It can be really frustrating if you don't know why the elements in your composites don't look right when they're placed in the same image. So we're going to take a few moments to see if we can use the same principles that painters, designers and photographers have been using for years to create compelling, believable composites. We're going to take a look at balance, scale and perspective, color and tone, structure and focus, as well as emphasis. First, let's talk about how we can achieve a balanced image. I know that when I started creating composites, I would pull in a number of different elements.
But then wouldn't necessarily know how to arrange them on the page. The simplest way, would just be to put the primary subjects in the very center. But this can lead to a stagnant and boring composition. As we can see in this image on the left, the primary subject isn't actually directly in the center, it's actually following the rule of thirds. It's moved up into the upper third of the image. And this steam rising from either side is slightly asymmetrical. In addition, the wave along the bottom of the image adds weight to the bottom as well as makes it more dynamic by being a bit off-balance.
Now, when you have more than one subject, like we do in the center image, and you want to place it off-center, there's other techniques that need to be used to create balance. In this example, we see that the primary subject is on the right but it's being balanced by the other objects in the image, the stepping-stones and the smaller repetitive shape on the left. And keep in mind that balance can also be achieved through color and tone. Of course, all of the principles that we'll be discussing can be broken. And in this third image, we can see how deliberately adding elements, in this case the house at the very bottom, can throw an image off-balance and yet, add tension to the image at the same time.
Another reason that composite images can seem disjointed is because of discrepancies in scale, proportion and perspective. Because the image on the left has a figure in it and because we have an easy time comparing other objects to the human form, we can easily imagine the distance between this foreground figure and the circle of people in the background. If the size of the people in the background, for instance, were larger or taller than the trees and yet were behind the trees, then we would assume that they were out of proportion.
And we would have a more difficult time believing the image or at least temporarily suspending our disbelief. In addition, the example on the right demonstrates that all of the elements in the scene need to conform to a single perspective. Here, the angle of view is from above the boat. You'll notice that we can see down into it. And therefore, we need to have that same angle of view. We need to be a little bit above the water line. We should also make sure that we consider color and tone throughout the image. Not only does the direction of light have to match, but so does the quality of light.
This means that you need to be careful when combining images that are captured under different lighting conditions. And, if you add color to a sky for example, you'd also better add it to the reflection of the sky down below in the water. In addition, you need to make sure that all of the shadows that are cast in the image, are cast in the same direction. The color and tone should also support the visual narrative. In the image on the right, the warm colors used to represent the glowing fire under the earth, contrast with the cool colors of the rain and the clouds in the sky.
These different colors also help to differentiate the primary and secondary subjects, as well as add depth to the image by pulling the foreground forward with the warm colors and letting the background recede with the cool colors. Structure and focus also play an important role in making composites believable. In the image on the left, the wires had a lot more noise in them because they were photographed in lower light than the landscape was. In order to make the two images blend, the structure of the two images needed to match.
Having noise in one and not the other was a quick giveaway that the image was a composite. So by adding a texture over the entire image, they began to blend into one scene. I'll also just point out that the repetition of the triangles here in the wire as well as the triangles in the landscape in the background also help to unify the image and that tension was added to the image by the asymmetrical positioning of the wires, especially where they either connect or don't connect with the landscape on the left and right hand side.
The image on the right is a good example of adding selective focus to multiple images. In this case, I added a blur to both of the images that make up the water. So there's the foreground water here and then there's the middle ground water that recedes into the background. The blurring helps to lead the viewer's eye into the primary subject, this leaf or boat in the center. It's also important to pay attention to the different levels of sharpness or blurring, as different elements recede into the distance.
There are also a number of ways that you can use to help lead the viewer throughout the image by putting emphasis on certain elements. This first example demonstrates that your eye goes to the brightest points of an image. In this case, the eye moves between the creature's eyes in the foreground and their opposing force, the moon, in the distance. The curve of the path also helps to guide the viewer through the image and takes them back and forth between the subjects. The image on the right makes good use of negative and positive space in order to separate the figure from the background.
The fog, or the atmosphere that was added between the figure and the mountains, also gives a nice illusion of depth. So, as you can see, there are many visual techniques that you can use to combine your images. So the next time the individual elements in your composite aren't working together, ask yourself if you can use any of these techniques to make your composites more believable, and reinforce your story.
- What makes a good composite?
- Refining your story
- Composing using the basic principles of design
- Customizing your Photoshop workspace
- Preparing elements from your source images
- Adjusting color, tone, balance, and perspective
- Mastering the Pen tool
- Unifying with texture, focus, leading lines, and structure