Composite Photography Critique
My name is Pratik Naik. I was gonna say Blake, but it's not Blake.
I'm Pratik. I'm a commercial editorial retoucher, and this is my friend Blake.
Hello, I'm Blake. I run f64 Academy where I also do critique sessions there. So I'm really excited to look at what you guys have submitted for us.
Yeah, so let's jump into it.
Let's do it.
And see what happens. Okay, so the best thing is we don't really know who submitted these images. So we can be as honest as possible, which is great. So even if they're our friends, then it doesn't really matter If we hurt their feelings.
You wanna take it first?
Sure. What I like about this is the mystery of what I'm looking at, and it's almost like a post apocalyptic, futuristic, type of thing. But I think what they've done with the color grading has really helped me feel that, you know? Like the way the colors have that, it looks like they paid a lot of attention to that. I also enjoy the footsteps leading up to where they are...
. Showing me like a time and place, that they've reached this place, and they've seen this place, and they're documenting it, or for whatever purposes that might be.
So it tells a story, and I think it tells a story successfully. I also enjoy compositionally where the things are placed, in our reading from left to right. Yeah, looks pretty good.
The best part is the fact that even if they took 10 different plates, you have no idea. Just because the fact that they've blended everything quite nicely. Even the tonality fade from the foreground to the background, it's as if you believe that there's actually sand coming in play, which is fantastic.
Exactly, yeah, with that, definitely has that nice glow to it too, especially with their choice of sky, I think is really good here, because you know, we might be tempted to do like a really epic sunset, you know--
I wanna do a sun flare coming in the left, don't do that.
No, no, because I think what they've done is if they did that, it would distract from the story that's being told from those three individuals.
I even love the fact that there's a little bit of green still, right there behind them. I have no idea, and I wanna know more. So whoever did this, make this a series, I think it would be phenomenal.
I agree 100% with that.
Actually, you know what, they did do a sun flare, but it's not as noticeable. It's like a hand made a little flare left, which is beautiful. Okay, let's go to our next one. Alright, so this image, to me, I think is a great second image because the first image really set it off at a right pace, 'cause you see everything that was done really well. I think this image is not bad, but there's some variations that could be tightened up. Like, for example the lighting on the boat, it does seem to reflect the lighting on the subject. And, I don't know if you agree with me or not, but when you have a light source coming from the front like that, you know, the shadows wouldn't be as deep set in the boat, maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but to me it just doesn't match the scene completely.
I think I like the story that they're trying to tell with it. I think it's a great starting point, definitely. But, there's these techniques that you can use in Photoshop that are really unique, specifically for composite photography, and how you match colors, and make them blend as if, you know, this layer's this layer, and this layer is this layer, but how do you make them look seamless, and one of those things is with color grading, and you know, the staple trick is to take a stamp, average it out, and then soft light it in so that you get the nice colors of what would be basically a blend of all the colors and what you've given it, but a nice soft effect over top of that. So that would be one really quick technique that would unify the colors of the individual, with the colors
I like that.
of the background.
Yeah, and also gives you a good reference point as to how far you have to go, or haven't gone, 'cause otherwise you just don't know sometimes. What else? What about the sky? Do you think, should anything be changed with the sky? Or do you like how it is overall?
I think the thing about the sky is that it makes it tricky to understand the light source like you say, on the female subject, on the front, because to me that seems more of like a cloudy, overcast day. But, you know that we're photographers so we can make the light wherever we want light to be. So, while we say that, because it doesn't quite jive, it's because we know that it's a composite photo. But they could have had a strobe there, you know.
Right, yeah, it's true.
So we don't really know.
And when you look at stuff like movie posters, you know that all goes out the window sometimes. Like there was a pirate movie, and they put people's faces with the wrong line directions on each of the faces, it drove me crazy. But then when I asked my friends, they were like, I don't see anything. I don't understand you, it looks great.
'Cause we can be overly critical. I think when we put the hat on of the photographer, we can be really critical of something like this. But if we put the hat on of the viewer, you know, you might fool people with this. So it's not, I don't wanna discourage anybody in any way shape or form, because like I said, you've got a really good baseline for a foundation, just needs something to push it to the next level.
