Skip to main content

Creating Your Reality with Composite Photography

Lesson 1 of 60

Class Introduction


Creating Your Reality with Composite Photography

Lesson 1 of 60

Class Introduction


Lesson Info

Class Introduction

So we're gonna go over the next two days a couple of of different ways to create our own worlds, that we see in our heads, that don't necessarily exist anywhere else. So I'm mostly massively uninspired by real life, I was out walking around Seattle with some friends yesterday and they're like, "Oh my God, look at that sunshine "and look at this and look at that," and I was like, I'd cut that out and I'd add an explosion there and I'd add some stuff there, so I don't see the world that way and I know that I'm not the only one. So the next couple of days, we're gonna go through two different ways to create composites, one of them in the studio and one of them on location, so it's kind of whatever's available to you and what you can do with that. I'm totally open to questions all the way through, by the way, so we've discussed that yesterday and I think you guys mentioned it this morning, so that's also good. So why are we here? Reality sucks, that's why, (laughs) reality is kind of borin...

g. A lot of us love to travel, but we can't always bring a huge team with us on to a location or maybe in some cases, like myself, when I first got into photography professionally, it was because I was essentially disabled, I was in a wheelchair and crutches from a motorcycle accident and I know that I'm not the only one out there, who can't get anywhere for reasons x, y, z, it doesn't really matter, the reason why, but for some reason, I mean, bringing massive teams and being Von Wong and shooting underwater, (laughs) in Fiji isn't really an option for a lot of us, so how do we still be able to create and make artwork and bring it into reality with what's available to us? So whether you have a studio or whether you don't have a studio, we're gonna give you skills, that will work towards that. So why should you listen to me? In reality, you don't have to, (laughs) composite photography is just as diverse as everything else out there, there are 10,0001 ways to do composite photography, these are two ways out of, I mean, hundreds of thousands of tutorials, that are available online, that people create composites with, so the way we're gonna show you today and tomorrow are not the only ways to do this. Why you should listen to me, I've spent a lot of time at this, (laughs) I kind of don't have a life doing anything else anymore, I've got that switch in my brain, that decided that everything else didn't matter anymore, like eating and working out and socializing and family and I kind of just spend, (laughs) my computer and I, we're really good friends and horrible enemies all at the same time. So in reality, hopefully I can give you something, whether like it's a little, tiny piece of information or it's an entire workflow are ways that you can bring what's in your mind into reality. So a tiny, little bit of background, in 2010, this is what I was photographing, (laughs) I was not photographing composites, I was fascinated with macro photography, I was super interested in it, because I had come from the modeling world and I had seen a lot of photographs of people, I was like, I don't really care about photographing people, it doesn't matter to me, I was interested in the little, tiny things, so macro was really fun, I had, I discovered, you know the little flower on the point and shoot, like I had a Nikon Coolpix and a Canon G and I was like what's this flower setting? What does that even mean? And then I realized that I could take pictures of little things really big and my whole world blew open. (laughs) So that's how all of this stuff started, so if you're at this stage, right, in this case, you know, today this is what I'm making, so if you're at the stage of flowers, it's okay, I was there too, (laughs) they were terrible, but I loved them at the time and I'm sure if I'm still creating composites in five or 10 years, I'll look back at this and be like, oh my God, I was teaching people. (laughs) But I think that's the point is that we all want to learn and we all want to grow. So I had a question that I was gonna send out to the group, so one of these images is not a composite, so the curiosity is, ponder on it and then we'll take a vote and see which one is not the composite, but it's one of my favorite things about composite photography is that if you do really great artwork, no matter what it is, whether you're shooting beauty or shooting pets, whatever your project is, is that you want people to be able to look at it and just be amazed by what you've made, it's not necessarily, the technique should come second, first thing people should see is the story, is the whatever, I mean, that's why there's so many great IPhone photographers out there, that are doing incredible stuff, because literally (laughs) they sit there and you can look at this frame and go, oh my God, and it triggers something inside of you and first thing you think is what an incredible image and then second you find out, you're like, that was shot on an IPhone? (laughs) You're just like, oh, man, and so then you go