Since I took my first picture when I decided I wanted to be a photographer until now, my ideas required image compositing. I’m a very no-fuss type of person, so I try to find the simplest methods of creating imagery that work for me. I love watching other artist’s processes because it shows insight into how they work, yet I rarely find myself implementing someone else’s workflow into my own. The reason is because I found a method that I can understand and that I’ve been able to continue developing in a certain style. I work around one simple mindset – that a good composite should be distraction-free.
Whenever I see a composited image that doesn’t seem to quite work – my own photographs included – it is always because I am distracted by the editing itself. Case in point is an image I’m working on right now, in which I am editing someone half underwater, but the water line is just too distracting – too white, too big, too in your face. It isn’t blended properly. And because of that, I notice the editing before the concept.
One way that I deal with removing distractions from my edits is to know the order that I like to edit in, and to finish that stage before I move on to the next. My first step is always the actual compositing – literally stitching together various images so that they blend well.
When I was editing this image of my friend Jen Brook in a chateau in France, I had to edit on about eight other images photographed all around her to build out the room she is standing in. Each piece required that I do a couple of things before moving on. First is to blend using a big, fuzzy (soft, 0% hardness) brush to erase where the harsh lines of the edge of the image are so that there were no mistakes where the image was blended. Next was to match up exactly where that new piece of the picture had to go on the underlying image so that everything lined up. This often requires warping (Edit–>Transform–>Warp) so that I can maneuver each piece of the new image into place. Once everything lines up, I click that layer on and off (using the eyeball symbol in the Layers palette) to make sure I’m not missing any pieces. Finally, I retouch the color or exposure of the new piece that has been added, in case the color shifted slightly or the light did.
Once I have all of my images stitched together, and only after they ALL blend perfectly, I move on to lighting. The most common pitfall of compositing is thinking that it stops at blending the separate images together. Compositing must often go beyond stitching because when we enhance light, we take the viewer’s gaze away from certain areas and put it on others in the frame. I like to drastically enhance light, thus doing things like darkening the background and highlighting my subject. In this case below, I selected only the background, feathered my selection (in this case it was about 30px), and then darkened that area using curves and pulling down from the highlights only. This allowed the highlights on the curtains to become dark while maintaining some of the mid-tones, which would include her hair, so that they were not as greatly affected. The result is a more natural fall-off of light.
Working in light and color is rarely necessary in compositing, but it can drastically help the believability of the image. For example, in the above image, by adding blue to the shadows, and by skewing those blacks to be gray, I created a more muddied look in the shadows. This allowed the image to blend together more by taking away some of the sharper details in those areas and creating a painterly look instead. By changing the color of the dress to better fit the color palette, the viewer immediately sees a greater connection between all pieces of the final image. The colors all work together, the light is motivated and draws the eye to a certain part of the frame, and the compositing has no stitching flaws.
Even though my methods may change and evolve over time, my theory on compositing remains the same. I stitch, I enhance or change light, and I enhance or change color. Those three items, in that order, follow me through every edit that I work on.
Jennifer Flapjack - Another amazing image of you <3
I have a few go-to methods. One is always retouching the face, removing some blemishes. Second is contrast + dodge and burn, and lastly colours! ^^
brookeshaden - Very nice! I would love to see your dodging/burning methods. I’ve never been able to master them since I always use them in less traditional ways. Would be awesome to see! Thank you for sharing XO!
Fer Siciliano - Amazing brooke! i always try to shoot the person in one only frame, then the extra shoots for the expancion, then i change colors, add some shadows and always give some bright to the eyes, at last sometimes i use a texture, from my own of one of your collection 🙂
brookeshaden - Fantastic tips! I try to shoot my subject in one frame too…this time I failed because the image where she was in one image altogether was out of focus, hehe! I love how you say you make the eyes brighter – something I almost always do as well, and really helps draw the focus in. Thank you for sharing!
Lu - Awesome. I think that the gif was a great choice to show the process. To me, it is even clearer than video. I am always amazed to see the way you work Brooke. About my process and methods…it changes a lot depending on the image. Con Amor, Lu
brookeshaden - Hi Lu! Very glad to know that you liked the gif. I will continue to create them 🙂 Thank you for being so kind!
Khalil Zamer - Admire Unique Art
Paulo Carvalho - Beautiful image! And a great gif too! I really like! My process is usually shoot the model and then make others shoots to make the mounting of the final image. Sometimes I try to do everything in one shot. Then I work de colors, shadows…. The basic! And always end up with a texture. This can sometimes be one of those that you dispose for download. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how much I can say I have a method or process already cemented! I’m always learning new things that I try to apply in my images. And much of these new things I learn from you. So! Thank you! XOXO
Connie Doull - Love seeing how images are created and composited. Your body of work is so beautiful and inspiring. x
Tony Blakey - As i think i suffer from depression and anxiety but have not been to the doctors as i am scared on what i will find out. When someone directed me to your beautiful art, i was like wow, your are truly tells a story. I love to use photoshop and to take photos as it calms me down. I use to only do my art when i was happy but after seeing one of your videos i decided to put my feeling in to my art and i found i was more expressive within my work. I love your art brook it is dark but beautiful and tells a story. after seeing some more of your passion videos and tutorials i love your use of textures and the use of colours. So now i have implemented that in to my images. i cant wait to see what you come up with next. I believe in being different and not be a follower a sheep so i be an individual. Keep doing your great work. 🙂
Johan Lund - I use similar techniques like you Brooke but on landscape shots. You can check out my work here http://johanlund.com
One tip I have for look development. If I run out of ideas on what direction to take on a photo, I run a series of PSD actions on my image. It will give me about 15 new adjustment layers that all do different things like tints, light fx etc. I then turn them all off and start switching them on one by one. Usually some of the layers will improve some part of the image so I paint in the best of those layers. It’s a really fun way of exploring what can be done to the image. Just be careful to to over cook your image. 🙂
FIT BMX - I love how you keep it simple! I only use LightRoom right now, since a lot of my photos are wildlife I mostly just change the shadows and highlights, but I also use the cloning tool a lot. Like when I got a photo of a owl a few weeks ago, there was a stick right next to him that was very distracting, so I just remove it. 😉
I will be learning how to composite soon. My Mom just finish a novel, and I said I would photograph/make a cover for it. I have no idea how, but that’s when YouTube comes in. Do any of you know of a good “How to” video on compositing?
Thanks for the links to jessicatruscott.weebly.com and jenbrook.com they do wonderful work! 🙂
Nani - I love your work. because for me the reality is not enough.