So, I feel, for me personally, something doesn't really work about this image. I think the extraction itself is good, in the sense where technically it's fine, but the blend is different. Like, the color toning doesn't match, the color grading doesn't match the background, 'cause I feel like the backdrop is more subdued and has a different grade, and the subject being too saturated, and too neutral. I think that might need work, and the complementary colors don't compliment, they're off. The blues are a bit off, they need to be more harmonious, the sand colors with the dress. It needs to be a little bit closer together, I think. That's what I feel.
I do enjoy the colors that are happening in it, though. I just think that with the blues and the oranges that you have happening in the background versus the blues and the oranges they have in the foreground, from a contrast perspective, it's really pulling the figure away from the image, like really far away. When if you wanna unify them, if you subdued some of the saturation in those colors, I think you'd have a more unified palette where you could almost see this person in that environment. My concern is though, it looks like a desert, like this would be the place where I'm like, oh give me some water, I'm dying for water.
Like, why is he so happy?
But you know, they're really happy, which, maybe that is their environment, but it just seems a little bit awkward. Maybe if there was a building in the background that they composited in there too, which then gives it like a place, like, okay, he's not that far from water, I can relate to that a little bit more, you know? But that's more of like a critique on the story I guess than a critique on the image itself. But I really do enjoy the color palette here. And I really don't mind the difference in the color with the foreground and the background, I just think the saturation might be a little bit too high in the foreground compared to the background. I don't know.
Yeah, you're right, and you bring up a good point because we always come back to story because ultimately, compositing's about story. If you don't have a purpose and why you're compositing something, you have to ask yourself why are you doing this. Like, even if you look at yourself or Joel Grimes, or anybody who does composites, there's a story element at play you never really think about until you really look for it, and then you're like, okay, I understand why we did a composite, not just a composite. But on technical skill we see the problems, but think even greater, 'cause now we have a character, and put him somewhere where we're more intrigued of what he's doing there, rather than kind of like smiling by himself. That would be more important. But even also, is for some reason what also bothers me is right above him, in the sky, it's really bright, it's like a halo effect going around him. I kinda wish that part was a little bit darker so it doesn't look like it's standing out unnecessarily.
I think you have to either, it's kind of in the middle. Either own up to a big highlight, or you own up to a little bit darker.
That's true, that's a good point. Oh, you go first on that one.
So, this is like the upgraded version of the crazy cat lady, you know. She's got the tigers.
Oh man. Yeah, she's a bad cat lady.
And I like the vintage look of it. I like the color grading that they've come off with here. I'm also a big fan of the rule of threes in art. It's one of those things that if you're in art school, and you're classically trained, and you have two things in there, someone's like, always in a critique session, well, why don't you just add a third, make that a triangle, you know.
But, you know, if you look at the triangles that are happening here in that composition, you have a really strong nice diagonal that's coming across from the top to the bottom, but then you also have almost another triangle that's happening between the heads, so there's a relationship there that I'm really enjoying compositionally. I'm enjoying it, even though we have this head on chair. If this head on chair didn't have any figures in it, it would be a boring chair. But they were using compositional elements of the tigers and the female figure to offset that in a way. But the color grading, I enjoy the color grading. The story though, that's the interesting part. It's like, you know, this person's brave enough to hang out with three tigers, even though they're babies, but the mom is not too far away. I think from a critical standpoint, I would probably maybe do something to bring her up a little bit. You know, just give her a little bit more of something, whether she has more saturation, or she has more highlights, something to draw the eye to her rather than the whites of the tigers' ears, 'cause I'm going right to those tigers, and I almost don't notice her.
You know, if I was the artist, I'd be like, that was intentional, I meant to do that, 'cause I want the focus to be just on the tigers, which could be the case, you just never know.
It could be, yeah. That's a critical thing though, I do enjoy it.
Yeah, and the other interesting thing is the fact that they were really aware of the saturation levels, like we talked about in the previous one, 'cause this one has more of a uniform saturation across, and it really does show you how things can get out of balance really easily, and just being aware of those small things can make such a massive difference. Even the shadow play, like the tigers are obviously, I'm gonna say obviously, maybe they were shot there, probably not, 'cause this is a composite course, but if the tigers were shot separately in a different lighting situation, they understood lighting enough to paint the shadows in where it doesn't look fake, 'cause that was a really hard area, especially with the curvature on his face, and they got the shadows on the tiger really well.
I think they did, and you know, looking at it, it almost appears like those tigers should be there, which I think it is a good composite in that right.
