Composite

Wide Awake

Photography for me was never about capturing moments but making them. I was instantly drawn to directorial photography because I can control every aspect of the photograph. Yet, I am equally attracted to things that I have no control over, like dreams. Dreams are a curious thing. They are ephemeral and seem to be without rules, where laws of physics don’t exist. However, I have noticed one constant: time. Dreams are still bound by time, which connects both realities. We have a finite amount of time no matter the reality. My series “Wide Awake”, explores the idea of dreams and its relation to time. 

For the image that won PPOTY Student of the Year 2013, I used compositing with different photographs I took over the years, which emphasizes the nature of dreams. Compositing is a technique in which you place different images into one image. For me, the most important mindset when making composites is realism. The image has to seem as if it was a moment captured by the camera. 

01 Collecting the Images

Most of the images used for the final image were photographed by me but not all with the intent of being used for this photograph. It is important to be organized and keep a stock of all the photographs you take at its highest quality so you have them when you need to make composites. 

Untitled-1.jpg

02 Masking the Figures

To isolate the figures, I used the masking tool and created a layer mask for every figure. I always zoom in and out to make sure that I define the masks as precisely as I could. To speed up the process, I use a pen tablet. 

03 Assembling the Elements

I usually start with the background and work forward, as it makes it easier for me to place elements easier. When placing elements together, make sure that the light source is coming from the same location and consistent. Make sure that the colors of the elements are also similar and you can manipulate those with the curves tool. When placing elements together, I also employ the same rules of composition as I do when I take a photograph. For this image, I placed the main subject on the center to give it emphasis and impact. 

04 Placing a Light Source

One of my secrets to make composite images realistic is by adding a light source in photoshop. This unites the elements making it more convincing that it is a captured moment. I use the gradient tool set on radial and then play with the opacity until it looks believable. 

05 Adding Reflection

When you use reflective surfaces on composites such as glass and water, make sure that you add reflections as well. Reflections are an easy tool to make audiences “believe” in your image. I often add reflection by duplicating the image then transforming it with the “flip” tool. I then change the opacity and use gaussian blur depending on the situation. 

06 Dodge and Burn

To emphasize the shadows and highlights, I use dodge and burn. I create separate layers increasing and decreasing exposure using the curves tool and then use the mask tool to paint either shadow or highlight. 

07 Adding Blur

I then add blur using the gaussian blur tool to give the image a shallow depth of field. I wanted to further emphasize the main subject by isolation but also make the image more believable. Our eyes do not perceive the world in complete sharpness as they have a specific depth of field. I wanted to recreate that. 

08 Final Touches in Lightroom 

My last step for any image is usually transferring the new image into Lightroom and apply small adjustments. This may be a strange process for most photographers but I feel that applying filters and adjustments on Lightroom really unifies the composite. 

Here is the whole story for "Wide Awake"

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Final Belonging

This conceptual photograph series explores the universal concept of death. Especially in this generation where the belief of isolation is increasing, I am even more interested in seeing what connects all of us together. No matter what we lose or what happens to us, we will always have one last belonging.

To fully express this concept, I wanted the character to go through suffering and leave them with one final belonging. Using fire, a bag, and the moon as metaphors, I was able to investigate the idea of death and how to accept it. 

The most challenging image from the series is when the character is enveloped with flames. Flames are always hard to work with because they are hard to make realistic. This is my first attempt and I still have quite a lot of learning but I wish to share what I did in hopes that you can learn something out of it as well.

Final image

Final image

Here is a behind the scenes photograph of my lighting setup for this shot. I had a strobe placed right behind her to get the rim effect I wanted to make the fire more realistic. 

BTS photographed by Julian van Heeswijck

BTS photographed by Julian van Heeswijck

RAW image

RAW image

RAW image

RAW image

Taking a photograph of both the background with and without the model enables me to have more control when composting and editing the photograph. I can easily isolate the background first and edit the environment, then place the model afterwards for realism. The first step for this composite was to place several stock images of fire.

When adding elements such as lights and fire, make sure that it affects the existing image as naturally as possible. For this instance, the fire adds areas of highlight and shadows. I used two layers using curves with one brighter and the other darker, then used the masking tool and the brush to create bright and dark areas.

Just like before, you want to make sure that the fire adds areas of realistic highlights and shadows. Fire creates a warm glow and I did this by using different colored brushes (different reds and oranges from the fire) with 0 hardness and a low opacity. Using low opacity, build up the layer slowly to give it more depth. 

The next step was to place the model. As you can see with the image below, the color tone of the model doesn't suit the background. Several adjustments have to be made to make it more realistic.

Just like previously, I added highlights with the color of the fire at the outline of the character to create a rim lighting effect. This decreases the created space between the model and the fire and adds realism.

The next step is simply dodging and burning the model to get more accurate lighting. For this, I create two separate layers of curves, one brighter and the other darker. I then simply use the brush in the mask to make areas brighter or darker without damaging the photograph. This gives me the flexibility to go back and do minor changes if I wish to do so.

The last step for this image was taking it into Lightroom. As I have previously mentioned in my older posts, I always refer to Lightroom for the final stages of making a photograph. When I have finished placing all of the elements and creating the composite, Lightroom enables me to add filters and effects that affect the whole image which adds unity and therefore adds realism.

Final adjustments on Lightroom

Final adjustments on Lightroom

Here is the whole story of Final Belonging:

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.


Super

In Rhode Island School of Design, there are two semesters. However, there is one additional time period in-between called Wintersession, where you can take classes of your choosing either for fun or for learning. I never took any formal photography classes before so for my freshman year, I took a class called Photo Intensive. This course really inspired me to take my photography to the next level.