back to your portfolio and throw it all out, I mean, I do that on Instagram every now and then, like oh, this is terrible, this is crap. (laughs) But in any case, it's like forever my goal is my own work and I hope to inspire other people that way is that whatever it is that you do, whatever you're retouching is should be not noticed, people should just first be able to look at that and go, "Holy crap, that's awesome." So I don't know if we've had enough time in the chatroom for people to kind of take a vote on this? They have and I just wanna let you know that we have the ice in the lower right, Okay. we have bottom left and bottom left and people are chiming in on bottom left actually. Bottom left? What about you guys? Top right. Top right? I really like that you guys can't decide, that's awesome. (laughs) That makes me feel very good about myself and hopefully, you know, when you're creating composite artwork, somebody will sit there and be like, "Oh my God, how did you get that epic location?" You're like, I made it. (laughs) In any case, so it's divided between top left, bottom left, bottom right, those are the three, so the bottom left is the one that was shot on location, everything else was shot in studio and in fact in massively, massively different parts of the world. So the ice queen, the castle itself was actually shot, believe it or not in Edmonton, the city that I'm from, there's never anything cool comes from there, but they started doing these really awesome ice castles in winter, because it's winter most of the year. So I photographed the background of that ice castle and it was like minus 25, minus 28 degrees Celsius that day, (laughs) so it was really cold and then photographed the model in that pretty dress in Holland and then put it together. So the top right, or sorry, top left rather, the background is Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland, the sky was from Hawaii and then the model was shot in Holland (laughs) and then the bottom left was shot just outside my house, (laughs) in a stack of trees in winter, it was another really cold day. This image here, the bottom left is actually one of the biggest reasons why I, another reasons why I love to shoot composites, we froze, (laughs) so because I'm feeling bad that the model's not wearing anything, 'cause she's in some dress and it's cold, it's winter out there, I am not dressed properly either, because I wanna make sure that when I'm freezing, I know she's cold, so if you're a photographer and you like to shoot on location, if it's cold, please dress the same as your model, (laughs) way more respect points. In any case, we shot this, I had about 30 frames and we shot it in about five minutes, so these other images here, I could take way more time with, with the background, I could sit there and line it up and analyze what I was gonna do with it and let my brain run and wander and then in the studio, we were able to spend a lot of time and I could just get creative and not worry about somebody suffering, 'cause I can't help that, I've been that frozen model and I don't like doing that to other people. So in any case, you can go from flowers to that, if you work really hard, it's totally possible. The next thing we're gonna talk about here today, so this first part of the day is all gonna be slides, so it's gonna be some of my workflow process, you know, steps and things to keep in mind in prep work, before you're building your composite, so on and so forth. I hate slides, if anybody follows my social media, I was posting photos of like nuclear bombs going off, because I just hate doing this kind of stuff, (laughs) like can we just get into Photoshop? But it doesn't always work that way. So here we go, Prep Work for Successful Compositing, once again, none of these things are written in stone, if you have a path and routine that works for you, stick with it, but I find that these things can make especially more complicated composites very, very successful and you're not gonna spend a lot of time wasting time. So why you should sketch your composite, the importance of mood boards, what to look for in a background shot, understanding the potential of your location, finding a model that matches your story, posing the model and then communicating with the team. So all of this stuff is just like the pre-work things, that starts before you even turn on the lights.

Class Description

With the right Adobe® Photoshop® know-how and studio shoot experience, you can merge fact and fiction into a reality that lives up to your imagination. Renee Robyn has made a career of turning everyday photos from her travels into eye-catching images. Robyn will teach you how to add people and other elements to your existing landscape photos using ethereal custom effects.

In this class you’ll learn:

  • How to choose or set up a shoot for your background image
  • How to direct posing during a shoot, and work with directional light in-studio to make your subject fit into the background image
  • How to composite your subject into your image using Photoshop

Photo compositing allows you to breathe interesting ideas into your photos. Open your hard drive, walk into your memory, and turn past experiences into fantastic new realities.


