In simple words, when two or more images are combined to create one, it is called composite photography. It can be overlapping images to create one or joining several negatives to get one print.
This art of blending and creating is everywhere. Try to notice composite photography while internet surfing, social media scrolling, reading a magazine, on billboards while you are outside, advertisements, or in anything similar. You will be in awe when you realize how common it is in our lives.
Types and Purpose of Composite Photography
Well, obviously, a composite photograph is nothing but a fake illustration. Still, this niche of photography is nothing less than art. In fact, it requires a skill set and techniques totally different from mainstream types of photography. An imagery illustration by a composite photographer can be so powerful that it can make viewers doubt their eyes.
Good composite work will either make the image look very real or totally surreal. That’s what makes it a form of art!!!
This niche is so diverse and comes in handy for a variety of purposes. If we look at composite photography broadly, it has two sub-genres. And these two cover almost all these purposes.
It is layering images to create art. Most of the time, these images are to create some surreal illustration. In this creative art, the imagination of the creator is the limit. Post-production work, i.e., Photoshop, is heavily involved in this type.
There are four categories of artistic composite photography.
1. Deceptive Images
These images are everywhere; especially social media is flooded with these.
As the name shows, the purpose of these images is to deceive the audience into believing something that is not real. It must have happened to you that an image you thought at first is real and later found out it was fake. That was a deceptive image created using composite photography.
2. Fantastical Images
Fantastical images are all about showing a fantasy or surreal idea via a photograph.
Though these images are based on fantasy or something that is far away from reality, yet with skills, a composite photographer can make it look almost real. A common example is the image of different phases of the moon, all in one image. Obviously, in reality, all phases cannot be observed simultaneously, but the art of composite makes it look real.
3. Images to Show Movement
This type is about cloning a person or object at different places at the same time. Multiple stills are captured at different places in the same situation and then combined in a simple image using Photoshop or similar editing software.
4. Images to Build Story
These images are the most difficult but most fun to work on.
These images tell a whole story or reflect a whole scenario within a single image. That image can be a simple one, but overlapping and composite techniques are heavily involved in it.
This type involves correcting errors in images, compiling different images for adding or eliminating an object, or adding special effects in post-production.
Few common examples are:
- In very bright sunlight taking a landscape. Simultaneously, and angle taking another landscape with a graduated filter that works as sunlight and darkens images. Layering these two images in post-production decrease the sharp intensity of sunlight.
- Removing people or object from an image by layering it with another image
- Adding or sharpening stars in nightscapes by reducing the light pollution and noise in those images.
Components of Composite Photograph
There are two main components of the composite photograph – shooting and editing.
While in everything else, shooting an image properly is the key to achieving great results, in composite photography, shooting and then post-production work holds equal importance.
That’s one of the things which makes it very different from other sub-genres of photography.
Tips for shooting and editing composite photographs:
You cannot get professional results overnight, but considering these tips and recommendations, you can see visible betterment in your work and improvement in the long run.
- Give most importance to your background image. Keep it simple if possible. All the elements and layers you want to add to your final image will go on this photograph, making sure it is not already stuffed with filters and any special effects. Raw format images work the best for background images in composite photography.
- Planning will help you to get better outputs. There are chances to capture a perfect image by chance in other types of photography, but it is sporadic to happen in composite photography. That’s because it involves a lot of imagination. The first step to compose a composite photograph is imagining the output in your mind. Once you have the imagination, then you shoot, then edit it. More the pre-vis planning and brainstorming you will do, the less time you will have to spend in actual shooting and editing.
- Do not go very out of the box when it comes to lightning. Try shooting all images in the same lightning with the same intensity. Sometimes objects shoot in different lightning compared to background images that are very different to integrate without them looking fake. It will also save you from spending extra time and effort in post-production.
- Tripod is very helpful in composite photography, whether you are shooting with a smartphone or a camera.
- When you are passionate about a hobby, you have an urge to buy equipment for it. Well, you might find this tip unusual but don’t buy any high-end gears specifically for composite photography. This niche is so amazing that just a simple even low-end digital camera or phone camera and editing software are enough for you to do wonders.
- Solid and green screens or high contrast backgrounds will come in handy if you have to cut out the object. Subjects cut out from busy and dim contrast backgrounds are time-consuming, and usually, edges don’t have a very smooth finish, ruining the whole image.
- Do not start using an editing program only because it is popular or very mainstream. Before getting your hands on any program, look up its details and either that is compatible with your device or not. For example, Adobe Photoshop; you can do professional grading editing using it on desktop, but all of its features aren’t fully supported on a tablet. On the other hand, Juxtaposer is an excellent software to create composites on smartphones and tablets, but its results on a desktop are nowhere near what Adobe Photoshop can do.
- Composite photographs are all about imagination, and there’s no limitation to the imagination, but while you are combining images, make sure all the images have the same perspective. Executing it perfectly will make your work stand out.
- Play with digital effects all you want but creating a perfect balance between traditional photography and digital effects is the way forward to create professional-level composite photographs.
- While adding highlights and shadows, keep one simple rule in your mind: these two should be matching with your light source and in perfect synchronization with it. You might not even consider it important, but it can make or break your composite.
- Avoid hard lines and unblended effects at all costs. A viewer can instantly recognize it, and it doesn’t leave a perfect impression of your work. Consider using Smudge Tool to blend your cutouts into background images perfectly.
- If it isn’t a requirement of your project, keep your composite simple. There is no harm in complex editing, but it’s not everyone’s tea. The more classic and simple your composite photograph can be, the more people understand and appreciate your work.
- Last but not least, understand your Photoshop tools. You might be missing lots and lots of amazing features just because you aren’t aware of that feature in your editing software. Besides that, not all composites are the same. Every image requires a different treatment and technique. Knowing your editing tool well, you can bring diversity to your own work. Don’t shy away from exploring and using new features; this practice will help you to learn more, nevertheless.
Composite photography is far more than just blending two or more photographs. It is a form of digital art itself. A single composite photograph can open a window into the world of imagination at first glance.
If you are good at imaginations and out-of-the-box ideas, love editing and creating on your screen, and enjoy photography, then composite photography is a perfect fit for you. And the best thing about this genre is you don’t need to do any prep or spend a single cent to get started with it. Just start shooting with your smartphone and editing your work using any editing software.