Skip to main content

Creating Your Reality with Composite Photography

Lesson 7 of 60

Learning from Failure & Criticism


Creating Your Reality with Composite Photography

Lesson 7 of 60

Learning from Failure & Criticism


Lesson Info

Learning from Failure & Criticism

The last thing you need to really get comfortable with is failing, lots. Lots and lots and lots. And reality is, not every composite works out. So this is my face a lot. This is me getting ticked off at my computer. (laughing) Because I've done something and I've spent four or five hours on something that I was experimenting and then I was, it just blew up in my face. And I was like, I missed something like four hours ago that now is really hard to fix. Or the image just didn't work out. Not all composites work out. I've actually taught a couple of workshops where everyone's image in the entire workshop worked out, except mine. It's like, I'm doing the same stuff as you guys are. The genie's hanging out with you guys, not me. Like, I was not touched by fairy dust today. And for some reason, it didn't work out. That just means, in the world of compositing, you turn it off, you go for a walk, and you come back to it. So hopefully tomorrow and today the composites are gonna work out and t...

he creative genie's gonna hang out with us, so we'll make cool stuff, but you never know. So basically, I have the rule of, I fail my way to success every single time. Every single time something doesn't work out, I try something else. And that's gonna happen even while I'm compositing. I'll like slide with color and be like, well, that looks awful, delete layer, next. Try something else, right? Add in some atmospheric depth. And even though I've been doing this a lot, it doesn't mean that the same thing works all the time for every single image. It's not the case. That's why there are so many websites and hundreds of thousands of tutorials on compositing, because everyone has made things work for them in their own way. There's no right, there's no wrong way, in my opinion. There's just more efficient ways and some un-efficient ways. But we all are hardwired differently. We all have different experiences in our lives, we all have different stuff that makes us wire a certain way that makes us create a certain way, right? And that's how it is. So whenever somebody's like, that's wrong, you go, no, this just might be inefficient. But that's okay, right? Or maybe, you know, they think it's wrong to them but it's right to you. Doesn't matter. But the reality is, you're gonna screw up a lot, especially in composites. You're gonna send stuff off for critique, or not, and the internet will critique it for you, which, if you ever post stuff on the internet, you've got some people who are like, I edited it for you and put it in the comments, aren't I awesome? I hate that. (laughing) That happens a lot, even to my work, a lot of the times people will edit it and put it in the comments. But, you know, if you put it out there, people are gonna critique it, and you might realize, sometimes they're right. I mean, I've had people make comments, I recently did this portrait of this chick that I thought was just so awesome, it was this red-headed girl. It was from the same series as the image that was shot, bottom left corner, with the little white shirt. Anyways, I did this head shot of her, and I was like, oh my god, this is so awesome. And then somebody commented underneath, they're like, yeah, her forehead and her shoulder's a little bit too bright. And at first I was like, no. (laughing) Expletive, expletive. You know, it's totally fine. And then I sat back there and I put my emotions aside and I was like, actually, he was right. And so I went back to it and I like brought it down a little bit and brought up her face a little bit because it was, I just hadn't noticed it, I was tired and excited and enthusiastic and so I'd made a mistake. I haven't posted it again, though. I'll wait for a few months, but in either case, though, I went back to it and I fixed it because every now and then, sometimes people are right. So that just means that, you know, we're humans, we're not infallible, so sometimes we screw up and that's totally cool. We're not lawyers or doctors. Nobody dies if we screw something up. And we can practice this in our basement and not go to jail. Yay! (audience laughing) Anyway, so that's like all I have for these slides here. I'm gonna take that off, my horrible face there, put that onto one more. But do we have any questions? Because I think we're-- We have a ton of questions over here. I mean, a ton of questions. Awesome, way to go, internet. Someone just wrote, I wanna find it, oh, this is from Jack, he says, this isn't a question, but Renee is frickin' awesome instructor. Gonna have to buy another CreativeLive class. (instructor laughing) So, just wanna throw that kudos to you. Hey, and also, from Jamie, Jamie would like to know, which really takes up the biggest portion of time, the pre-production, the shooting, or the post? The masking. (laughing) The masking takes me forever. It totally depends on the creator, though. I mean, there's people like Kirsty Mitchell and Bella Kotak, they do these incredible costume design, they make their own costumes, that's nuts. I mean, they'll spend weeks or months preparing the sets for their images. So, it totally depends on each person, but I spend most of my time compositing. Doing masking takes forever. And we're gonna find out tomorrow how long it's really gonna take, so. Cool. A handful of folks are asking about your choice of a gray background, as opposed to using other types of colors for shooting your models. Can you talk a little bit about that? Yeah, we're gonna go into that in a lot more detail tomorrow. There's gonna be way more detail on it. But the reason why I choose gray, and different shades of gray, it isn't always gray, sometimes it's white that I will light to just slightly off-gray. For example, let's just go to that other slide a bit. So, a couple of these images I shot on different shades of gray. So the girl down there with the snow, this one here, I shot her on white. Which, I'm pretty sure I hated myself that day, because she has white hair, a white dress, white wings on her head, and white backdrop. And so everything was so closely shaded. It took me so long to mask. But the reason for that is because this reflection here and these shadows, I wanted to be realistic to what's gonna bounce off of, what would happen if I photographed her in snow. So the reality is, is that, it's very even, there isn't really very harsh shadows. I actually added a little bit more shadow, just to ground her a little bit more, so that people just didn't assume, but adding that little bit of shadow actually makes it not realistic because in reality, if you're standing in the snow, it's