tip

If you used the D key to reset colors to default, you can press the X key to quickly switch between black and white.

Step 4

Add some shadows to create even more depth

The final step is adding some shadows to create even more depth. This might not work in all photos depending on their composition but it will look awesome in this one. To make the shadows fall only where we want them, we’ll use a trick created by a combination of a clipping mask and the regular layer mask below it. Create an empty new image layer (Shift ⇧Command ⌘N) and call it Shadows. Then, use it to create a clipping mask by Control ⌃‐clicking the layer and choosing Create Clipping Mask.

Tip

You can also quickly create a clipping mask by Option ⌥‐clicking between two layers in the Layers sidebar or pressing the Option ⌥Command ⌘G keyboard shortcut.

Choose the Paint tool again, select one of the Medium Basic brushes and adjust its Size to 70 px, Softness to 75%, and Opacity to 30%. Making sure that your new and currently empty Shadows layer is selected, paint shadows anywhere a leaf falls above part of the text. Just like before, you can zoom in to make this easier.

Because you’ve created a clipping mask, the shadows will fall only onto the text and will be masked out by the text layer’s layer mask, so you can paint directly onto a leaf and have only the edge of the brush leave a shadow, like in the video below.

Tip

To make the shadows more realistic, don’t necessarily make them fall evenly — make them darker in certain areas, for example, where the leaf might be a little further away from the text. To do that, let the brush come slightly further out from the leaf. And, as always, feel free to experiment!

And that’s it, you’ve just learned a super realistic and very eye-catching way to combine text with a photo!

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