I had a lot of time to experiment for this class and the result was a series I entitled “Super”. The idea for this series explores the power of photography. I wanted to create photos of surreal moments that portray me more than just human. I wanted to compel people to look twice and feel a sense of fear or confusion.

This series was mainly created using composites, combining two different images into one image. This was also my first attempt into this kind of photography. I made a lot of mistakes and took me a lot longer than it should have. I want to share my process so that you will have an easier time when you create your own composites.

I’ve given tips on composites on my previous post but I still have more to share. When making composites, it’s important that your subject fits the background seamlessly. This includes their sharpness and focus. Make sure that the subject fits the sharp parts of the photo. To make this easier, use a high aperture of about f/8 to make sure everything is in focus.

This image below is one of the photos in the series “Super” and it is entitled “Run”.

“Run”

“Run”

Here are the RAW images that I used to create this composite:

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/640, Aperture f/7.1

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/640, Aperture f/7.1

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/3200, Aperture f/6.3

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/3200, Aperture f/6.3

As I did not have any models around, I had to use myself. I used the timer shooting mode on my camera, enabling me to place myself in the photo. You have to be very patient when using the timer because it is hard to get the right shot right off the bat. I used the bench for what I call "placement prop". This is to ensure that the subject will be aligned with the inserted background.

Another very useful tip on making composites in to watch out for shadows. The shadows are always what gives it away for most composites. For this image above, it was very simple to incorporate an accurate shadow using photoshop. First you have to be aware of your light source and where the shadows are. To do this, look at other objects in the scene that cast a shadow and follow its direction.

I usually follow certain steps when creating shadows. First is to use the magic wand tool to select the space around the subject (when it is in a separate layer all by itself). Then inverse select and you can do this by right clicking and selecting inverse select. After that, create another layer then fill that selection with black. Then to make it more realistic, use the gaussian blur filter then decrease opacity, depending on the situation.

Like I mentioned in a previous blog post, always composite in RAW files. The secrete i to add the color correction and filters after you have finished the composite. This unifies the image and creates a more realistic composite.

Here is another composite piece in the series entitled "Unstoppable".

"Unstoppable"

"Unstoppable"

I found the background in one of my previous folders and I thought it would make an amazing background.

Therefore, another tip I can give you when working with composites and photo manipulation is to keep all of your files. Store them in a safe external hard drive because you will never know when you will need it again for a future project. Also, always shoot in RAW because you always need that much information when working with composites.

Just make sure when you're putting images together that they have a similar light source. To make this image more realistic, I added dodging to the edges of the subject. This adds a rim light effect, which occurs when the light subject is between the light source and the camera.

Here's the last photo of the series:

"Take Flight"

"Take Flight"

I edited these photographs mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Rough Landing

This summer, I decided to use my time as efficiently as possible and start my career as a photographer. However, I wanted to approach it differently than others. Most photographers find small jobs to build up their portfolio until they gained enough exposure and experience to get bigger jobs. I wanted to continue my own path of photography by doing personal shoots that portray my own stories rather than others. In my personal opinion, you grow so much more because you are forced to think of concepts. You don’t have a stylist, a fashion director and a make up artist. Everything comes down to your own imagination.

This summer, I had my first ever serious photo shoot entitled “Rough Landing” with model Rhea Schmid. Rhea is an old friend of mine who thankfully gave me the chance to work with her. When you are starting off and trying to build a portfolio, it is best to ask any of your friends if they could model for you. It’s great to start with friends because it is more casual and you can do a lot more experimentation.

The concept for this shoot is “What happens when we think we are lost in the world, but in reality the world is the one that’s lose.”

It is based on my experience, having to study abroad in America. I went through a culture shock. I thought that I knew what living in America would be like through television and the internet. However, I could not have been more lost. That was the feeling that I wanted to portray. Watching a culture from afar and actually living in it are two completely different things.

This is the first shot of the series:

First photo from the series of “Rough Landing”

First photo from the series of “Rough Landing”

As you can see, this is a “composite” photograph. A composite photograph consists of several other photographs taken at different times and placed together in one photo through the means of photoshop or other tools. This process is called “photo manipulation”. There are many ways to create a composite photograph. You can either take the photos yourself or use stock images from websites. Personally however, the best way is to take your own photos.

Most of the time, the purpose of making a composite is to make it look as realistic as possible. The most important tip I can give you when creating realistic composites is to shoot the photos you are going to composite in the same location. This is to ensure that the lighting is consistent throughout the photo. Also, make sure that you shoot the photos in the same point of view.

For this photo, I used three different photos and composite it together. The first photo is the background.

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/400, Aperture f/5.6

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/400, Aperture f/5.6

The second photo are the clouds. I created this image of clouds by looking for “cloud” Photoshop brushes. When creating composites, brushes are one of the most useful tools that Photoshop offers. They are mostly free and easy to find online. When picking out brushes, make sure you get the high resolution one (at least 1500pxl).

Then the last photo is the model. I photographed the model at the same location as where I took the background. This was to make sure that I had consistent lighting. We shot on top of a condominium to get a birds eye view. As you can see, the model is laying on top of a reflector. This is to emulate the reflective quality of clouds (as they are colored white). The most important tip I can give you when working with composites is to plan ahead. Make sure that all the details of the photo match your intent.

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/320, Aperture f/4

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/320, Aperture f/4

All of the photos used in the composite are all in raw. No color correction was applied to them beforehand. This is important in creating unity and realism in the piece. The secret is to apply all filters and color corrections after you composite the photo to unify the piece.

I used this same composite technique for the rest of the other photos in the series. Here are the rest of the photos in the series:

If you have any questions as to how I did the other photos, just leave a comment. You can also write on my wall on facebook.

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