If you enjoy having complete control over light, color, composition, and atmosphere, photo compositing is the answer. Blending photos engages the imagination and makes it possible to tell a complete story with a single image.
Furthermore, for those on tight budgets, compositing eliminates the expense of taking a model and crew on location. If you’re open to using stock photos, it’s possible to place the model in virtually any setting without stepping foot on a plane. Since creating a convincing composite can be challenging, here are five tips to improve your odds for success.
1. Don’t include the feet
When feet come into contact with the ground, it’s harder to achieve a believable composite. Therefore, unless you’re up to the challenge, create composites where the feet are cropped out. If you must include them, use a black-to-transparent gradient to darken the feet and make them less noticeable.
Additionally, be sure to capture the model and background from a similar distance and height using a fairly consistent focal length. As an added measure of realism, add a small dark shadow just below the feet where they make contact with the ground.
2. Light the subject properly
How the subject is lit is crucial to the success of the composite. A three-light set-up, with two directional edge lights and one front fill light, provides a pair of distinct advantages. First, the edge lights separate the subject from the background making extraction much easier. Second, light striking the model from three sides makes it possible to believably drop the subject into almost any background.
When shooting, position the model and lights in front of a white seamless backdrop and move them far enough away so that the backdrop becomes light gray due to light falloff. Light gray is the ideal color for extraction.
3. Make great selections
Nothing screams “photo composite” more loudly than a poorly extracted subject. To sell the composite, selection edges must look realistic. Fortunately, Photoshop CS5 and later make it easy to produce perfect selections. Using a combination of the Quick Selection tool and the Refine Mask feature, it’s now possible to select even difficult subjects such as hair.
4. Balance the color, contrast, and saturation
In order to make a subject appear as though it belongs in front of a background that was photographed in an entirely different location under potentially different lighting conditions, it’s important to balance the color, contrast, and saturation.
The best way to accomplish this is by using Photoshop’s Color Balance, Curves,and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers. To limit their effect to only the subject,use a clipping mask. When the composite is nearing completion, filters suchas Color Efex Pro’s Bi-Color, Bleach Bypass, Film Efex, and Tonal Contrast are awesome for unifying the overall scene by creating consistent color, contrast,and special effects.
5. Wrap light around the subject
In the real world (especially in backlit scenes), light bends subtly around a subject’s edges. In a composite, wrapped light adds drama and ties the subject and background neatly together. Although there are several methods for wrapping light, the simplest (and often most effective) is to add a layer above the subject and paint with a large, soft-edged white brush in the spot where backlight meets the edge of the subject. To tone down the light’s intensity, simply reduce the layer’s opacity.
If you’re yearning to learn more about compositing, visit Mark's website for tons of tutorials and educational resources: http://www.msjphotography.com/index.php/learn/
Looks like is at it again ... doing really cool things for photographers around the world! Just this morning they shared the first of many SmugMug Films, where they will be showcasing some of the best photographers on the planet. In them we'll see a glimpse of why the photographers do what they do.
This looks like it will be a very inspirational series, I can't wait to watch it! Check out the trailer below to find out more.
- Kingston UniversityUser Experience Design, 2011 - 2013
- Staffordshire UniversityComputing in Internet Technology, 2002 - 2006
- Giant and FriendsPhotographer, 2013 - present
- Synergy At WorkIT Consultants, 2007 - 2011
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