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How to Create an Awesome Composite Portrait Tutorial

Creating Composite Portraits

Having different tools in your bag not only gives you an advantage from a business perspective, but it also allows you to approach photography in a different way.  The image we are looking at creating today could have easily been shot on location.  It could even have been done on location as a single space composite.  Which, if I had shot this on location, is exactly how I would have approached this shot.  But, being able to put together and plan a composite image is what actually made this image happen.   On the day of our shoot the weather was extremely bad.  This shot simply would not have happened on the day of this shoot.  Not only that, but we had planned out a few completely different images for this shoot, all of which would have required different locations.  In order to make it all happen we would have had to do one of four things.

  • Shoot everything in one day at all the different locations, making for a very long and broken day
  • Compromise on the different locations and make everything work in one location
  • Schedule multiple shoots over different days at the different locations
  • Shoot everything in studio and then composite them with the backgrounds needed

Obviously we went with the latter, and one of those images is what we are going to talk about.  Below is a tutorial video I put together on creating this image.  First, watch the video and then I will talk a little bit more about the different aspects covered in the video.

Creating Composite Portraits Tutorial Video

Keys to Creating a Composite Portrait

Now that you have watched the video, you should have a good understanding of how to create a rather simple composite image.  There is nothing hard about creating this image.  The keys to creating a successful, realistic, and easy composite portraits are:

Planning:

I can’t stress enough how important the planning aspect is.  Without a well defined plan, your image will either not work or will be much harder to make than it should be.  Before you take your first shot, you should have a good image in your head of what the finished image will look like.  Having this image in your head will allow you to shoot the elements required for the image in a way that will not only make the finished image realistic, but make it easy to put together.  The key points here are:

  • Height
  • Perspective
  • Lighting
  • Sometimes focal length (we will go into more detail on this when we create an image requiring it)

Without all of these elements matching and being planned for, your image simply won’t work or won’t be realistic.  The key to a good composite image is that it looks realistic.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t do things that wouldn’t, or couldn’t happen in real life, but the image has to have the “real” factor.  That “real” factor is what makes it all seem as though it “could” happen.

Cutouts:

A lot of people stress about cutting out objects in photoshop.  This is something that you don’t have to be afraid of.  The quick selection tool in Photoshop is brilliant, and with proper planning you can avoid difficult cutouts.  Having a clean, single coloured background goes a LONG way to making cutouts easy.  Afraid of cutting out hair?   Plan an image where hair won’t be flying around, and make sure your model(s) don’t have messy, crazy hair and you can simply avoid this all together.  Now sometimes you DO want messy hair, or hair flying around but if you plan for that in advance you can make plans for how you will tackle it in Photoshop when that time comes.

Colours:

One of the easiest things to fix, but one that is often neglected and is what will make a composite image look horrible.  You have to remember that you are shooting your subjects in a studio and your backgrounds wherever they exist.  Since they are not being shot together, the colours simply will not match.  You must match the colouring in Photoshop or the image just will not look right, even when everything else is correct.  There are three ways that I use to match colours on an image.

  • Average blur layer
  • Gradient Maps
  • Colour Balance layer

All three methods have their purpose, and all three will give you completely different results.  Gradient maps add contrast as well as colour, so it is one that I don’t use very often.  I like to add contrast in my own ways so I do tend to use the Average Blur filter more often than not when creating composite images.

Lighting:

Another aspect that should be planned for.  However, you can shoot “stock” images for yourself by understanding light and lighting.  You have to ensure that the lighting in the background fits the subject.  If there is a light source in your image, you cannot have just 1 light lighting your subjects face in the image.  It will not look right!  You need to account for that light source hitting your subjects on one side or the other.  This is a step that is often overlooked in the planning and is the easiest mistake to spot on badly planned composite images.   Another thing that I like to do with composite images is to enhance whatever light source is in my image.  As seen in the tutorial video above, I created the light source.  This answers the questions of where the highlights on the sides of my subjects are coming from and it ties it all together, making it more realistic.

Edit as one:

I didn’t mention this in the video, thought I should have.  Good practice is to put everything together as you want it to be and THEN start your editing.  What I mean by this is to put all the different elements into place before you start adding filters, colours, or contrast.  Waiting till everything is put together allows you to apply your effects to everything at once, giving the whole image the same treatment.  This makes it easier for you to have a realistic image when you are done.

Questions?

If you have any questions, or need any help with anything, please feel free to ask in the comments below.  I am more than happy to help and answer any questions.   Till next time!