Are you a Photoshopographer? – The Art of Photo Compositing

Photoshop… It’s a verb these days. Or, you might hear “that looks so photoshopped.” 


People used to trust photographs to be an accurate representation of the truth, but now we’re all skeptics.


Really, they were always wrong.


Whether it’s lens choice, shooting angle, cropping, lighting, or any other multitude of tools in a photographer’s bag, a photograph is showing you the what, how, and when of a story, exactly the way the photographer decides. If we want to we can easily bend, if not break the truth. That’s why I often think photographers are like magicians. We are artists of illusion.


To me, the art of photo manipulation and photo compositing can be used an element of storytelling just like anything else you use to make an image. Just like all those other elements of a photograph, it takes forethought and intent to be done right.


The Story: This gentleman is ready for a night out on the town, but Rogaine is for men that wait for things to happen. HAIRSPRAY™ Brand Hairspray is for men of action!! Spray it on, tonight, and feel the wind blow through your hair in minutes!


This photo is from my series Visual Puns


If you’re interested in some tips to get you realistic photo compositing, or a better look at the before and after of this shoot keep reading.

I used to be confused by the definition of photo compositing because so many people use it for different meanings. I just thought I should maybe clarify that to me, compositing is first coming up with a whole image you visualize in your head, and then go about photographing the different parts so you can seamlessly bring them together achieve that originally intended image.


I’ll be the first to admit that often it doesn’t go exactly the way you would like. Sometimes your vision changes as you go, and you can’t even remember what you initially thought of. You have to go with it, roll with the punches. However, in the planning and shooting phase I think it’s very important to pay attention to details like camera angle and perspective, lighting, etc.


Don’t be lazy. Don’t listen to that voice in your head that says “oh just fix that after.” Do take lots of alternatives in case you change your mind.


The biggest point I’m trying to get across here is that it’s not just some magic a photoshop guy does sweating over his keyboard, in his underwear, in some dark dingy basement! No!


I do used to do commissioned digital work to help other photoshop-challenge artists, but it’s as much in the photography as it is the post. So let’s look at what I think was a successful* job.


*pssst. It is my own photo, so feel free to call me biased.


The Case Study:



Really soak up all the information that’s there in this photo. I have a strong belief that the best way to learn is by trying to reverse engineering something. Lighting, photoshop work, a guitar solo, whatever!


If you have any questions, put ’em in the comments below.


a few things I’ll point out:


It’s never as straight forward as it might seem. example: I really struggled with the arm and the magazine actually, which seems like one of the easier parts of the shoot. I couldn’t get the angle of the hand right while I was shooting the model, so I had his shirt put on over my arm so I could then reach up from underneath the camera while looking through the viewfinder and hit the sweetspot for the positioning of everything. The biggest thing I had to keep in mind for that was how would his hand be naturally positioned, while looking good, and also being seen in the mirror the way it reflects.


Normally I would shoot the individual situations with the same focal length, but in this case I had to really eye-ball it to make sure Ian, the model, was in the right kind of perspective. His head had to be far enough above the midlevel of the camera’s POV, the camera had to be completely perpendicular like it is towards the wall, and he had to be close enough to feel “wide-angle” but not too close.


To get the really wide perspective on the bathroom mirror without shooting with an imaginary 5mm lens I shot it as a panorama. There were a fair amount of weird things going on because of that, as you can see. Do you see how stretched out the lightbulb is in the first one? What the hell? That was something I had no expected to happen to that extent, but I had to problem solve afterward to make it right.


Most of photography, including post-production, is problem solving.


I hope I enlightened a few of you. Again, questions below.





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