pretty white if there's some light bouncing around. In this case here, I shot this, we photographed this also on a white background, but I lit it so that it was a darker gray because I knew that their feet I was gonna put on something dark. So I used controlled lighting so that the lighting wouldn't go to their feet nearly as much. Same thing with this one here. This was shot on a very, very, very dimly-lit background. I kept her a really long ways away from the background so because these were all shot, for some reason, all these three images were shot in Holland in the same studio. But, in either case, I wanted her to have, you know, a very soft shadow down here, right, the reflective light was going to be very different. So different people will photograph things for different reasons. Some people love using green screens. I hate drawing in shadows. It's hard to draw in shadows accurately. So I like to use the realistic shadows that are there. But in this case here, with this image, this was shot on a dark gray background. Right, and so it's just lit differently so that I get different bounce, different atmospheric light, and whatever else, light doing what it does, it's bouncing off things randomly, right? And so, and that's generally why. So if I'm gonna be photographing somebody on, so like tomorrow, we're gonna be photographing somebody, we have the background plate already shot. Looking at how much light bounces off that ground, it's relatively dark, so we're shooting on like a darker gray and we'll light it so that it's a little bit darker. All right, and so, once again, with the light, in this case here, lots of light going everywhere, lots of light thrown off the ground, so that light bouncing back up is gonna match the environment that I'm putting them into. But, the reality is, whatever works for you. Cool. And we have, a phoenix21 would like to know, do you use HDR on you backgrounds or anywhere in your work? Not usually. Sometimes some of the images look a little bit HDR-y. Sometimes because I'm trying to flatten everything out and make everything look cohesive, so I'll bring out a little bit more detail. But usually, as far as like sticking a camera on a tripod and going like one, two, three shots, and then merging them together, no. Because I don't wanna carry a tripod. That's purely lazy. Sometimes I've taken some multiple exposures, but, no, usually not. But I've seen people do it and it looks amazing, so, yeah. Cool. So here's a sort of a bigger picture question. What do you use as a sort of sanity check for your composites? In other words, do you as an artist have a way to step backwards and evaluate your work objectively and make sure that it's working? I generally pay attention to how I'm feeling. So, a lot of times, if I'm looking at an image, like I said, when you're taking photos, and you're like, oh yeah, I know that one was really good, I pay attention to how I'm feeling. So I'll be working on an image and I've had some where like I'm just grinding through like four hours of it's not working, it's not working, it's not working, but I feel like something can probably give. It would probably help if I got up and walked away and sat back down, but I'm too stubborn. And I'm just like, I am going to get you. So I'll sit there and like chew away on it. Sometimes I will reach out to other artists. And I'll say like, look, I'm working on this, what's wrong with it? You know, I'll just like message a friend, and I'll send them a text message of a screenshot, you know, and be like, I'm missing something, what's up? And they'll say like, oh, your background just sucks. (audience laughing) I'm like, oh, all right. I actually sent one to a friend of mine, his name was Nick, and we were working in a bunch of images, and this one image I spent two weeks on it and it's still not public yet, but one day. But in any case, I was working on it, working on it, working on it, and I sent it to him, and I was like, this just, this doesn't feel right. Like it just, it's not hitting all of the yes buttons, and it's hitting most of the no buttons, but I don't know why. And so he was like, yeah, it's crappy, you should throw it out. But he was being sarcastic, but I deleted the file. And I was like, actually, you're right. Like, I was actually able to separate it then, get emotionally disconnected, and be like, no, this is actually just awful. And so then I just started over and the next image worked out a lot better. So sometimes you have to reach outside of yourself, but other times, sometimes it's just getting up and walking away and maybe having a shot and sitting back down is enough. Cool. Okay, one last question, and then we're gonna take a 15-minute break. This is, hello from the Netherlands. Do you shoot everything you use in your composites yourself or do you ever use stock things to make a project happen? So when I was first getting into composite artwork, of course, I was not walking, so I was using some stock. And the I was finding out about, sometimes composite artists or digital artists can get into trouble if they buy the stock image on the wrong license. So those stock image contracts can be like 60 pages. We're not lawyers. And so what I was finding was that sometimes digital artists were buying an image for like a dollar or two dollars, but it was the wrong license for what they were using it for to cut it up and to turn it into something else. So when that happened, I was like, well, I don't have the money to take on Getty or some photographer, so I started shooting my own stuff, or reaching out, sometimes, if I have something that's very specific, that I really want, I will reach out to somebody who's in the area, be like, hey, I heard you went to Anchor Walk recently. There's like this one area I would really, really love like a couple shots. Do you think you could do it? Or rooftopping images, like the girl jumping off the building, my friend Ben Von Wong shot that in Hong Kong. I am not hanging off the side of a building to take a picture, no way. I will fall. (audience laughing) I am not a spider monkey like he is. So that's not gonna happen. So, like in some cases, I'll reach out to people, but I prefer to reach out to people that I know. And I'll usually offer, you know, a lot of times I'll try to offer somebody, like, hey, can I give you, you know, five bucks, 20 bucks, whatever, for the use of this image, is that cool? Like, I appreciate what you're doing for me, or that I'm using this image, can I, you know, throw a little bit of cash your way? Because then it just makes it an agreement. It's like, you know, and most of the time people say no, but if I'm reaching out to people I don't know, then I'll usually offer some kind of monetary compensation and they can take it or not, so. Cool. Great, thank you.

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. :)