UNLOCK THE POSSIBILITIES
Published by Nicole York from PRO EDU
"Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it.” – Lloyd Alexander
Composite photography is one of the most popular approaches to creative image-making, but some photographers are still hesitant to jump on board. Learning how to combine multiple images can be confusing, and learning a new skill set can seem overwhelming, but there are several compelling reasons to step outside of your comfort zone and learn how to composite.
Anyone who has ever tried to schedule a shoot on location or handle the bills associated with studio rental knows the struggle. You pay for the location, build the set, and lug around pounds of gear. You have to work within the limitations of the location, which means there may not be accessible power, bathrooms, or emergency care.
While there truly is a magic to shooting on location, it comes with loads of difficulties and considerations. Sometimes the difficulties are worth it. Other times you would have been better served to create a composite.
When you know how to create a composite, you get around almost all of the limitations of shooting on location. You can create backplates when you’re on your own to lower the cost of travel, or source backplates from stock photography sites if traveling is too expensive. You can shoot in your living room or your garage and composite the portrait into any location, without worrying about access to power, food, or bathrooms.
Travel, location fees, food, equipment rental, and set building cost money. In the past, the ability to spend thousands of dollars on production was a huge hurdle for solo photographers who wanted to build their portfolios.
With composite photography, however, solo photographers can source incredible locations. Even modeling fees are lower when you can get the shot in 4 hours in the studio rather than including travel time. Composite photography lowers the cost of the shoot significantly while maintaining quality.
The ability to create several different images from the same shoot gives composite photographers a huge amount of flexibility. You can schedule time with a model, shoot several different looks, and composite in different backgrounds to create multiple images for your portfolio.
You might not be able to keep a team on location long enough to get the right light or wait to capture the right clouds or photograph a wild animal to include in your shoot. But with composite photography, you can shoot or source all those things over time. This allows you to build a library to draw from so that the limitations of capturing everything in a single frame don’t stop you from creating what you want.
Creative freedom is the single most important aspect of composite photography. Combining pieces of architecture, finding a stock photo of a magical location, putting your subject in a location you could never travel to, or even creating places or creatures that don’t exist, is possible with composite photography.
Want to photograph a cyborg jumping out of a window during an action sequence? You can do that.
Have limited time with your model but really want to create a photo on location? You can do that.
Need an epic location but you can’t afford to travel? No problem.
Did the weather chase you off location on the ONE day you have to get the shot? No problem.
Composite photography solves all these issues and gives photographers the ability to create what they want despite limitations.
Like any technique, you need to learn how to properly create a composite. There are as many ways and workflows as there are photographers, but a few general rules hold true across approaches:
- The lighting on the composited pieces must match the light in the environment or backplate
- The perspective and angles of the composited pieces must match the backplate
- The color grading of all elements must match
- It’s generally easier to shoot the backplate first, then photograph the other elements or subject to match
But don’t let that scare you away. Once you master composite techniques, you’ve got the world--and the world of your imagination--at your fingertips.
The single biggest problem with composite photography is that it requires a time investment. You have to create a backplate or search through a stock photo library to find what you need. If there are other individual elements you need, you must find those, too.
There is masking and lots of editing involved, and it’s not always easy to find what you need if you didn’t photograph it. Really good composites can take days to create, and licensing the right stock images can also cost money. And if you can’t find the perfect shot, you may have to settle for something that wasn’t what you hoped.
Could CGI be the answer to the problems with composite photography? In a word: yes. When you combine photography and CGI, you remove the limitations of being forced to travel to create your own backplates or spend hours searching through databases. You can create any location you can imagine with the right lighting, angle, and color guaranteed...even if that location doesn’t exist in real life.
Could your client have a photograph of them with the Batmobile? Yep. On a different planet? Yep. The only limitations on you are your technical skillset and your imagination.
And with Reverse Portrait Compositing in CGI, you’ll learn the techniques you need to create anything you want. That means the only thing holding you back from creating everything you want is your imagination.
Composite photography has allowed photographers to step over the physical boundaries imposed by a traditional photographic approach, and create imagery that would have been impossible without it. It was the next step in image editing, giving creators greater control and freedom.
Now that CGI has become accessible to photographers and the techniques of reverse compositing are at our fingertips, even the limitations of composite photography have fallen away. Anything you or your client can dream up can be created with CGI.
CGI environments allow for unlimited dynamic range, angles, and lighting possibilities. You can change the focus, lens, atmosphere, colors, and textures in your environment long after the shoot. You can remove props, add new props, or create elements you’d never be able to source in real life.
Composite photography, and now Reverse Portrait Compositing, open up the world of possibilities to all photographers. You don’t need to own a studio, travel to distant places, or buy expensive props. With the right application of skill, any photographer can create whatever they, their client, or the creative director, can imagine. It means limitless creativity, and that’s good news for anyone who picks up a camera.