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Creating Your Reality with Composite Photography

Lesson 3 of 60

What to Look for in Your Background


Creating Your Reality with Composite Photography

Lesson 3 of 60

What to Look for in Your Background


Lesson Info

What to Look for in Your Background

What to look for in a background shot. So, there's lots of ways that we can fake atmospheric depth. So, for example, I guess the first question would be what's atmospheric depth? When you go out to the mountains, and you look at the mountains, and you're like, okay there's a huge mountain range. And the first mountain is nice and clear and it's got lots of detail, lots of saturation. Next set of mountains back have less saturation, less detail, less contrast. Next mountain range after that, that's atmospheric depth. That's like stuff in the air that's creating things that look further away. So if I'm, for example, adding a mountain range into an image, I don't want to necessarily take an image of a mountain range that was shot close up if I'm gonna be putting it really far away. If I can shoot it in reality, and get it real, and get it exactly how it is, then my composite's gonna be even more believable. So if you want, you can fake it, but unless you're a photo-realistic painter, prob...

ably you're gonna be off by a little bit. And then it's the question of how much stuff you're gonna have put in the way and if anybody's even gonna notice. However, in my world, I love to create composites that people who really, really, really know what they're talking about can sit there and go, ah, you got that. (laughs) Which is nice because that's flattering, right? When you do something, it's like with any of us, if we talk to somebody who's a professional at what they do, and they sit there and they're like, oh, that little detail, you did that right. And you're like, yeah, somebody noticed the detail. That's awesome. So if you have, I like to photograph stuff with the proper atmospheric depth. So that means if I'm out photographing mountains, I'm probably gonna have a few different lenses with me. And then I'm gonna photograph close up mountains. So if I want close up mountains, I'm gonna photograph mountains that are further and further away. So if anybody watches the previous CreativeLive Photo Week that we did, we did one where we just added a mountain range really, really far away. Well, I photographed that mountain range really far away and that was intentional, so that I would have that footage to use it. So what to look for in a background shot. Try to match your lenses if you can, right? If you're buying stock then you're kind of guessing. But if you're out photographing it, try to match your lenses. Try to match your perspective. And always try to be aware of your white balance. White balance is extremely important as well. Watch your noise. So how much noise is in the image. You're gonna wanna watch how much sensor dust you have. (laughs) Which in my images is a lot. I got caught in a dust storm recently, so there might be some that we have to edit out. But in any case, all these things are stuff to keep in mind because you want to be able to make notes and then have that information going forward into the studio. So you want everything to be as consistent and coherent as possible. As far as background shots, and you talk about different lenses, do you have a specific focal length and aperture that you try to shoot at for most things? Yeah, well I generally will shoot, that's a really good question. So I will generally shoot background pieces at a variety of apertures. So that I have the options. But I have the ones I generally tend to use a lot are F11, F13, F8-ish. So stuff like that. (laughs) But that's just because when I'm in the studio, that's what I like to create. Yes. When you're saying match your lenses, are you talking about to what you're shooting in studio to your model shot than to your background? Yeah, try to keep it pretty close. Okay. Yeah. 'Cause I notice a lot it seems like you have a lot of wide, a lot of background, not information, but a wide shot for your background and then it's harder to kinda shoot wide within studios, and I was just wondering. Totally, yeah. About matching that. So generally, what I like to do is I'll shoot a background piece with a 16 to 35 mil lens. So generally 35 millimeter is a nice size to be shooting a background piece at. And then I'll photograph the model on a lens that's close but a little bit sharper. So I'll photograph the model on a 50 mil lens. Because in my 16 to 35, I don't know if everyone else's 16 to 35 is like this. My 16 to 35 is kinda soft. It's not super awesome. It's not the greatest for shooting that. But I want the subject, the model in my image, technically that would be my focal range. If I was photographing that person on location with a 16 to 35, or a 50 mil lens, they would be the sharpest point. So I don't mind using a lens that's a little bit sharper than the one I shoot my background with because they're gonna be the focus point. If they were not gonna be the focus point, then I would shoot it with a lens that would make it a little bit softer. I actually made a mistake once at a workshop. And this is where I learned that lesson. (laughs) Which is a great time to learn things when you're teaching. (laughs) I had photographed a background, it was three images stitched together, that I had photographed on a 35 mil lens. And then I photographed the model, because I was building, I wanted him to be really compressed, so I shot him with a 135 L. Anybody's who's ever shot with a 135 L, it's a beautiful lens and it's really sharp. And it was way too sharp for the frame. Way, way, way too sharp. So I was building the composite in the class, and I was like, why is this not working? This looks like, it just looks like a composite. What's going on? And then I realized, well, because the quality of the glass, and the 135 L, compared to the 16- that I was using is so much better. So it wound up being way sharper. So I had to add a point-three-pixel blur to my subject and basically undo all the awesomeness of the 135. (laughs) So