Very well done. Okay, great. Oh wow, this is beautiful. Now, the only downside about doing critique is you can't see the pixel level. You know, you can't see exactly. For us, it could be like, oh this is amazing, and then they're looking at something going, what do you mean, look at the edges. We can't always see the edges so keep that in mind. But on the surface, this feels to me very fine art. Everything from the color palette to how it was blended. I'm gonna assume the butterflies weren't there. I mean, it would be such an amazing moment if it was, but probably isn't. Maybe not even the flowers, I don't really know. But I think it was done overall quite well. Even like the way the shadows are really soft. It really helps the mood, and people don't talk often about choosing colors or intensity of the shadows for the mood itself.
Exactly, and there's a lot of play that's happening here with the colors, and you know, during Ben Von Wong's talk yesterday when he was talking about commonplace things that we make look interesting, when you look at this, it's almost like, I'm thinking, is this a composite? What part of this is a composite? Did they put the flowers in? Did they put the background in? Did they put the girl in? Did they put all of it in? Did they put the butterflies in? Was this five different elements? Or was it one or two? So, because we don't know what that is, it makes it, I think, more intriguing as a good composite because we can't tell.
So they fooled us.
Right, they fooled us. I can't tell.
I do wonder know, I kinda wanna know more, especially with the story, 'cause this leads me to wanna know what's happening outside the frame. I'm like, where is she? Is she in England? Is she in Kansas? Like, where is she? Probably not Kansas, it doesn't look very Kansasy.
I don't know, I mean, Kansas isn't that bad over there, Kansas City.
Let's go to also about the choice in wardrobe. When you're doing composites, is it better to keep wardrobe the same? Is it better to switch it out later? Do you always have the option to do that?
Right. As far as what she's wearing?
You know, that's the interesting thing about composite work too, is sometimes I ask myself, would any normal person do this? Would they walk in half naked to some roses and to some butterflies? I mean--
What, you don't do that?
But you know, we also see that in painting too though. I mean, if you look at the old school painting, you look at art history, you see a lot of this stuff happening in art history. So, you know, it's always that thematic element that happens throughout the artistic nature of a scene. So, I don't wanna take away from that, but at the same time, like hmm, I don't know if I would ever do that. But I like it. I'm not saying that's a bad thing.
Sure, sure, sure. Yeah, definitely. It's funny, it's almost like high fashion. When you look at the runway, you see these clothes coming down the runway thinking, who's gonna wear that in real life? And then you realize, well it makes a good picture, so maybe
it's not a bad idea. Who knew it was such a time, right? Okay, you can take the lead on this one.
What I like about this is I do enjoy the symmetry slash assymetry that's happening with her dress and the position of things. I enjoy the color grading, and I can see all the different elements, but I don't know if I necessarily mind it because of the way they have pulled those elements together, especially with the way the moon is kind of giving off that color cast, which is also putting that color cast into those clouds in the background, which all leads down to this, what I just learned earlier, the Gestalt principle of composition, which I kind of enjoy that. 'Cause, you know, if you look at it for face value, and look at the positive space, the positive space says one story, but the negative space around it has that same type of shape and structure that brings you into the image. So while it is centered, I don't think it's badly centered because of the way the elements are working together.
Yeah, and you made a really great point earlier, it's if you own something, do it really well, or like, bring it out substantially. In this case, it definitely looks fantasy, but in a good way, because you can definitely tell it was intentional, but not accidental, and it really completes everything. And obviously, it might not be like fine art per se, but it's still very fantasy-based, and it has it's place, and it's very confident in what it's trying to portray. Whether or not it's to everyone's taste is a different story, but they've executed their job from what I think they're communicating to us.
Exactly, and the shadows in the drapery, I really do appreciate the shadows and the highlights in the drapery. Paying attention to that detail to bring that stuff out, which is very much like, you know, your classically trained painters, where they would, you know, drapery was always a thing in my painting days. I could never paint drapery, it always looked like--
I said, no, no drapes for me.
Yeah, it was like, black white, black white, like doesn't look like it just transitions. So when I see it I can appreciate it, and I do appreciate that there.
Definitely. Alright. Wow. That's cool. The only thing that I'm transfixed with is actually paying attention to his movement through the whole thing. That I really like a lot. The only thing that does bother me though, is the non-equidistant nature. Maybe that does exemplify how fast he's going at certain angles, but I feel like I wanna see one more frame right between the last one and the second-last one. Aside from that, I think everything looks really cool.
