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Getting Started with Composite Photography

Creating Different Types of Images

Composite photography uses Photoshop or Gimp (open-source) to create a different type of image. There are many valuable styles of photography, and we enjoy seeing how photographers create composite photos or images in a variety of ways including drag and drop, layer masks and cutting out and placing an image within another.  

Many composite photos begin with the subject in a studio, and end with them placed in another setting. When shooting for a composite photo, you need a photography studio with enough space to work and amenities for your models and clients.An extensive rental inventory helps, too. At Meets The Eye Studios, we provide all this and more.

Composite Photography Is Artistry

There is more than one right way to take a picture, and that is true for Photoshop as well. Photoshop can be used for more than basic photo editing; it can be a way to discover a new type of artistry.

“Now I get to put my passion for photography, my desire to create something, and my passion for Photoshop together. Not just sharpening and color correction. But really sitting down and being artistic, as I put a composite together. The light sources, the shadows, special effects, all that stuff.” – Matt Kloskowski, Photographer and Photoshop Coach

Composite photography is an art form, and it can be a rewarding medium. There are an array of industries and uses for composite photography. It can be telling a fictional story, showing an athlete in motion, or placing a band in a scene that will make their album cover stand out.

Why You Should Consider Using Composite Photography

There are a few different types of composite images. Some are created to share a fictional story, and others are meant to be a realistic depiction. This is a medium where you can use the same tools as another photographer, but each will create something entirely different!

Photographer Andy Bloxham uses composite photography to tell a fictional story, based off core ideas from his various short stories. It’s important to show the unseen beginning and end with just one frame in the midst of the action.

The end result is similar to pausing a movie, and then leaving it there forever. There’s an implied beginning and conclusion, but the viewer only receives this one glimpse and context for the story they’re witnessing.” – Andy Bloxham, Photographer

Scott Kelby approaches composite photography differently. He uses composite photography to place the subject in an interesting background that would typically be difficult to shoot. For example, this type of image is for a professional sports team.

Photographer Matt Kloskowski also uses the principles of composite photography to save time. Instead of spending time (and therefore money) by creating smoke or clouds in Photoshop, he will composite two images together.

The composited image will look much more natural than attempting to create smoke in Photoshop, and will help you create a more efficient workflow.

Kloskowski has even built a library designed specifically for his composite images. For example, he has a folder dedicated to clouds. He can pull from this instead of using brushes and filters to create clouds in a photo, resulting in a natural-looking image.

He recommends bringing your camera everywhere, so you can shoot intriguing backgrounds you encounter. In this image, what initially looked like the average tunnel soon became the setting for a motorcycle speeding through.


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Preparing for a Photoshoot for a Composite Image

When shooting for a composite image, it’s important to plan what you need to shoot and what you can edit. While this may sound simple, there are many details that need to come together to create a high-quality image you can use for a composite photo.

These preparations can take some time, but nailing the technical details now is an important step of the process, and will prevent aggravation while editing.

These details include:

  •       Lighting
  •       Perspective
  •       Focal length
  •       Height
  •       Action

When every detail is accounted for, your composite photo will appear consistent. If one of these is slightly off, your image will look staged and unnatural. (Though, this will also depend on the type of composite image you’re creating.)

In the image below, we know that this image is edited to tell a story, but because the perspective is correct, each individual piece is consistent with the whole.


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Another way to use composite photography is to show an athlete’s movement. In order to create a realistic final image, the lighting needs to be perfect. Without it, the image would be poorly composited and the illusion ruined.

Creating the image’s action can be the most enjoyable part. Your subject gets to have fun with the movements, like this dancer mid-move, and you can see your idea begin to materialize.


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Another way photographers use composite photography is to show an object or person’s movement over time. These images from the 2016 Rio Olympics show how an athlete moves through space to finish their movement.

These composite photos help slow time by showing many moments of movement in only one frame.


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The Three Stages of Editing a Composite Photo

In the beginning, composite photography can be overwhelming due to the amount of work needed. By breaking these tasks into smaller steps, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed and begin to build a process.

As described by photographer Andy Bloxham, there are three stages of editing a composite photograph.

  •       Creating the composite itself with multiple images.
  •       Cleaning up the image to remove any areas that distract from the story.
  •       Focusing on aesthetics, including color and contrast.

Create the Basic Composite Image

The first step of editing is to build the “puzzle” from the images you captured during the photoshoot. This means taking the best version of Subject A, whether that’s one image or multiple, then finding the best prop images.

At this point it won’t look perfect, but it will give you a starting point.

Clean Up the Composite Image

The second step of editing a composite photo is cleaning up the puzzle from the first. There are a number of tools to help you do this, like the clone stamp and healing brush. This is the time to remove any distracting pixels from the image.

Work on ensuring perspective is correct, placement is how you envision it, and removing any distracting areas. Bloxham specifically mentions removing a light switch, which helps simplify the background in an image.

Focus on the Composite Image’s Aesthetics

This is your opportunity to improve the aesthetics of the image, like the color and contrast. Methods can vary, but waiting to adjust color and contrast until after cleaning up the image can save time. If you clone a space after you’ve edited the color in the layer below, you will need to re-clone it.

The aesthetics for composite photography also means drawing attention to what is and is not important. You can draw attention to something important by making it brighter, while hiding other details by making it darker.

Practice Really Will Make Perfect

Composite photography can be difficult to master, especially when viewing other professionals’ work. That doesn’t mean you can’t try, though and with practice, you will improve. Like when you began with photography, it’s important to learn both the technical facts and how to compose a great composite image.

One of the best features of composite photography is the chance to use realism or hyperbolism. Photographer Drew Lundquist creates very imaginative composite photos that aren’t meant to appear real, but are impeccably done.

“I specialize in the imaginative and rely heavily on a post-production workflow to stitch and ‘Frankenstein’ an image together. I aim to inspire awe and brain blast your mind-grapes for that ‘Holy Crap’ moment that rushes over you causing you to feel enlightened, with a hint of jealousy; Which is what I tend to feel when looking at the work of those who inspire me.” – Drew Lundquist

For more information on creating a composite image, Matt Kloskowski has created a tutorial sharing how he creates his composite photos.

As photographers, we should always have a side project in development. This is the perfect opportunity to try composite photography, and it can develop into any type of image creation you would like. Composite photography is a diverse medium, and it could be your next career shift.

Developing your composite photography skills can be daunting, but there are a number of different ways you can develop and use these skills. Practice your lighting, perspective, and action until you know exactly what you need to create your composite photos and images.

At Meets The Eye, you have the space to shoot what you need for your composite photos in San Carlos. Whether it’s a dancer like in Scott Kelby’s image or an athlete for an ad campaign, we have the white wall or pre-lit green screen to help your vision evolve.