October 2013

Compositing…easier than your think

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of compositing.  I’ve seen it done for years and I’ve played with it in the past and I wasn’t very happy with the end results much of the time.  Like anything else, it’s a ‘season to taste’ thing and someone’s style may or may not be interesting to you.  I’m starting to like my own work and that’s all anyone can expect…liking ones own work.

It’s not as hard as it seems.  There are plenty of tutorials on how to select a person out of a picture and then paste them into another with a background.  I found what I like to do it differently and for me it looks more natural.

Masking is important.  You need to know how to do that for sure, and it’s way simpler than you’d think.  By the way, when you learn masking you usually use black to paint in and white to reverse it.  Consider that a gray in the middle can also paint in with built in opacity.  It’s that kind of playing that gives you options and options are good.

Midnight slinger

Brooke Cameron – Model

Here’s an example.

Above: The fog was in the original shot…much easier that way.  Obviously the contrast and saturation was bumped and a little liquify was used to add motion to her hair and coat.  I masked the background from a layer but I didn’t select her and place her in as is usually done.  I actually did a simple brush in so that her hair wasn’t choppy.  I find this is often a preferred way for me because I can let a little of the color of a background fad into the skin or clothes around the edges.  For example, if there is fire in the background, having a little bleed into an arm on the edge shows a bit of light reflection and adds a LOT to the look.  You can also not blend in where there should be a shadow and it works well.  Main thing is to play and have fun.


Katrina Coon – Model – Erika Antunez of Antunez Artistry – MUA/Hair

If you look close at Katrina’s left arm and some of her belly you’ll see that I intentionally blushed some background ocean in and it looks like a fade.  This is because mermaids aren’t really real…or so they say.  So I wanted to add some subliminal wistfulness to the shot.

I simply use a brush and carefully run around the subject and with a fuzzy edge on the brush I’ve found I can get close to the skin and it looks fine.  Sometimes you might see a slight dark edge were I didn’t get that close but unless you are looking for it it’s not that noticeable to the casual viewer.  The story should keep their minds eye on the pictures as a whole and not the details.

I don’t use a lot of layers.  When I have the composition pretty much like I want it I might use a layer adjustment to make the brightness match like I want.  There is a neat way to make an adjustment layer only affect the single layer under it.  When it’s good I flatten it and then start playing with filters.  Usually the NIK Color Effects Pro.

Once done I save it back to Lightroom where I hit the Basics one more time adjusting contrast, shadows, and whites and blacks to get the look I like.

Enjoy.  Play.  And you know where I am if you have questions.


The three C’s of a great shoot

At first it was a bit annoying when I went into a shoot with a preconceived idea of what I wanted and others would make suggestions.  Of course, there is a time you need to have a focus on a specific look and idea for a client.  But if you are shooting for the fun of seeing what you can do and honing your skills, this is what I’ve found makes a great deal of difference in the outcome.

Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity

A photo shoot isn’t a good place to be shy.  If you have an idea, speak up.  And no, not all of your or anyones ideas will be used, but often even a lacking idea sparks a thread of thought that creates better ideas.  I often let the makeup artist and hair stylist chat with the model and see what they have always wanted to try.  If they come up with an idea everyone is happy with we head in that direction.

For example, this mermaid shoot wasn’t something I would have actually considered.  I’d shot for 4 years and avoided the seemingly required ‘mermaid’ shoot but they wanted to do it and I figured it was a good place to get creative.  So sure.  It became a lighting challenge where I had to envision the final scene.  My creativity contribution.  This, for me, was a LOT of fun even though the model had to take my word for it.  Trust is good.


So, with some communications the ideas flowed.  Everyone was creative in their own way.  The makeup artist, Erika, brought bras with shells and pearls glued to them and did some neat little scale type patterns on Katrina, the model. While they were doing makeup I started digging around in the prop room looking for things we could use and found a net hammock that worked just fine.  And, of course, Katrina did some wonderful under water type poses with my explanations of how she will be in the water with light from above.

All three Cs were using full steam in this shoot.


In the pirate example above Rebecca and Raygan, her mother, collaborated with Rubii, the makeup artist/hair stylist and came up with the idea of a ship in her hair.  I had the ship!  So, we made it happen and it came out wonderful.  Another very creative day indeed.

Looking over any very creative shoot I’ve done it was full of communication between all involved and that lead to energetic collaboration in every aspect.  Everything from hair and makeup to lighting to props to what music we listen to while we create.

Then again, it’s those three Cs that set the mood and it becomes fun and creates the energy in the shoot.  And the energy is very important.

Perception of affordability…



The story you are about to read is true.  The names would have been changed to protect the innocent but I can’t remember them anyhow.

When I was a young snap I worked for Radio Shack.  Back when they actually had radios and it wasn’t a cell phone store.  It was actually a lot of fun and I enjoyed it.  I was fresh out of high school and as most my age I lived from paycheck to paycheck with usually $3 in my pocket at any point in time.

It was typical for the district manager to come spend a day in the store just observing and working with the manager.  I was not the best salesman by any means but I did pretty well.  I had no idea just how close I was being watched on this day.

At the end of the day, John (might actually be his real name), the district manager came over to chat with me as I cleaned the display cases for the next day.  He said, “I noticed you sell a lot of the $7 and $14 multi-meters.”  Now, we had meters from $7 to $150 all lined up nice in the display.  He was right, I sold a ton of those puppies.  He then asked me why I didn’t sell the more expensive ones.  I explained that the cheaper ones did the job for the customers needs and he agreed that they probably did.

Then we chatted about some other things going on with the company and some upcoming training and such.  Pretty typical visit.

Then, just before he left he reached in his pocket and took out a $100 bill and handed it to me.  He told me not to spend it.  Just keep it in my wallet hidden away and forget I had it.  This was a strange request and he gave no answer as to why he wanted me to do this.  But, John was a cool guy.  I just shrugged and hid it away in my wallet.


A month goes by.

John comes for his usual visit and everything went as it always did as he wandered around with the manager and they left me to care for customers.

At the end of the day we chatted again.  The $100 had been totally forgotten by me.

John then mentioned casually that he’d noticed over the last month I’d sold a lot of the $75 and $100 meters.  Since I was the one who ordered them I could confirm that we kept running out of the more expensive models now.  I found it strange indeed that the customers were, all of a sudden, buying the better meters.

He then asked, “You really don’t know why you sold the better meters?”  I shook my head no.

What he said then changed my life to this day, some 40 years later.

“Dave, you sold those more expensive meters yourself.  Nothing about the customers changed at all.  They came in wanting a meter and you sold them one, plain and simple.  It was you.”  Now I looked more puzzled than normal.  “Do you remember that $100 bill I gave you to hold in your wallet?”  I did.

He went on to explain that before he’d given me that bill I had very little money in my pocket.  And I just assumed people walking through the door probably didn’t have much more.  It’s human nature to assume that even subconsciously.  So, I would sell them meters I thought they could afford.  $7 and $14 meters.

Since John had given me that $100 bill I subconsciously thought everyone had a $100 in their pocket.  I had put it out of my conscious mind but it was there.  So, I started selling the bigger and more expensive meters because, well, everyone could afford it, right?  Sure, I still sold some $7 meters but from that point on, I sold based on what’s best for the customer, not what I thought they could afford.

It’s not our place to determine what others can afford.  It’s up to us to provide the best product or service and price it fairly and let the customer make the choice.

And yes, you can ask me at any time to see my $100 bill.  I always have one in my pocket…and for the last 40 years.