that's one of the things that can happen. When you say that you wanna be really aware of white balance, is that gonna help with the exposure of what you add to the picture or is that something you change in Photoshop or how, or of lighting for something you're putting in the background as opposed to the main subject? Exactly, yeah. Being aware of the lighting that's going on is also extremely important. So if I have hard-core directional light on my background, and then I wanna put my subject in, and I'm like, but I don't want a rim light, it's gonna look kinda weird, right? So once again, the direction of light is also very important. The exposure of course, you can adjust a little bit in post-production depending on how far you want to push it though, sometimes it can be a lot of noise or it can give you a lot of color damage depending on how you're underexposing your image. So generally I try to keep things within a certain range. But then again, if I'm experimenting, like I said, when I'm out shooting backgrounds, I'll shoot the stuff that's the formula that I normally do, and then I'll photograph some stuff that's just like, nah, I have 2.8, whatever. (laughs) Just see what happens, right? So it's, when I go out, I'll shoot terabytes of images for background pieces. And then I just kind of catalog them. I mean I can see them when I'm going through the photos. You can check the meta data and see like, okay this was shot at F2.8, this was shot at F11. With different ISO, different noise, right? So if you're out photographing your backgrounds, I just shoot for tons of options, since I'm like, I don't know when I'm going to be in Hawaii again. (laughs) So, I don't know how to vacation. If I go somewhere for vacation, I'm like, I haven't been here before. And then I'm just out shooting stuff and I don't vacation at all. (laughs) So, do we have any more questions on background shots? I will go further into this going forward, but if there's any... We're peachy? Awesome. Understanding the potential of your location. So this goes into my general theory on life, which is don't see everything for what it is, but see it for what it can be. So when you're on a location, and you're like, running around in some lava fields or whatever, which is, I just mentioned Hawaii, so I was there a couple years ago. And so you're sitting here like, this lava field is awesome. It was one of the pictures actually at the top right, the two, the couple with the lava fields. And I was like, oh yeah, it's horribly sunny out, massively directional light, and I was like (groans) but we're in lava fields, so I can't really complain too much. So what's the potential of that? What are the things I could do with that? Well, I could build buildings out of the lava fields. I could just start cutting it up and shaping, and puppet warping and ask my friends who know more about architectural design than I do, and be like, hey, I wanna build stuff. So that's a potential. It's not just seeing it as like, oh it's just a lava field. You just start hacking it up, right? So then, if you're running down a path and you photograph this awesome path and you're like, oh man, I just love the way it winds, but I can't really stand the buildings that are in the way. And you go, okay well, maybe I'll cut the buildings out. And they'll be like, okay what can I do if I replace it, I cut the buildings out. I'm like, I don't know, let's add some tall trees and some rainforesty crap that I got from over here and the grass looks kind of similar, right? So it's seeing everything not for what it is, but for what it can be. And that's totally up to you. Every single person, so I've taught a lot of workshops on compositing. And I'll give people the exact same stock files, and I have never had a class where two people shot the exact same thing. It hasn't happened. So that means, that's awesome. (laughs) That's exciting. That means that every single person, when you go somewhere, is gonna see something different. Which means when you're sitting down at your computer, and you're creating, you're gonna see something different from somebody else. It doesn't mean that sometimes there won't be similarities, but who cares? (laughs) So find a model who matches your story. So this is something that I see that happens a lot in artwork, where someone will create this amazing image, but then there's something off about the subject. And you're like, okay, why is there a bikini model with a tramp stamp tattoo, which is fine, I have no issue with either one of those, but why is somebody like that in an image that is styled 1920s? And like, this isn't coherent. It doesn't make sense. It's just, your subject is just as important as your background piece is for coherence and for making your story make sense. So there's general stereotypes for what's out there, and there's a reason why stereotypes exist. All right, so let's say you wanna do something that's really, really, really high-fashion. Generally those men and women are long, they're lean, and they're extremely slender. You wanted to do something pinup-y. Generally, of course not always, but generally the stereotype is, those women are size eight, size 10, size 12. Which is great. But try to keep everything coherent. All right, it's very, very strange to see certain things not making sense in the image. And you don't want once again, this goes back to somebody looking at your image and going like, oh that's really awesome, but. And you're like, oh no, not the but. (laughs) You don't want the but, you want people to be like, oh my God, that's really, really awesome. All the things are coherent. So if I'm photographing somebody who, wants this really awesome post-apocalyptic thing, I'm gonna ask, well do you have anything post-apocalyptic? (laughs) And sometimes people do. People are like, yeah, I do this kinda cosplay, and you're like, yeah. All right, so it's fine if people who are into that kinda stuff and I'm gonna elaborate on that in a little bit, but finding a model that matches your story is going to make everything once again one more step further into being cohesive.

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. :)