Image Compositing 101: How to Apply the Awesome Sauce
Chances are you’ve seen composited images hundreds of times without even realizing it. Ever see an image of a squirrel sitting on top of a cereal box? Or a woman in front of the Eiffel Tower sipping tea? It’s likely that a photographer was not so fortunate to get a squirrel to agree to sit in just the right position atop the box. It’s also likely that there wasn’t the budget available to actually shoot in Paris. These are the types of situation where compositing a photo makes perfect sense.
Composited images are just photos made up from two or more images pieced together. Perhaps a blue sky is replaced with a field of sunflowers. Or an actor who was sitting on a sofa is now sitting in a wingback chair. There is an art to successful compositing in order to achieve a realistic look. So before you start placing images of yourself in front of the Pyramids of Giza, read through a few of these basics of image compositing.
Image Compositing 101: Matched Perspective
Are you adding a dog into your composite? Was he shot from the same perspective? If the angle is pointing down at the dog but the rest of the scene is shot straight on, it won’t work. All elements, such as camera angle, height, and perspective, need to match. If one image is shot using a wide angle lens, and another using a telephoto, they won’t work together.
Image Compositing 101: Lighting
You must match soft lighting with soft lighting and hard lighting with hard lighting. If you have a room with hard lines of sun streaming in, adding in a man with soft diffused lighting will make him look out of place. The same is true for the direction of light. If one side of the face is lit more than another, you can’t add an element with the lighting on the opposite side.
Image Compositing 101: Shadows
The quality of light determines the type of shadows that each element casts. Nothing screams ‘bad composite’ like shadows that don’t match up by angle, length, and depth. So unless you want to be labeled as an amateur, watch those shadows!
Image Compositing 101: Focus and Grain
Two images on the same plane must have the same degree of focus. If two people stand side by side at equal distance from the camera, one cannot appear softer than the other. By that same token, the level of grain or ‘noise’ to an image must be equal as well, or it will stand out as a fake.
Image Compositing 101: The Edge
When piecing together your image, pay particular attention to the edges of any element. Edges that appear too soft or too sharp, compared to the rest of your scene, will come across as pasted on.
Image Compositing 101: Transparency
Are you piecing in an element that shows through glass or under water? Think about your old science classes and the lesson about light refraction. Images often need to bend and distort when viewed through glass or water so pay attention to that. Also think about where reflections will happen. Plus, lace or sheer curtains may pick up some of the color or shape as well.
Image Compositing 101: Stock Photography
Rarely will a single stock photo provide all the elements that might be needed for a foreground or a background. It might take a combination of several different stock photos for a sky, background, or just about any element.
Remember when shopping around for all the elements you need, you have to take into consideration all of the above lessons. If you’re shooting part of your image, such as the model, it may be wise to find your background elements first to determine angles and lighting and style in order to make the end result seamless.