Attempting to photograph objects that move fast offers many challenges. The main challenge is to achieve a sharp photograph of your subject. To that end, you concentrate on holding one of your camera's focus points, preferably the center focus point, on a specific spot on the subject as you pan your camera with that subject. At times, what you may not realize is that as your panning, concentrating on that focus point, your loosing site of the big picture. You are forgetting about where your subject is within the camera frame. Your composition suffers or worse still, you cut off part off the subject. Time to delete what otherwise would have been a great shot. Such is the life of an aviation photographer. Wait! Photoshop can fix that poor composition and turn a not so good shot into a winner.
In the photograph above, you see one the US Navy's Blue Angels attempting to land on me. Now, I'm a firm believer that a moving subject needs room in the frame to move. To that end, this Blue Angel needs some sky to fly into. Out of the camera, the plane in this photo is running into the edge of the frame.
In this tutorial, I'll show you how to correct your composition faux pas. In some cases, you can even fix cut off bits of your subject. I'll save fixing cut off subjects for another day. In this tutorial we are going to concentrate solely on composition. You wil notice in the screen shots that I have used Photoshop CS6. To the best of my knowledge what I'm going to show you will work in all legacy versions of Photoshop as well as Photoshop Elements.
Open your image in Photoshop. I like to make my photo fit the screen, so I'll use the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+zero.
Drag the highlighted thumbnail labeled Background in the right column, down to the Create New Layer icon (highlighted in yellow in the screen shot below) next to the trash can in the layers pallet to create a new background copy. Alternately, you can do as I do and use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+J. Your screen should now resemble the screen shot below.
Make sure that the layer labeled Background Layer is the active layer. Select the move tool by clicking the icon (highlighted in the screen shot below) or by using the keyboard shortcut Shift+V. Now, depress the left button on your mouse and hold while you drag the background layer into the position you wish the subject had been in when you depressed the shutter. In the case of this photo, I simply dragged the background layer down to provide some room in the frame for the plane to fly into.
Next, with the Background Copy still highlighted, add a layer mask. This can be done by simply clicking the add layer mask icon (highlighted in the screenshot below)
Click the eyeball on the layer labeled Background to hide the background layer. Your screen should resemble the screen shot below. Select the brush tool by clicking on the icon or using the keyboard shortcut B. Choose a soft edge brush and adjust the brush size using the left and right bracket keys([and]) on your keyboard. Press the letter D on your keyboard to set the foreground color to black, the background color to white. Now, make sure the layer mask thumbnail is active. It will be within white brackets if it is active. If it is not, simply click on the layer mask thumbnail to make it active. Now, paint along the edge of the photo. The soft edge you create will help blend the sky of the original background layer to the sky of the background copy.
If you accidently paint over your subject, you can simply press X on your keyboard which will change your foreground color to white. Now paint your subject back in, as I have done in the screen shot below.
Click on the eyeball in front of the layer labeled background copy to hide that layer. Next, click the square in front of the bottom layer labeled background to reveal the background layer. Now, click on the background layer to make it the active layer. Select the clone stamp tool by clicking its icon or press S on your keyboard. Adjust the size of the clone stamp tool using the left and right bracket keys ([and]). Using the sky adjacent to the plane, hold the alt key and click the left mouse botton to select a target area to clone from. Now, paint over the area of the plane that will be visible when both layers are unhidden as I have done in the screenshot below.
When you think you are finished, click on the square in front of the background copy layer to reveal that layer and check your work. You can see in the screen shot below, I have a missle rail showing through.
With the background layer still active, reselect the clone stamp tool and clone out the missle rail.
When you are satisfied, use the keyboard shortcut Shift+Ctrl+E to merge the layers. Now you can proceed to make any other adjustments to the photo that you wish.
The photo used in this tutorial was admittedly very quick and easy to fix but, illustrates the basic steps required to correct a photograph's composition. The background in the example photo is very simple and essentially a consistent color making cloning, in order to blend the layers, simple. The more complicated the background, the more Photoshop tools and techniques will be required to make a fix. My hope is that this tutorial as well as helping you save some of those photos you may have otherwise deleted, will inspire you learn more about photoshop's capabilities so that you can tackle more difficult corrections.