USE COMPOSITING TO IMPROVE YOUR STILL LIFE PHOTOGRAPHY
Learning how to incorporate compositing into your still life photography is one of the biggest tips I can give. If you can learn this technique, your images will drastically improve. Thankfully, not only will this technique transform your photos but it’s also extremely easy.
This video takes you through the process of compositing inside Photoshop. There are lots of things which you need to do while on set to ensure your composite will go smoothly. The video primarily introduces the topic and shows you how it’s done inside Photoshop but also touches on all the other steps you need to take while shooting.
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COMPOSITING STILL LIFE PHOTOS IN PHOTOSHOP
Once inside Photoshop, the compositing process is very easy; generally it just involves simple masking. There are lots of ways to mask in Photoshop; Luminosity masks, Apply image, various selection tools and so on. When compositing still life images, we’re usually using the most simple tools; Brush, Pen and Marque.
As you can see from the photo above, this composite involved 5 images. To merge them all together the images first need to be aligned. With the images correctly aligned, the process of masking becomes childs play, something which any Photoshop user can accomplish. To align the layers you can either go to Edit > Auto-Align-Layers or, if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to manually align them.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR ON SET
There are a number of things you should be doing on set to make sure your composite will work. The first concerns alignment. In the video, I spoke about how important it is not to touch your product or to knock your tripod. The reason for this is we want everything to line up perfectly in Photoshop. In an ideal world when toggling layers on and off nothing would change, except the lighting.
If your image moves when you toggle layers on and off then something moved, usually this isn’t the end of the world. As shown in the video, you can use Photoshop’s Auto-Align-Layers tool to automatically match the layers. On occasion, this won’t work. That may be because the images are too different, the subject has moved too much, or Photoshop might be aligning to a different part of the image. Whatever the reason may be, you’ll then need to manually align the layers. Turn the top one to 50% (ish) opacity and nudge it around until everything lines up.
The worst-case scenario is that your images will not line up. If the area you’re compositing is relatively small then you can sometimes get away with this by warping and liquifying layers. The more you practise this technique, the more you’ll come to realise what’s possible.
LIGHTING YOUR COMPOSITE
Aside from making sure nothing moves, which can be harder than you may think, you also need to think about your lighting. For one thing, while, with practise, you may be able to envision the final image, others on set most likely won’t. When working with clients, I’d advise you to get the shot close to finished so they have something to work off and approve. At that point start your composite, if you have an assistant, they can be putting together a rough version in Photoshop.
Finally, you cannot make too drastic changes to your lights or your composite won’t sit together well. Just like when creating a “normal” composite you have to make sure everything will fit. For example, if you had a shot of a sunrise with the sun coming up in the background, you wouldn’t try to merge this with a front lit shot of your subject. The direction of light would be completely wrong and the two shots would not sit properly together. As you alter your lighting, you need to be aware that drastic changes might not work. Sadly, this will be different for every product and something you can only learn from experience.
STILL LIFE COMPOSITING FINAL THOUGHTS
Compositing is honestly one of the best things you can do to improve your still life photography. So long as you stick to the tips in this article and video, you should be fine. Trust me, once you start using this technique you will not go back.
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