  1. Class Introduction
  2. Why You Should Sketch Your Composite
  3. What to Look for in Your Background
  4. Posing Your Model
  5. Communicate with Your Team
  6. Elements of Compositing
  7. Learning from Failure & Criticism
  8. On-Location Safety Tips
  9. How to Nail the Right Perspective for Your Composite Photo
  10. Gauging Light & Exposure On-Location
  11. On-Location Posing
  12. Cliff Shoot Location Final Thoughts
  13. Tips for Culling Images
  14. Culling Images Q&A
  15. Preparing Your Image for Composite
  16. Composite Image Cleanup
  17. Adding Background Image to Composite
  18. The Difference Between Flow & Opacity
  19. Composite Sky Elements
  20. Using Curves to Color Match
  21. Adding Atmospheric Depth to Image
  22. Using Color Efex Pro to Manipulate Color
  23. Using the Liquify Tool
  24. Color Theory & Monitor Calibration
  25. Adding Smoke Layer to Image
  26. Selective Sharpening
  27. Crop Your Image
  28. Goal Setting for Digital Artists
  29. Review of Location Composite
  30. Understand Angle & Height for Your Base Plate Image
  31. Base Plate Focus Point
  32. Base Plate Lighting Tips
  33. How to Use a Stand-In for Base Plate Image
  34. Capture On-Location Base Plate Image
  35. Student Positioning Demo
  36. Base Plate Sketching
  37. On-Location Sky Capture
  38. What to Look for in a Base Plate Model
  39. Building Composite Model Lighting
  40. Composite Model Test Shots for Angle Matching
  41. Composite Model Shoot: The Art of Fabric Throwing
  42. Composite Model Shoot: Working with Hair
  43. Composite Model Shoot: Posing Techniques
  44. Composite Test with Final Shot
  45. Lighting Setup Overview
  46. Culling Model Shoot Images
  47. Adjusting Skintone Colors
  48. Merging Background with Model
  49. How to Mask Hair
  50. Creating a Layer Mask with the Brush Tool
  51. Creating Shadow Layers
  52. Removing Visual Distractions with Stamp Tool
  53. Replacing Sky with Layer Mask
  54. Drawing Hair Strands and Atmospheric Depth
  55. Creating Contrast in Your Composite
  56. Adding Atmospheric Elements
  57. Using Particle Shop
  58. Selective Color Adjustments
  59. Cropping, Sharpening, & Final Touches
  60. Closing Thoughts


Dino Maez

i have to say, the class was AMAZING! in every way from the tricks and technique's of mastering this art form to the personalized attention given by Renee. through the class you are able to learn information that would normally take the average person years of trial and error. Renee gives you the gift of benefitting from her her experiences and what she has learned THE HARD WAY! Renee is an outstanding instructor full of passion for what she does, and with a strong desire to not only improve the art, but more importantly, pay it forward, by sharing her knowledge with others. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the event in person, truly a once in a lifetime experience for me, the staff at creative live were THE BEST! they are helpful in every way and really made this event something special, i can't say enough about the experience i had and would highly recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to go down for a class, it will be an experience that you will never forget. but the best part of creative live is that wether you are there in person or wether you are watching from the comfort of your own home, you are involved in the class in REAL TIME, you have the ear and attention of the skilled artist giving the instruction, being there myself i can tell you that Renee was regularly given questions and comments from the viewers via the creative live staff and she would respond to them as they came, in that way you are very much apart of the class you are never left without getting that personalized attention of an amazing artist or that specific question you have answered, and even better you have the option to purchase the class and have it as a constant resource in your tool kit that you can refer back to at any point that you need a refresher or want to recall that special technique that was demonstrated. thank you thank you to renee and all the staff at creative live you have a life long member in me. and i would recomend that everyone take advantage of this valuable resource dino maez

stephen lenman

I have completed many creative courses. This is by far the best so far. Quite the most amazing and inspiring presenter with a true passion for their craft. The core information is excellent, but the thing i liked most were her subtle tangents, dropping incredible information completely on the fly. A complete real world honest view of business and practical side of the industry. Especially her advice on how she started to her business. Saving up enough in her day job so she could pay the rent, and do photography for 3-6 months.

Sheldon Carvalho

Awesome class. I've been following Renee for a very long time. I love her work and to finally see her work and get an image done from start to finish was quite something.. I love the way she sees things and the way she treats her work and all fellow creative. I would recommend this to everyone interested in getting into composting. Looking forward to creating and making my own art work. But it now :) Have fun creating. :)