The background is kind of competing with my attention though.
Oh yeah, you're right.
I like the idea of what's happening here, but with the background, I almost get lost in the background and think, oh where is that? You know, what road is that? What street is that? What city is that? So I'm wondering if the choice of background, might be better to do something a little bit more, a little less recognizable. One of the things that they taught in art school was, if you're gonna put text in something, or something recognizable, make sure it's really important. Because if it's in there, the viewer is gonna go to it, and it's gonna distract from your focal point, unless that focal point is your text. So the recognizable shapes and structures here that I'm looking at are the recognizable words, and the recognizable idea that that could be my city, but now I wanna know which city is that, 'cause it is a very plain, ordinary looking city background. And then I'm like, oh wait, but then there's this person doing this really cool thing.
Yeah, then the afterthought comes in.
Exactly. So, that might be intentional, like this guy's doing something exceptional while the rest of the world is doing their daily routine.
Oh, like a juxtaposition.
And maybe that's the story.
Now you're going to into psychology here.
Exactly, exactly. So that could be a good story that they're going down. And they might be at home thinking, yeah, that's exactly what I was doing. And then that's okay. But that's why we look at these things and talk about these things
Finally somebody understands.
as the critiquer and critiquee relationship, especially when we don't have these individuals here to see what their reaction is, to see, to talk to them about that, is that all we can do is talk about the things that we see, and based on our experience, give them maybe a little bit of advice based on our experience. So I'm sure they got something decent from that, I don't know what.
It is, and also makes you wonder why it might be that most of the people who shoot this type of work also I've noticed, in conjunction, they always light from the back, and highlight subjects. Everything is darker, so that the focus is on them. So, that's interesting. That probably was my favorite critique, just because seeing things that you would never consider otherwise. Oh, this is interesting. Okay, so, I assume this is more of a Halloween kind of thing going on here. I understand what they're trying to do, they're trying to make somebody coming out of the woods, or out of the tree, but I feel like the execution was probably not very good, in the sense where it could be more realistic. Maybe having more elements around the area that they're coming out of, so it doesn't blend in endlessly, having an area where, oh wow, she really is coming through. But aside from that, I'm not too in love with the concept and the composition, so that's kind of my overall thinking.
I think it's interesting. It's an interesting take on a portrait. But I think what bothers me about it is not the concept, it's the fact that this tree is so centralized and grounding. There's a lot of dynamic things happening with the face, facial features, the torment and the stress that this being is under, but then they're just boom, they're locked into this rigid tree structure, which can go both ways. It could be, well, that's why this person is frustrated and trying to break out of it.
That's why I'm frustrated, yeah.
I'm trying to get out of here. Or, it could be that they didn't really think of that. So maybe like a tree with more branches, or maybe if those branches that were coming out had more thematic elements to this, I think it could be a good story. But it's a little too tight for us. So if they backed out with a wide angle, and showed us a little bit more of this tree, and maybe some of the things that were coming down from this tree, that were also very similar to this creature, you might have a better execution on that. So I think, again, it's one of those things where I think you've got a really good starting point, you've got a good idea, but how do we push that to a level that when people see it, 'cause we have two hats. We have the viewer hat, and we have the photographer hat. It's very easy for us to be critical as photographers, but then we put the viewer hat on, that's where we get to look at the story, and we get to look at the thematic elements. So from a story's perspective, I think it could tell a really interesting story with a little bit more. But from the photographer's aspect, where we get into that, well, you know,
I'm being critical--
I'm being little critical here, here, and here. And it's acceptable, that's what critique is for, 'cause you need to hear both sides.
And even better is when you go back and look at your own work from Flickr days, or at least Flickr days for me were way back, and seeing some of the composites I used to do, I used to be so proud of it, right? But the thing is, you just never know until you go back and see it.
It also helps to have somebody with experience to help with that. 'Cause if you put it on Facebook or something like, your mom's gonna be like, oh you do such great work.
Oh, 100 likes. All the cousins and family, definitely.
But you know, in order to grow, you need to hear the hard truths about it. So I think that there's a good concept going on here, execution might be changed with a couple, very small adjustments.
