How I shot it: composite edition

August 21, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I decided to do a composite photo as a creative exercise, partly inspired by SLRLounge's 100 ways to be a more creative photographer article. Since I already knew how to do the standard "flying person" picture, that's where we went with this. Naturally the first question I get about this is "How did you do that?" so here it is...

First, you need to lock your camera down on a tripod. If it moves at all during the shoot your results will be undesirable. If you're shooting outdoors you'll want to weigh the tripod down as well to provide extra stability.

Second, shoot in full manual mode. It's vital that your exposure doesn't change during the shoot. In addition to locking down your shutter spped, aperture, and ISO, you'll also want to use manual focus to avoid the risk of changing focus from one shot to the next. I did this by auto-focusing on one of my props after the camera was on the tripod, then switching to manual focus.

Now, what about the actual pictures? In mapping this shot out, I knew I wanted a picture of the front half, one of just the dress blowing around, and one of the flying woman's legs. I worked from left to right and ended up with these as a starting point:

faces and armsFaces and arms Billowing dressBillowing dress LegsLegs Top to bottom, we have the faces and arms, the billowing dress, and the suspended legs. You might be thinking that these look terrible, and at the moment you'd be right, but give it a minute.

The last thing I did (you can also do this first if you prefer) is a shot of the background, completely empty. This is actually the base to start with and the reason you need to lock focus first - if there's nothing left to focus on this shot will be drastically different from the others.

BackgroundBackground Now that I have my four shots, I open all of them up in Photoshop as layers and start masking the parts I need from each one. (If you're not familiar with layers and masks there are hundreds of tutorials out there to get you started.) Here's where the tripod becomes vital - the shots won't line up if the camera has moved at all during the shoot. This is a simplified and blown-out version showing roughly the pieces I kept from each image:

Bits and piecesBits and pieces After applying the pieces I need from each image, the last step is masking out the ladder so the empty background shot shows through. The ladder is what I used to set focus before any photos were taken.

Once that was done, I saved a copy of the final image and brought it back into Lightroom for cropping and final adjustments. Boom!

All done!All done! Many thanks to Heather and Ana for helping out with this. Please reach out to me if you would like to participate in one of these.


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