Inside the Composite with Charlie Kristine

Welcome to the AMVISUALS blog!  I'm Anthony and today we are going to look at a recent composite I produced with the amazingly talented Charlie Kristine.  But before we begin, let's take a second to talk about compositing.  What is it?

In the simplest terms, a composited image is one where certain elements within the final image are actually taken from different photographs (or video).  The most well-known example might be a "green-screen" effect where models and actors are filmed in front of a green backdrop so that a new background can be added for the final shot.  Avengers, anyone? ;)

So today, we start with this image taken with my Sony A7R paired with the stellar Sony FE 55mm F1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T*.  And very special thanks to Rocco's Photos for letting us shoot in such an amazing hot rod!

This is how the RAW file looks when brought directly into Adobe Lightroom.  And don't worry, that nuclear bomb in the background was set to detonate after we left the garage...

The first step is to set your contrast in order to preserve as much data as possible.  I'm looking at clip points to make sure that no shadow information falls below 0 and no highlight info rises above 255 (in 8-bit RGB color space, values are measured from 0-255 where 0=Black and 255=White).  Once set, ship off to Adobe Photoshop.

One of the first steps I take in Photoshop is assessing what elements work and what elements take away from the image.  In this case, I felt that Charlie looked incredible, so I chose to remove a few bruises and even out some of the areas where bad lighting caused blotchiness.  For this, I used a Frequency Separation to realistically restructure and relight skin while also preserving image detail.

Next, I replaced the atomic bomb with a Seattle skyline I shot at Kerry Park.  Hard to see in this pic, but it's actually the banner image I used on the contact page.  Sneaky + Resourceful :)

Next, I relit the scene.  I know, ALWAYS get it right in camera.  But sometimes you just can't and this is a great technique to help draw your viewer into the scene and focus their attention on the important elements of your composition.

Once the scene was relit, I added contrast and focus to Charlie.  And if there's one tip I can share that will make your edits faster, it's the power of the Curves Adjustment with a Layer Mask applied.  Sure, there's a billion ways to do anything, this just happens to work well for me in many situations.  I can quickly apply contrast and color tweaks to smaller areas of an element in order to ensure it looks its best in context.  You'll see I had a few different ones for Skin, Dress, Hair, etc.  Really makes things FAST and very often the results are just what I need.

Once I was happy with the primary composition, I began crafting the main Look-And-Feel of the image.  I actually started off with something colder, but since Charlie's skin is already tan, I felt it would pop with an old fashioned Teal-And-Orange treatment.  This part was maybe the most fun, and it's easy to get lost here.  Just remember basic color theory and always direct your viewer to the most important thing in your image.

Then it was time to add some flare, because flare can help make certain images pop and that can often take your image to the next level.  All of the adjustments before this step (apart from the background replacement) can be considered Color Correction and Color Grading (that is, fixing things that didn't turn out so well & giving the shot its basic look and feel).  In this step, I really wanted the overall image to stand out without taking focus away from Charlie's face.  I imagined what it might look like to have a light source causing a flare in a dusty old hot rod.  Then found a great image of particles.  Added a little gold tone to even the exposure.  And viola!  The final composite gives us an ethereal feeling that gives the image pop without taking away from Charlie's beautiful and thoughtful expression.

And here's the final image:

Here's a Compositing Checklist:

1.  Have an idea what you're going for before you begin.

2.  Give yourself as much data as possible to work with.

3.  Decide which elements work and which ones need work.

4.  Begin compositing your images together.  Adjust when necessary.

5.  Do your Primary Corrections.  Then move onto Secondary Adjustments.

6.  Build your Look-And-Feel.

7.  Make it POP.  "You do want to express yourself, don't you?"

8.  Make it FAST.  There's a whole world of images to composite.  Learn when to move on.

And that's it!  If you're interested in learning more, feel free to reply with any comments or questions.  I'm happy to share.  Until next time, friends :)