It's true, because like you say, when you look at this on the surface, it's okay, but like you said, doing something like even pulling back, 'cause the theme that's been going on is a lot of times pulling back seems to solve a lot of issues when you see the context and the story. So again, everyone work on the story, 'cause that's the biggest thing.
Yeah, especially in composite photography 'cause you get the opportunity to tell a story.
That's right, yeah. Okay, great. Let's see. Oh, this is cool. Okay, so for me, I think this reminds me of Ben's, of Von Wong's work, just because this is something I can imagine his concept, he would do. He loves fire, he loves fantasy, he loves darkness, and I really like how everything was put together. The moon is a little bit competing for me. Also a couple of elements like the top of the hat where the orange is, it's coming into play when I'm trying to focus on one certain theme. So I kinda got lost there, especially with the rim light on her, maybe toning that down a little bit. But if you're going for theatrics, I think it really hit the mark, especially this time of year too.
Right. You know when we look at, I like to talk about things in terms of contrast planes a lot of times, 'cause we have focal planes when we're talking about different apertures, but we also have contrast planes where the contrast on her is very stark, and the contrast on the background we have these very faded mid-tone areas that don't really blend well, I think, and it's separating her a little too far away from the background. So maybe getting a little bit more contrasting in the background might help to tie the two of them together. But I'm right there with you on the orange of the flowers, which is a great opportunity if you're, get a huge saturation adjustment layer and just click it, change it, mask it, and make that, that could be your accent color. You know, that could be maybe where you start to tie in any color you want. It's like that, the Wizard of Oz thing, the horse of a different color, just modify the hue a little bit, and you can make those oranges blue, you can make those oranges red to match her outfit so that it takes away from, 'cause there's a nice relationship happening with that moon and that fire, but then we've got the same color orange flowers that are competing with that.
So for people who don't really know how to modify certain, not technically, but what colors to pick from, what do you recommend as far as where to study, what to look at in terms of color balance and things?
That's a great question. Teaching it next, is color theory.
Oh perfect. Oh what a coincidence.
Yeah, the color wheel. I mean, that is our cheater system, cheat code for what colors to select, and you choose your colors based off of what that wheel tells you, and you can do a lot with it.
I'm really excited to see your next class because like you said, it's not even about the story, but a lot of times, people are close, but it's having that cohesive color palette through the image, and knowing how to do it is so critical. Great. What do you think also about keeping things in background completely in focus? Like the moon's in focus, background's in focus, should there be separation with focus as well with something like this, or not really?
I think so, because you get to choose your focal planes at this point. I think their angle is really interesting because it makes her look much bigger which is cool. It lifts her up a little bit. But there is a little bit of a difference in the focal length, I think there. The blur that I'm seeing there from what would be whatever aperture they chose. But the moon is a little bit too much. It's almost like the moon is in focus, she's in focus, and the things in the middle are kinda out of focus. So if the thing in the middle is out of focus, throw the thing in the background out of focus too.
Exactly. Cool, let's go to this one, and this will be our last one. And I think overall my favorite part about this is the depth. I really like the way they've incorporated foreground, background, and middle ground, and just how it all kind of harmonizes together with like a childlike feel. I found the emotion to be the forefront for me for this image, even more than anything else. And everything else seems good. The only thing that I really have to critique on that really stands out to me is that in the background, on the top right there's two little portraits, they're competing for my attention, 'cause they're in focus, and the surrounding backdrop is also white, and the leaves aren't, so I wanna neutralize that. But I do like this image overall.
I think so too. I mean, there's a lot of really good compositional elements, but we do have that stumbling block of the white border around that because that's our frame, so we're going right to that frame to see what's in there. But I think that does kind of tie the story together too 'cause once you look at that frame, and then you look at the other frames around it, you see that she is painting, drawing different ideas of herself, almost as if she's trying to figure out who the person is that she wants to be. I like the concept and the story that's being told here through the act of being an artist, 'cause as an artist, I mean, we're kinda like actors. We get to draw whoever we wanna be, or paint whoever we wanna be.
Well or not well.
Well or not well.
You don't wanna see my paintings. Yeah, so I like the story and I love the colors, especially this time of year, with fall in the US. And then the leaves having depth, so we're seeing the depth through the leaves also. The leaves coming forward are really blurry, and then we get to see that transition going to back. Very successful. And good color grading palette too.
Oh yeah, definitely. It's beautiful. So I wanna thank everyone for submitting their images. They were exceptional. I think we got a good range of things.