Photography - Knowledge

Composite Photography: The Technique to Create Unique Images

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Technology is the greatest advantage that man has today. Within this century itself there have been numerous innovations and advancements in what we can do. Due to the interfaces, we have now, there are endless possibilities to what can be achieved in larger as well as smaller spheres. Even a simple photograph is capable of depicting the most incredible or implausible of stories. We owe so much to technology for allowing us to pursue our creative spirit and do the impossible. Special effects, post editing, and software like Photoshop help us make our creations truly brilliant. These are the essence of composite photography using lighting, location, filters, layering and more.

By combining various elements from different photographs, you trick people into believing that all these elements belong to the same image, just like a magician or an illusionist.

The Meaning of Composite Photography

introguction to composite photography
Practically Magic (Source)

The word composite in photography means the combination of two or more photographs to create a whole new image. A majority of composites in the modern era are executed by a technique called layering where one image is placed onto another and the surrounding background or objects not needed are removed. Blending can also create stunning effects with two or more photos. The end result that you are left with is an image that appears surreal, realistic, or sometimes impossible.

This technique, however revolutionary it may seem, actually originated many years ago when photography first came into being. Photographers used to make their subjects stay still long enough for them to be able to layer over the camera lens or use filters.

Now composite photography is the best way to create a range of effects like surrealism, colour corrections, filters, and more. There are various methods for manipulating a photograph to your liking.

The Artistic Composite

The way to make your own composite image using various methods is not complicated. There are many different styles that you might try out but by using your creative insight you can definitely make beautiful and inspiring composites. The following are a few examples of common themes and composite photography ideas that will inspire you to start something new!

Flying

composite photography levitation
Defying Gravity

Also called Levitation Photography, this is one of the most popular and fun effects that uses the composite layering and masking to arrive at an incredible image. This is a favourite choice for artists as well as portrait photographers.

Method

  • To create this composite image, you first take a photograph of your subject with them standing on a chair or stool to create the levitation or flying illusion.
  • Next, you remove the subject and take a shot of the exact same background as the first picture.
  • Now you can open up any software that has the layering and masking feature. Some common software are Adobe Photoshop CC, GIMP 2.8, ACDSee Photo Editor, Adobe Photoshop Light, and more.
  • The chair of the first image is layered on the background image and the chair is masked out.
  • The outcome is an image of a person floating above the ground or flying through the air depending on what surface and how high you placed your subject.

Clone

composite photography clone
Seeing Quadruple (Source)

This is yet another popular effect that will make your photos look incredible, intriguing and most of all impossible. In this effect, you create the illusion of multiple clones of a subject, object, or even yourself within the same image. This way you can create a picture where you are playing a game with yourself, a subject conversing with their ‘twin’ or duplicating an object as you please.

Method:

  • To do this you use the similar software with layering and masking effect.
  • You simply layer the photos over each other depending on however many clones you want to create and then remove their background.
  • The first image that you are layering other photos on stays unchanged. Once you master the masking and removing background step, everything will go by easier.

With practice and your creativity, you can become a master of illusions.

Time Passing

composite photography time travel
Time Travelling with Photography

You can definitely use composite photography for showing the passage of time in a day or over a period of time. You can manage a time lapse of sorts in an image, show the change from night to day, depict the changing seasons, and more. Most outdoor landscape and nature photographers use this technique to show time passage on nature.

Method:

  • To do this effect you first take multiple photos of the same spot from the exact position every few hours depending on your concept for the image. You can use a tripod to get the exact position of your subject or background.
  • Next, you layer these photos over each other to show how with time the same scene appears very different.

With some great ideas and this technique, you can break new ground in composite art.

Dream

composite photography Babel Tales by Peter Funch
Babel Tales by Peter Funch: The Absurdity of Normalcy (Source)

This type of effect involves combining multiple subjects or objects into the same picture to emphasize an element of the photo, create chaos, symmetry, surrealism and more. You can easily curate a scene quite close to that of a dream. This is where surrealism really comes into play and with this artistic style, the possibilities are infinite.

Method:

  • To try this out you need to have multiple images of a related theme or concept that can be layered into a single image. They need not even be connected to each other if that is what you are going for.
  • Use the same software for layering and masking to really live your dreams.

An interesting example of the surrealistic effect in composite photography is the book Babel Tales by Peter Funch. He focuses on emphasizing common occurrences on busy streets and layering subjects of a common theme into a single image. This allows him to exaggerate their importance or absurdness.

