Compositing...easier than your think

Lately I've been doing a lot of compositing.  I've seen it done for years and I've played with it in the past and I wasn't very happy with the end results much of the time.  Like anything else, it's a 'season to taste' thing and someone's style may or may not be interesting to you.  I'm starting to like my own work and that's all anyone can expect...liking ones own work. It's not as hard as it seems.  There are plenty of tutorials on how to select a person out of a picture and then paste them into another with a background.  I found what I like to do it differently and for me it looks more natural.

Masking is important.  You need to know how to do that for sure, and it's way simpler than you'd think.  By the way, when you learn masking you usually use black to paint in and white to reverse it.  Consider that a gray in the middle can also paint in with built in opacity.  It's that kind of playing that gives you options and options are good.

Midnight slinger
Midnight slinger

Here's an example.

Above: The fog was in the original shot...much easier that way.  Obviously the contrast and saturation was bumped and a little liquify was used to add motion to her hair and coat.  I masked the background from a layer but I didn't select her and place her in as is usually done.  I actually did a simple brush in so that her hair wasn't choppy.  I find this is often a preferred way for me because I can let a little of the color of a background fad into the skin or clothes around the edges.  For example, if there is fire in the background, having a little bleed into an arm on the edge shows a bit of light reflection and adds a LOT to the look.  You can also not blend in where there should be a shadow and it works well.  Main thing is to play and have fun.


If you look close at Katrina's left arm and some of her belly you'll see that I intentionally blushed some background ocean in and it looks like a fade.  This is because mermaids aren't really real...or so they say.  So I wanted to add some subliminal wistfulness to the shot.

I simply use a brush and carefully run around the subject and with a fuzzy edge on the brush I've found I can get close to the skin and it looks fine.  Sometimes you might see a slight dark edge were I didn't get that close but unless you are looking for it it's not that noticeable to the casual viewer.  The story should keep their minds eye on the pictures as a whole and not the details.

I don't use a lot of layers.  When I have the composition pretty much like I want it I might use a layer adjustment to make the brightness match like I want.  There is a neat way to make an adjustment layer only affect the single layer under it.  When it's good I flatten it and then start playing with filters.  Usually the NIK Color Effects Pro.

Once done I save it back to Lightroom where I hit the Basics one more time adjusting contrast, shadows, and whites and blacks to get the look I like.

Enjoy.  Play.  And you know where I am if you have questions.

What's the point to a point and shoot?

I visited a wonderful photographer in California a few months ago. Gregory Moore. We had a nice dinner and as we walked along the evening streets chatting about photography (imagine that) he kept pulling out his little point and shoot and clicked off shots of walls, town streets, store fronts, and anything that caught his eye. I've loved his work because of his subdued lighting.  Especially when it's obviously a location shot.  Well, not really a location shot.  I think he often does a shot in the studio and lights it impeccably.  Then in post he adds one or more backgrounds in and then uses yet another set of amazing skills to blend them so perfectly that I can't really tell that it might not be on location.  Then again, I've been with him on a location shoot where he used even more of the same background to add more flavor and emotion to a shot.


So, there is still a good reason to have a good P&S in your pocket at all times when wondering around.  Just the other day I was walking the mall and there was a wall between stores that was seemingly out of place.  Beautiful wood or different colors.  Now I have it as a possible backdrop in a future shot.  And it's mine, I don't have to pay anyone for the right to use it.

Speaking of rights, I always make sure there isn't any 'prior art' in a shot.  There was a photographer that took a picture that was published and in the background, blurred out by the DOF, was some graffitti.  Now, the graffitti wasn't legal but the tagger who created it sued the photographer for $10,000 and won.

The first thought is, why not just use my cell phone?  And I have before.  But, having a camera that has enough lens to capture some good light, has a nice ISO range, and in the case of the camera I'm looking at, the Canon S120, the low fStop of f1.8 will make evening pictures rock.  But, most important, is to get one with at least 12mp and RAW so the image can be manipulated a LOT after the fact.  This is also the difference between the $100 camera and the $450 camera.  But, worth it.  Pick whatever you like but so some serious research to make sure you find what you like and it has good reviews.  Sony seems to lead the pack but it's a close call these days.  Canon is hot on their heels and I didn't see anyone talking about Nikon at all.  Which is odd because Nikon was hyping their P&S cameras in ads not long ago claiming that if you had their P&S you didn't need a photographer.  Yeah, that impressed me too...really?

So, work on those masking skills in Photoshop and start building up that background library.