Creating a Simple Composite

Every once in a while I have to create a composite for one reason or another. Most of the time it is because I would like to get a wide angle photo of a couple with dramatic lighting on them but without seeing the light/lightstand in the image. Sometimes it is to be able to remove other distractions (such as people) within the scene. Distractions in an image that are static (stationary/constant) are usually removed in either photoshop or by reframing the photograph itself. However, when there are people in the image moving around in a busy space, it is easier (for me) to do a composite rather than try and remove each person, one by one.

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In this image of Melissa & Victor, I wanted a grand shot of him dipping her, with some rim lighting on them. The idea was to underexpose the sky and make the image more dramatic (darker), highlighting the two of them with the rim light. Unfortunately, the sky was overcast on this particular day. There was no blue sky, only a solid white mass of clouds.

Here is how I was able to get this shot with two photos (from my camera) and one stock image.

It is much easier to accomplish a composite with the use of a tripod. However, I never bring one with me when I decide I need one. Nearly all of my composites have been taken by hand. This doesn’t help. The first shot I took was of the Victor dipping Melissa, with the light and framed just how I wanted it. As it sits, this image has several items that I wouldn’t want in the final image. Items such as the tree (top left), the light stand (to the right of the couple), construction barriers (left of couple), and various people in the background.

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Once I had the shot above, I instructed the couple to move out of the frame (taking my light with them). Once they were out of the frame, took the second shot. As you can see, the people moved around a bit into different areas of the frame. I took a few more shots until I got one that placed people in other areas within the frame than where they were when I snapped the couple. This will help with editing later.

With the following three images I was able to start my composite. Houston Photographers - 4

I loaded my background layer and began removing the items in the photo that were distracting (circled below). From there, I dropped my second photo (with the couple) into the image within the same file. Once these two layers were loaded, I made sure they were both aligned (Highlight layers yo want, go to EDIT > AUTO ALIGN LAYERS > AUTO).

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After aligning the layers, I had two layers. 1.) clean background image without the couple that I had removed all of the distracting elements from. 2.) The layer with the couple, lightstand, and other distracting elements. With this second layer on top, I simply had to use the eraser tool, and start erasing the distracting elements from the photograph. Because layer 1 was void of any of these items, erasing an area of layer 2 simply revealed the clean area of layer 1. Additionally, I had to do a little clone & stamp tool here and there where needed but ultimately the image was much easier to work with at this point.

Last, I dropped in the sky, mirrored it vertically, set the opacity down a little, and blended it with the eraser tool. The end result was an image with some sky, with only the couple…lit the way I intended.

I hope this how-to helps motivate someone to try something a little different or solve a problem on their next shoot. Remember to shoot all of your images in the SAME EXPOSURE. I shot both images in manual mode so that I didn’t have to try and match exposure in post.

Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments and THANKS for taking the time to read!