Last year my friend Marsha invited me to this crazy Victorian mansion along with a small handful of awesome photographers and models to hang out and make some art … Obviously I said, “heck yesss.” The house was a gold mine of strange colorful rooms full of interesting wall paper, decorative trimmings, and some gorgeous natural light.
What do you think of when you hear the term composite? Lots of hours with the pen tool cutting out elements, or fiddling around with the refine edge tool? Well one of the ways I sometimes like to create composite images is by blending instead of cutting out. Many of the photographers I follow use this technique and it is quite straight forward, all you need to do is make sure you plan ahead and have a tripod……without a tripod you can not shoot to blend.
So how do you shoot to blend. Usually if you are shooting to blend, this technique will be used when you are shooting on location. You set a point for your tripod, set up the camera and it stays in that position for the whole shoot. It never moves. Only the elements in your image do.
Here is an example.
One day whilst I was sprinting my heart out on the running machine at the gym, an image popped into my head. The scene was a tribal/witch doctor lady, surrounded by wolves. I wrote it down on a scrap of paper when I got home, and threw it into my ideas folder. It was around 6 months later, after finishing some client work, that I thought it was time to create some personal images and flex the old Photoshop muscles. The first piece of paper I picked up was the witch doctor idea. Knowing it would make a cool image, and challenge me, this is the project I would choose.
By now, if you have read my previous posts (which you all should have done, tut tut), you will know that I am inspired greatly by the cinema. I have loved movies since I was a little boy. I would sit for hours on end, watching, and re-watching my favourite movies. If I had to tell you guys right now what it was that sucked me in, time, and time again, it would be one thing. The stories.
As most of us know by now, you can have a movie with the best special FX in the world, but if it is attached to a plot-less, or weak story, the film will suck! How many times recently have you been to the cinema, and exited underwhelmed. Yeah the movie might be visual eye candy, but without its heart, a well written story, it is nothing but another shallow excuse to make money.
As photographers we are all storytellers at the core, but unlike cinema, we only have one image to convey a story. This is something I strive to do in my own work, for each image to be a story, with its own tale to tell. Well there is one photographer in particular, who has this skill down to a fine art (excuse the pun :P)
In 2013, when the photography world was still quite new to me, I remember browsing on Flickr. I was clicking through the photos, when I stumbled onto an image that looked like a still from a movie. It had a young man, cradling a dog in his arms, as he walked away from what looked like a burning building. I stared at the image on my screen, trying to deconstruct it in my head. How had this guy created such a seamless, and cinematic image? There was so much story to tell in this one lone image, that I couldn’t take my eyes from it. Eventually I moved my mouse cursor to the name written at the top, Ryan J Weiss (Fcebook, Flickr), and clicked to see his photo stream.
Not very long ago I got to visit my buddy Joseph Parry. We drank (quite a lot of beer), we ate (lots of chocolate brownies) and we took photos. Like any normal person, when they go visit a friend I brought with me a cowboy outfit. Wait! What, that’s not normal!!?? Well welcome to my world.
Anyway, I got Joseph to don the cowboy outfit, which suited his manly yet strangely conditioned soft beard, and we set up to shoot a portrait. As part of the setup Joseph had recently bought a Gravity Backdrop which we were going to use as the background. For me, this was the first time using an actual hand printed, textured, background and I was stunned by how awesome it made the images look straight from camera (and of course you can fake it, but it is no longer out of camera). It gave us a great base to work from, the result of said shoot being the image below.
Realistic Composites (basics) – €85.00 by Adrian Sommeling is a workshop that teaches you how to create lively, funny composits from start to finish. And when I say start, I mean from pre-planning a shoot so your photos are “composing ready”, until putting the last coloring touch on the final piece.
As someone who is just starting out with compositing (not to be confused with composting) I totally loved it, here is why:
I’m affiliated with the Dark Realm Collective (DRC), it’s an art group that specializes in Dark / Horror / Supernatural subjects – the group was founded October 2014 by Matt Seff Barnes. As a collective, we release four ‘art packs’ a year; each pack has a title, and a selection of five ‘themes’ for the artists to choose from.
This easter we used witches as our theme. With a few theme-titles to choose from and to spark our imagination.
I have two daughters (11 and 4) and one son (7). They wanna be: an actress, a robot maker and a dancer-chef-teacher-driver. I’ll let you do the match up. Actually many of us had “dream jobs” when we were growing up and for some, we never got to experience those dreams because life took us on different paths than we thought they would when we were young.
Photographer Brandon Cawood opens a small window so kids, (specifically, his sister’s, Malisa, 5th grade pupils) can see themselves in that dream job of theirs. As a bonus, the project started when two 5th graders interviewed Brandon for they Career Project at school – They wanted to be photographers when they grow up. (How cool is that, kids still want to be photographers, take that Cynicists!). Brandon gave the class a lecture what it means to “be a photographer” and the kids wanted their photos taken in a cool way.
When Jeremy and Emma approached me about including a Story Art piece as part of their wedding day coverage I was initially hesitant. My composites often takes hours of pre planning, not to mention the time that would need to be allocated to the shoot itself, on the wedding day. I love to take a challenge and run with it though, so it wasn’t long (10 minutes?) before I was dreaming up ideas for their custom wedding Story Art piece
So I rarely do composite type images preferring to do as much in camera as I can. However sometimes it can’t be helped. Do do hate spending forever trying to draw paths or make complex masks though, so whenever possible I like to utilise this quick and easy composite trick.
It really is incredibly simple and uses the layer blending modes to create the composite. Ok, so first of we do need to plan ahead a little. As the composite relies on various blending modes, the tone of the images we aim to composite is vital. For example, if we take an image shot against a simple white backdrop, we need to use an image of a similar tonal value to achieve the best blending results. In the following example the subject is shot against a plain white wall.
The first thing to notice if we were to try to cut or mask the subject out, is the difficulty with the hair but also the shadow area. The image I choose for replacing the backdrop was this stock background image of a distressed textured wall. Notice that as it is mostly light coloured the tonal range is similar to the original images backdrop. (if you are looking for more textures or backplate, this is a great resource)