Composite Photography | NZ Photo Art
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Composite Photography

Composite Photography

One of the joys of the digital era of photography is the ability to create images that aren’t possible in reality. Sometimes the best way to create a particular look or solve a technical problem is to illuminate and photograph the varying elements of the product separately, and then combine or composite the photos. This ensures that all aspects of the product are displayed with the best possible lighting within the final image, in order to create a finished photo of superior quality.

Composite photography is a technique I use very often. The images of the bottle are perhaps the simplest example of composite photography. First of all, the camera needs to be mounted on a sturdy tripod, and I also use a wireless remote or shutter release cable so I never need to touch the camera and risk shifting the image plane. It is important that the bottle also stay in the exact same position and doesn’t move at all. Then I only move and change the lighting positioning, intensity and the hardness of the lights.

The first photo was taken with the light right from behind the bottle, in order to show the glow and bring out the colour of the bottle and liquid inside. It was also done to avoid the lights reflecting on the glass, which can be a challenge if the lights are in front of the bottle. The problem you get however, with lighting the bottle from behind is that the label and the cap appear almost black due to a lack of light from the front.

In the second photo, I moved the lights to the side front position of the bottle to illuminate the label and the cap of the bottle. When using composite photography, I always shoot all the photos with the same aperture settings and the same lens focal length.

To combine the two photos, I imported them as layers in Photoshop, an image processing program, and aligned them right on top of each other, with the second photo (side lighting) at the back. Then I carefully cut out the label and the cap on the first photo (photo on top) with a cutting tool (lasso tool), leaving only the label and the cap of the second photo visible. I merged the two photos or layers to give me a single image with every aspect of the bottle perfectly illuminated.

The most photos I have stacked on top of each other using composite photography is eleven. This technique is especially useful when photographing jewellery. Because of the many different elements often found in a single piece of jewellery (e.g. gold, white gold, diamonds, etc.), all need to be lighted differently. In fact, even a single diamond with its many facets needs to be illuminated from different angles. For some elements you need hard light, and for other soft light are required. Sometimes you also need warm light and cold light for different elements of the same product.

After these photos are taken, the “carving” starts. I cut out the unwanted parts of each photo using a cutting tool or a lasso tool where you can also change the ‘feather’ value to soften the edges of the selection. The eraser tool where you can adjust the setting from a hard brush to a soft brush are also very useful to remove parts of photos to blend in with other photos, in order to get only the best of each photo, leaving you with a superb image.

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