Into the world of compositing we go! I have been waiting to get an opportunity to write about compositing for months. This is something I am absolutely nuts about. What is compositing you ask? Compositing is like a collage only better because it is PURE MAGIC. In digital compositing you can take a walk among the clouds or go deep water diving with the mermaids and even have cookies with Santa. Well, let’s not go to the North Pole because we are all adults here and those extra calories aren’t doing us any good.
Basics of Compositing:
What is compositing, well in my opinion it is a way to create an alternate reality. But most photographers use it for simple head swaps or just removing people or distractions from the background or in some cases placing your photographed subject into a new scenario. Basic compositing is copying something from one image and pasting it into another. Most people get intimidated by the idea of doing that because there’s a lot of factors to consider when you’re shooting and make sure it fits the scenario you want to drop your subject into.
Things to consider for Composites:
Ideally you want to make sure that you go into a shoot knowing what and how you are going to composite. This takes the headache out of trying to fix things in photoshop later.
- When photographing your subject you have to absolutely make sure that your light is falling in the right direction. For instance in the video tutorial above you will see how I made sure that my subject and flat lay was shot with the lighting coming from the top.
- Neutral Lighting : For an ideal composite I would always recommend shooting outdoors if its overcast or if you are shooting indoors to use overhead lighting and not directional. This makes for an easier blend in photoshop and creating an atmosphere with your selected background would not be so hard. Again, your background in this situation should also have neutral lighting and the rest can be managed in photoshop with overlays or curves.
There are multiple ways to remove your subject from a background, the best in my opinions is to mask your layers and go over with a soft brush. In this scenario if you make a mistake you can always go back and fix it later and not depend on Ctrl+Z. I have on numerous occasion erased background and parts of the subject only to later look at it and regret erasing too much.
When shooting for composites the best background is one that makes your subject stand out. For instance if your subject is wearing a light outfit you want to shoot against a dark background so your magic wand is able to detect the negative area and vice versa if your subject is wearing a dark outfit you want to ideally shoot against a lighter background. When you are in a tricky situation where your subject is actually outdoors with plenty distractions in the background you will in that situation have to use the masking option and try to extract it manually, it’s not hard but it is tedious work.
This is my favorite part about composites when you have to make your subject blend into your background. The best way to do this is to use the following methods
- Overlay – Gradient or color overlay works best for blending. Once you place your overlay you need to go through the blending modes and see which works best with your image. Sometimes you need to bring the opacity down for your overlay to make it work.
- Textures – You can always use textures of paper or colors to blend an image, while the technique is the same as above but the results you get by using textures are slightly better than gradients. You can also try a lot of grain on top to add a mood or further blend your image better.
- Channel Mixer – This is a playful way of blending images, channel mixer helps you create a well blended color scheme for your composited image. By making the colors the same for both your pasted and background image you are essentially creating cohesion which makes the composite more believable.
- Photo Filter – Photo filters can be used for warming up or cooling down your image. Personally I love using photo filters after using channel mixer to add that extra touch of magic.
- Black and White – When in doubt go to black and white, it is almost always a flawless way to blend your images.
My advice with each of the above techniques, you do not have to just do one, for my composites I use almost all the techniques to build a world that is believable and has a uniform color scheme. You can also experiment with each technique and try playing with blending modes to see what kind of mood you can create.
Impact of Compositing:
Compositing may seem like a work of a graphic artist or something that we as photographers don’t really need. However, I find a lot of professional big name photographers who are using compositing to fix little details or save a session from being a complete disaster by mixing images together. It is an essential skill that needs to be practiced because practice makes perfect. I have witnessed photographers who have gone from learning basic cut and paste to creating magical images.
Long story short, compositing is the one technique that enables us to tell bigger stories in our images as artists. While it is used widely for fixing problems in a shot but it can also be used as a form of storytelling where the artist has the opportunity to grasp the viewers attention and draw them in. It gives us the tools to build worlds out of pure imagination or create stories that live inside us, or in other words it gives us complete freedom to explore the endless way to express ourselves.