Join Julieanne Kost for an in-depth discussion in this video A compelling story, part of The Art of Photoshop Compositing.
So if one of the primary components of a successful composite is a good story, I'm often asked, what happens if you don't have a story? Well, first of all, I don't believe you. Everybody has stories to tell. You just might not know where to start looking. Since I use photography and compositing to capture my imagination and turn it into a physical reality, I rely heavily on my dreams for inspiration. Every morning I write them down, so I can remember them later. For me, it's like making a deposit in my little idea bank. That way, I rarely find myself without being able to find a story to communicate through my composites.
Books are another huge source of inspiration. Whenever an author's description or character provides me with a unique and compelling visual, I add it to my journal. I also listen carefully to songwriter's lyrics and collect words that conjure up interesting stories and scenes that I want to create. Typically, my sources for inspiration are more abstract, but other artists' work, especially painters and sculptors, constantly inspire me to look at the way that I express my vision through my work. You might also find it useful to take a look at the reoccuring themes in your artwork or in the artwork of artists that you admire.
Ask yourself what subject matter do you find most interesting and how would you create your own unique image to tell that story? Once you choose the story that you want to tell, I find it helpful to define and clarify the story. It's been my experience that the more that I think about and the more that I define my initial story, the better the odds that the final image will be a success. I find that working with a pen and paper to write down my ideas and then creating a few rough sketches can help narrow my focus and refine the concepts, ideas and message that I want to communicate.
The sketch doesn't have to be pretty, but it helps me to try different versions with little time invested. The point here isn't that you have to use a pencil and paper; it's the speed in which you can work through multiple ideas and concepts. I find that on the computer; I tend to dive into the details before solidifying the bigger picture, so in the end I end up wasting a lot of time, working on the wrong idea. For example, I might spend an hour creating a complex selection for an image, only to realize that it's not the right image. I have never been literal in my composites.
To be successful, the final image needs to look believable, but I don't create photo realistic images. I'm always on the lookout for objects that appear to look like something else or can represent something else. Like the image of a leaf that might also represent the image of a boat. I try to incorporate secondary themes and messages and meaning to be explored if the viewer continues to look into the image. And I don't try to include every little detail. Instead, I offer just enough information to spur the imagination, because a lot of times, I believe that what you can't see is actually far more interesting than what you can see.
Once the story is defined, I want to try to eliminate the irrelevant. I want to include only those elements which support the story. Every time I add the element, I ask myself, does this element add to the story? Does it reinforce the idea, or does it distract from the overall impact? If it's not adding anything, then it's probably uneccesary. And I remove that distracting element. This isn't to say that your image has to be simple; it can still be complex. It can have primary and secondary subjects; it can include those deeper meanings.
This process simply helps me to reinforce that every detail in the image should be relevant to and reinforcing the story that I'm trying to tell. And we can't forget that images evolve on their own. Although I tried and nailed down the story that I'm trying to express and flush out as much as I can before I start working on a composite, I don't want to impose that process on every person for every project. I do know from experience that the more photo realistic I need my composite to be and the tighter the deadline I might be on, then certainly the more planning I do can be a huge advantage.
However, I also strongly believe that when we are in the process of creating art, the art takes on a life of its own. So although you start down one path, you might end up creating an image that in no way matches the initial story you anticipated telling. I would encourage you to retain an open mind if you're pulled in a different direction. Of course, this is one of Photoshop's greatest strength, its flexibility and its non-destructive image-editing capabilities that allow us to try all sorts of different possibilities if we want to. But remember, regardless of how you get there, the process is a part of the journey.
And the goal is that the final composite conveys the story that you want to tell.
- 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