Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video Types of composites, part of Photographing for Compositing in Photoshop.
- Just as there are different types of photography, there are also different types of composites. These can be grouped into a few general categories, based on how the images are assembled in Photoshop, as well as the intent of the composite in terms of its appearance. Understanding the type of composite that you'll be making will help you recognize if the source images need to be created using specific techniques, equipment, or lighting, in order for the composite to be successful. One of the most basic types of composite is what I call collage, or scrapbook composites.
As the term scrapbook suggests, these are fairly simple composites that visually call to mind their analog counterparts, where objects and paper elements are arranged together. With this type of collage the objective is not to make it look like a photo or an actual scene, it's more an assemblage of different items. There is usually a two dimensional look to it, and often a very rough or a cut-out quality to how the images are put together. Next, our overlay or blend mode composites. These consist of images that you overlay on top of each other as layers in Photoshop, and then combine them using blend modes.
Back in the analog days of film photography and actual dark room processing, exposing the same piece of film more than once in the camera, or printing multiple negatives onto the same sheet of photographic paper, were common techniques used to make these types of composites. This image is an example of that technique, it's an in-camera double exposure made with a vintage film camera. Overlay composites are photographic, and sometimes they can even be photorealistic, such as this image of the climber, but generally speaking photorealism is not required, and they often do not even need very precise masks.
This type of composite is well suited for photo illustrations, or, because of the way that the images blend together, they're ideal for suggesting the more ephemeral world of dreams, memory, or emotions. Since overlay or blend mode composites don't depend upon photorealism, things such as perspective, lighting, and lens choice, are not as critical, and they're an ideal format to work with if you're just browsing through your archive of existing images looking for elements to tell a story or communicate a concept.
For example, this composite illustrates the idea of memory as a large house with many different rooms and hallways where the memories are stored. If you're photographing elements for such a composite, one of the main things to keep in mind is trying to arrange an object so that it's surrounded by empty or uncomplicated space. so that it can be more easily selected and placed in the composite. Or, so that blend mode neutral colors, like white, black, or middle grey, can be used to make the background invisible.
Finally, we have composites that are more photorealistic, where the aim is to create an image that looks as if it could exist, even if the scene is obviously so fantastical or outrageous that you know it's not real. Within the general category of the photorealistic composite, there are a few subcategories. The simplest type of photorealistic composite to create is the basic foreground/background blend. An example that you see a lot of is where you have an object or person in the foreground, and then you add a new background.
Often the main subject is photographed in front of a plain background, to make it easier to drop in a new background behind them. In many cases, the new background that is added may also be a composite image. In this type of composite, it's pretty common to not see the feet of the person who is the main subject, making it much easier to add a new background behind them. Another type of photorealistic composite is what I like to call scene creation. In a composite that requires scene creation, you're taking several images and using them to create a completely fictional scene, but one that appears to be photorealistic, even if the scene is obviously not genuine.
There can be different levels of photorealism in a composite of this sort, from the more loosely photorealistic, where complete accuracy in terms of matching the lighting or perspective is not that critical, to images where every detail is as photorealistic as possible. The more accurate the photorealistic requirements are, the more involved the composite process, because so many elements such as lighting, perspective, and scale, have to work together to create a believable result. This type of composite benefits the most from being planned out in advance, and creating the images specifically for the composite.
It is possible to create fictional photorealistic scenes from images that are already in your archive, you just have to pay close attention to whether or not the images match in terms of lighting, scale, and perspective. So that's a rundown of some of the different types of composites, and also the different requirements to keep in mind when creating source images. Having a solid understanding of this will help when you begin to create your own images for compositing projects.
- Types of composites
- Using blend modes to create composites
- Creating an image library for compositing
- Photographing location elements
- Using props
- Photographing in the studio
- Composite projects