The Technical Composite

The technical composite differs from the artistic counterpart in its usage. With this type of composite photography, you use the effects of photo editing software to correct elements in your photographs. These changes made are much less obvious to the common eye and keep the photograph appearing more realistic. Adjusting lighting, colour saturation, contrast, focusing on a background by removing foreground, recreating missing or obscured parts of your photograph, and more.

Exposure

correcting exposure with composite photography
Correcting Exposure (Source)

When a photographer is shooting a scene, it is very difficult to get both good lightings on the foreground and background. Not every camera is able to capture and focus on multiple elements in a scene. Sometimes the sensor of the camera is limited to only focusing light on a few points where the rest of the photo is badly lit. To tackle this problem you can either apply a filter on the lens, like a graduated filter to allow the more lit part of the scene to darken by a bit in order to fit with the other half of the photo. Then when you click the image, you can get an evenly exposed photo avoiding overexposure in your image.

If you don’t have a filter then you can simply take two photos! Click the two from the exact same position with the help of a tripod and you can focus on exposure of the background in the first and then on the foreground in the second. Using composite photography software you edit the two by layering them and masking the unrequired portions out.

Overcrowding

removing people using composite photography
Too Many People (Source)

Composite photography can be used to add in layers of photos where you want the subjects to appear in another image. Conversely, you can use the techniques of removal or masking to subtract subjects already present in an image. Most of the time you would use this method to remove tourists or pedestrians from a photograph where your main subject of focus is the background. A historical monument, a beautiful landscape, buildings on a crowded street, and so on are prime examples.

To get a clear shot void of other people may be difficult especially if it is a popular attraction or populated area. Sometimes, to get what you want, you need to edit out the unwanted. To do this you can take multiple photographs of the same area from the same position. This helps when you need to fill in the gaps created after you remove something unwanted in the previously layered image. With this technique, you can create the perfect photograph.

Night Sky

composite photography night sky nasa
Farther into Space (Source)

The composite techniques like layering and masking can be used by more than just photographers. Scientists and astronomers use layering to cancel out the noise that interferes with images taken of the night sky. Without the noise getting in the way, longer photographs into space are possible. By stacking, a method to layer many images of a specific spot in the sky, they can remove noise altogether and get clearer more focused images of the stars and sights in the sky.

Completion

Those of you interested in macro photography can also join in on composition photography and all of the fun! A lot of photographs, when taken with a macro lens, can only manage to capture a smaller depth of field and focus on a narrower area. Especially capturing moving objects like insects or plants moving in the wind, you can miss out a lot of details. In order to recreate or complete the subjects form you will have to use layering. By stacking different parts of the subject you will be able to arrive at a whole more appealing or accurate image.

Beginner’s Guide to Compositing

blending one image into another with composite photography
Basically Magical (Source)

Now that know the various ways to make a great composite image, you can use composite photography to create numerous styles of images or just to correct certain aspects of them. Also, there are different techniques used to carry out in the process. Why don’t you try them out yourself and as you get the hang of the technique, incorporate your style into the mix?

Here is a quick guide of how to make composite pictures on any type of photo editing software. Learn to layer and mask in photoshop with ease!

  • First, pick one photograph that will be used as a background for the other layered images that will be placed on top.
  • Next, add the first layer containing the element that you want to incorporate into the final image.
  • Then, in the photo editing software, look for the magic wand or selection tool to trace and select the element you want to add from the first layered picture.
  • Click on Mask button, which will help you mask out the selected element in the layered image. Now you need to remove the background surrounding the selected element in the layered image in order to add it to the background picture. To remove background then colour in the selected element white. Painting it white will reveal it while painting black will hide it.
  • You could also cut out your selected element into a new layer and delete its previous background that it was cut out from.
  • After you click on the mask button you will see the subject fit into the background image you first picked.
  • Add as many layers as you want after this. The result is a complete and more appealing image that you can admire.

There you have it, the technique commonly used to create composite photos for both artistic as well as technical composite photography. We are sure you can create some composite photo masterpieces. For more insight into this field look at photoshop composite tutorials.

Summing Up

composite photography conclusion
Blend in the Magic! (Source)

You have probably already realised there are no limits to your creativity and now you know there are no limits to your creations. So what are you sitting around for? Get out there and start shooting now! Let us know what your favourite composite shots are and do share them with us.

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