Advanced Photopshop Compositing Secrets

We’re happy to report that we have been featured in Advanced Photoshop Magazine issue 98. You might remember back to last summer when they first featured Chris’s work and an interview about his process. We’re back again, this time contributing a handful of tools and tips for maximizing your compositing workflow. Although the magazine is based in the UK, you can order it online or try and pick up a copy at specialty retailers in the US.

No worries though, we’ve summarized the tips here, keep reading to find out how we break down our compositing workflow…

Of course we had to feature our paper airplanes image as the telltale example of our compositing process. Combining a series of elements into the final image, from the background to our subject and finally the paper planes, it is the perfect photo to illustrate how a well planned workflow can result in an amazing image.

Background Plates: Often when we are shooting composite images, the background plates for the final images are shot before the subjects. This allows for us to create a library of possible backgrounds options for whatever subject matter we might want to place in them. The flexibility of this is essential to our creativity.

Measure Up: Always carry a tape measure when shooting. It may look out of place in your camera bag, but making precise measurements of camera height, and distance are key to believable composites. If you are shooting with someone else or using the self-timer, shoot a few frames with a test subject in the scene and measure their distance from the camera.

Be Consistent: When shooting all the composite pieces, try to limit as many variables as possible by keeping things consistent. If you can, use the same camera, lens, focal length, and f-stop. Keeping these factors consistent will help to eliminate problems in putting the pieces together later.

Mind the Lighting: Arguably the most important part of shooting for composite images is to keep the lighting consistent. If the lighting between your subjects and backgrounds match, the resulting image is easier to put together and much more realistic looking.

Plan the Composite: Always begin the composite with a clear plan and vision. Look to other photography and art as inspiration and a visual guidebook for your work. If possible, create quick mock-ups of the different elements together to help guide your toning and color adjustments. You may find the final image has diverged from what you initially envisioned, but it always helps to start with a clear idea and inspired visual palate when you open Photoshop.

Blending and Toning: Aside from compositing multiple pieces into one final image, you should consider blending and combining multiple exposures and options into the individual elements of the composite. If the dynamic range of the background is too great to capture in one photograph, expand that range by (manually or HDR) blending of the lights and darks.

Accurate Selections: Creating precise and accurate selections with the path tool makes for believable composites. Although it has a much steeper learning curve than the other selection methods, it is the industry standard and essential for cutting out various pieces in composite images(we can’t stress this one enough – if there is any skill you need to master to take your retouching and compositing skill-set to the next level, take the time and learn the process of making accurate and believable selections).

Adding Drama: Placing different elements of the composite at varying degrees of depth within the final image not only adds to the visual drama and complexity, but can help guide the viewer’s eye and keep them engaged on the photo.

Thanks again to Advanced Photoshop for the feature. Make sure to keep up with them @advancedphotohshop on twitter – they’re always offering up links and tips for improving your images.

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