tutorial: compositing (dialup ok)

Started May 13, 2004 | Discussions thread
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Andy Williams
Andy Williams Forum Pro • Posts: 24,506
tutorial: compositing (dialup ok)

okay guys, it's time for me to fess up on a particular photo that many of you liked very much. i'm aware that there are many purists out there that believe that a photo should be an exact replica of what the scene was like. and while for the most part, i'm in agreement - i also feel that as artists, we should feel free to explore our creativity, and use the amazing tools that are available to us in the digital darkroom.

compositing is not something that i do very often, but i'm glad that i know how to do it. within six hours of finishing off this shot this morning, i had sold it three times, and one of those sales is in large quantity as a specialty item. all three buyers are "horse people."

and so, on to the "how to" part. this photo is a composite. let's take a look at how i made it.

let's first look at the background scene. i shot it in raw, and this is what the original file looks like.

okay, i can work with this..in photoshop camera raw i developed two exposures, one for the sky and one for the foreground. moments later i had this

and hey, this isn't too bad, not bad at all. but the problem is i have lots of scenes like this one, and in fact just a few days ago i got a lovely sunrise in the very same spot. so, i began thinking, okay..what can i do with this scene to jazz it up? i recalled the positive feedback i'd received a few days ago on this image:

and thought that maybe i could copy and paste the fog into my sunrise shot. the first step here was to make a selection of just the fog area (i used the polygonal lasso to do this) and then copy and paste into the background scene...where it becomes a new layer all by itself. the problem is, it doesn't fit. so, turn to our friend the "distort" funciton (edit> transform> distort) and essentially what you do is grab the fog by the handles and stretch it to fit your scene. i had to stretch it horizontally and vertically, as the fog in the orig pic didn't cover enough area in the new background photo. that's okay, because i wanted the fog to be thinned out, almost like vapor.

at this point, we can see that the pic has improved somewhat, at least imo. the fog adds an element of mystery or such to this otherwise calm dawn scene.

okay but i'm thinking, i've added fog, what else can i do here? i'd like someting in the foreground for visual interest, to further engage the viewer in the full scene, rather than just being focused on the sunrise. i first thought about a tractor or wagon, and went looking in my archive for one. but i came to the horse pic, first, and thought "hey now!"

using the magnetic lasso, i made a selection of the horse. i copied him and pasted him into my background scene .psd file as a new layer. here's where it got very difficult, at least for me.

once the horse was in my working psd, i then had to clean him up from some stray elements that came along in the selection process. i used the eraser, starting big and working to smaller sizes. as i got smaller, i activated the "brushes settings" menu and selected "brush tip shape" and selected a hardness of 80 percent. why? this seems to give the most realistic edge to the horse. (i was taught this tip by a fellow stfer).

the important things to watch for when compositing is to think about orientation, perspective, size and lighting. there's probably more gotchas but these are the things i concerned myself with at this point.

first, the placement, sizing and perspective. use the edit> transform> scale and / or perspective functions to change these. play around, to get it right. size is also related to placement, so decide placement really before you size him.

lighting ... as you can see, the horse is well lit from the front, but my scene dictates that he should be backlit, or silhouetted even. i experimented with various blending modes in the layers pallete, different opacities, and even levels and curves, all on the horse layer only. i found that the best looking result came from a blending mode of "darken" and an opacity of around 40 percent. as i lowered the opacity, the horse became more transparent.

ok? all done? nope - the horse's hooves were a bit hinky, and he appeared like he was floating on top of the grass. not realistic at all... no problem, grab the clone stamper, set opacity to 40%, pixel size appropriately, and clone some grass & fog right over his hooves. there now, he looks quite content there, staring right back at me, eh?

i'd like to thank my photoshop mentor very much for his guidance, tips and encouragement.

enjoy (getting the most in post) photography,

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'be a real student and take chances. live on the edge. teeter on the brink...skip on the tightrope. and if you fall, enjoy the wind on your smiling face.' -- paul lester

 Andy Williams's gear list:Andy Williams's gear list
Sony a6000 Sony a9 Sony a7R III Sony FE 55mm F1.8 Sony FE 70-200 F4 +4 more
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