The secret to making images of electronic devices with the screen on pop and seem not pixelated nor over or under exposed is to basically take a screenshot of the what’s on the device and composite it in with Photoshop. One of the problems doing so is that the screenshot is digitally created whereas the picture of the iPad or something else has been taken by a camera so it’s not perfectly sharp, there is noise and other degradations in quality. So, I will walk you through two post-production techniques I used to create iPad image here.

1. Open both images in new layers

After you made sure the base photo is as good as it can and you did all the retouching, compositing, focus stacking, colour correction, background replacement and/or added sharpness, you are ready to add the screen. Create a layer of everything that is visible by pressing Command + Control + Shift + E. Then, group all the previous layers by smashing Command + G after having selected all the ones you want in the group (Click on the first one, Shift-Click on the last one), just so the workspace is more organized. Bring in the screenshot (Command + O to select the file in the Finder).

2. Correct the perspective

The screenshot is perfectly flat whereas the iPad image isn’t. To fix that, select the screen layer and press Command + T to bring up Free Transform. Right click and choose Perspective. By moving the 8 small squares you can match both the iPad layer and it’s screen, perspective-wise. The guiding lines here will be the contour of the actual monitor on the iPad. The edges of the screenshot must follow them. If you are having problems getting the correct perspective, you can try the Skew or Distort command by Right-clicking again.

3. Blur the screen layer

Yup, you need to add blurriness to the screenshot. You may not have thought of it but the lenses on your camera are degrading the image’s quality. That is because light has to pass through the various elements in them in order to reach the sensor and by doing that, it gets blurred a little. If we were to let the screenshot layer perfectly sharp, it wouldn’t fit in very well. So, I suggest you make a copy of it by doing Command + J on your keyboard, after having selected it by clicking on its layer in the Layer panel. After that, go up to the Filter option (top bar, around the middle) and hover your mouse icon over the Blur text and select Gaussian Blur. Zoom in the image and add or remove the blur amount so that it matches the level that there is on the base tablet layer. Hit Ok and you’re done for that.

4. Bump up the noise

Another quality hit you have to live with when taking digital (well, analog also) images is the image noise (or grain, for analog film). As you increase your camera’s sensitivity (ISO), you introduce more noise. Of course, for commercial photography where you have full control over the lighting, you want to ISO number as low as possible (maybe not go to lowest setting as you lose colour data if you go lower than the native range). To add noise to the screenshot layer, make sure it’s still selected and navigate to Filter > Noise > Add noise. Again, try to match both quantities of it in both the screenshot and the iPad

5. Blur the edges

As a final step I often like to blur a tiny bit more the edges of the now integrated screen. To do that, you need to duplicate the last screenshot (Command + J) and go back to the Gaussian Blur filter. Lower the quantity that’s already there (by default, it’s the value that was last used) a at least by 50%. Click Ok. Go to the layer panel and create a black layer mask by clicking on the Layer Mask icon and pressing Command + i. Then, press L (you want to have the Polygonal Lasso tool selected. If it’s not, Shift-press L which will select the different Lasso tools) and create a box around the screen. Make sure to leave the same spacing everywhere and be pretty close to the actual edge. After that, smash the Option (Alt on Windows) + Delete (assuming you have the default black and white colours in your brush palette and white is the foreground choice (press X to alternate the background and foreground)) keys on your keyboard. Click Ok. To continue, create a smaller box inside the screen (exactly like before) that has the same spacing as the first one. Shift + Delete but this time, choose black as the fill colour. This way, we created a band at the edges of the screen where the second blur layer will only show at (on a layer mask, white reveals and blacks conceals. To learn more about layer masks, click here.) Finally, click on the layer mask and blur it so that the edges are not sharp (same blurring procedure as always). To view what a layer mask looks like, Alt-click on it. You’ll also want to create a second noise layer by duplicating the second one and going to Filter > Noise > Add noise and set the amount to at least half what it was set previously. That is because, the edge blur we just created blurred the noise, causing it to disappear. Alt-click in between the last layer (the one with the noise) and the layer with the mask in the Layers panel. That will add it back up but just to the last layer we made (because they share the same layer mask).

That’s it. You did it! To view what the screenshot looked like before both blurs and the noise addition, Alt-click on the eye icon beside the first of the four screen images. It’s subtle but adds a lot of realism. I may also add chromatic aberrations and I will make sure the colour balances and temperatures of the base iPad layer and it’s composited screen match. Of course, the better quality image your camera and lens output, the less you’ll have to degrade the picture to match them. If you wind up thinking the effect of what we just did is too much, simply group the screenshot layers (select them all and enter the Command + G key combination) and lower the opacity of that group (the opacity slider is in the top right corner of the Layer panel). That’s it for now.

Cheers,

Tristan

Note: if you're on a Windows computer, it is all the same steps except that the Command key is replaced by the Control key and Control is replaced by Alt.