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Composite Photography Q & A

Updated: May 24, 2018


In this post, I want to answer some questions and address some misconceptions of composite photography. I'll be trying to answer most of the questions that were asked to me over time, if you have any additional questions that aren't covered here about any kind of photography I do, please feel free to send them over and I'll answer them the best I can.


What is composite photography?

I covered this in an earlier post here. Essentially composite photography is the act of taking multiple images and/or illustrations and combining them to create one picture. Composite photography does not mean fake looking images or unrealistic images. There are different concepts and different ideas and techniques from the ultra real to the imaginary and they are all called composites.


Do I have to wear anything special?

It depends on the type of final image you want. If you want to be yourself in a different location or world then dress as yourself. If you want to be a superhero then I do prefer the use of costumes and accessories in order to make the shoot feel more authentic. It also makes it more fun to get into

character and act the part. I would highly suggest at least dressing somewhat the part or buying a cheaper costume to make the final result all the better. If you don't have a complete outfit or have all the accessories for the shoot don't worry about it. We can always figure something out or even twist the processing into something special and unique.


How long does it take to create a composite image?

The shoot itself can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more. The post processing usually range from 2-7 days depending on the complexity and the concept.

For instance the image to the right is a mix of 3 photos, the background and the 2 subjects.


Steps to create this were roughly:

1. Cut out Subjects

2. Find or shoot appropriate background and place subjects in them

3. Apply any corrections such as skin, clothing, accessory and background cleanup.

4. Adjust and/or create lighting on subject, accessory and/or background to match each other using various methods.

5. Adjust and/or create shadows to add to reflect lighting and to add to realism.

6. Apply final dodge, burn, heals and patches

7. Apply final color grading


This entire process can take a couple of hours to a few days to complete. I usually like to spend a day putting the image together in a rough fashion then walk away for a bit then come back to make sure I like the results. This is why I always give it at least 2 days before finalizing an image. The more complex images such as the one below the title of this post involves over 15 elements and can take several days to complete.


Many shots were taken during the shoot how come there is only 1 or 2 images from it?

That's the nature of the composite shoot. I need to take various shots from different angles in order to make sure I can create an image with the concept we came up with. Some images get tossed by the wayside while others get chopped up for the use of a leg, foot, hand, eye, etc. Remember this is a shoot specifically to produce those 1 or 2 images so each image shot is mainly going towards that concept. If you want a regular shoot, that's perfectly fine as well, but you would need to let me know and we can complete that before or after the composite shoot.


Do I have to follow a certain concept or theme such as superheroes or comics?

Absolutely not, the best part of this type of photography is that we can collaborate and dream up a completely unique world and piece it together. Some like to be superheroes, other like to be princesses, and yet others just want to be themselves flying across the sky. We all have our own wishes and dreams.


Should I go for a regular shoot or a composite shoot?

This really depends on your needs. If you need a headshot or shots for your portfolio or want family images then you just want a regular shoot such as a portfolio building or family shoot. You can however add a composite shoot to add something special for yourself, your kids or your family though. I can say one thing, composites are always conversation starters.


My composite shot doesn't look like a composite!

A good composite should either look unreal so you know it's a composite but it's still looks great or look so real you can't tell. For instance the image to the left is a composite. We were never in woods but people always ask me where I shot that. The point was never to make it look unreal or in a fantasy world but to give that realism. Hence the lighting and color was matched and the extra care was taken with the sticks and leaves at her feet. It's all about what you're looking to portray which we will discuss before shooting begins.






Can these be printed?

Absolutely! These are carefully crafted and created pieces of artwork. I encourage not only to have them printed but get them printed on special substrates such as metal or acrylic to give them even more of a pop. It looks absolutely fantastic


Why is the cost of the shoot higher?

This is a common question that's asked, how much will it cost, then when they find out the next question is why is it higher then a regular shoot when I get less images. I'd like to give the quality vs quantity argument, but my regular images are quality as well so can't do that in this case. The reasoning is pretty simple. The sheer amount of knowledge and skill that needs to go into one standard image is pretty vast let alone a composite image. The variety of skillsets it takes to make a fantastic looking composite isn't something everyone knows or cares to learn. For instance in a regular shoot several things need to be mastered such as lighting concepts, posing, composition then on top of that they'll need to learn retouching with blemish removal, skin work, color corrections, etc. This isn't quick to learn or understand and any photographer who has mastered that should be respected. In a composite shoot, add all of that plus you have to manipulate the lighting in such a way that fits the background you chose or shoot in another way that lets you manipulate the lighting in post. Then you have to work with the individual elements in the image to make it fit. The detail work is where it really makes or breaks these types of images and lack of shadow and light work or taking special care in the cutout process can lead to horrible results. Thinking about how much time and energy I've spent on learning these concepts and constantly learning new techniques now sometimes boggles my own mind. Having said all that at the end of the day though, it's really up to you to decide whether its worth it for you.


Hope this helps to answer some of your questions, again if you have any other questions definitely feel free to contact me and I'll answer them to the best of my ability.



© Samuel Lee Photography