Composite Lighting Photography Oct12


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Composite Lighting Photography


  • Easy to setup
  • Only one light needed
  • Control lighting in post
  • A unique look that is easily editable and customizable
  • Works for multiple scenes and applications – from houses and interiors, to cars and products

Equipment needed:

  • A sturdy tripod
  • A light source (strobe or static will work)
  • Shutter trigger (not required, but highly recommended)

Before you begin, make sure your tripod is stabilized and locked down in that position. Since the process of this style is overlaying the same photograph on top of each other, even the slightest bump or movement of the tripod can cause huge headaches when in post. Put a barrier around it, weigh it down with sandbags, do whatever you need to do to make sure the tripod and camera does not move – one of the reasons we suggest investing in a shutter trigger.

On your first shot, take an ambient base shot. This is a shot with no lighting involved, just a plain shot of your subject in ambient natural light. This will be the first layer and will act as a reference and base to the rest of the layers you will stack on top. That way you can preview a before and after shot to see if the lighting is what you want.

Make sure on the ambient shot that the darks aren’t crushed and your lights aren’t blown out. Detail in both your highlights and shadows is key in this shot.

When lighting, your goal is to light up as many faces of the object as possible. Each shot you take is an option you will have in post and will allow you more more creative liberty to do what you want with the lighting once editing your project. Every shot is a key light and every shot is a rim light. It’s up to you in post to decide what lighting works best.

Look at your lighting options. For example, with a car you want to light up the interior, maybe underneath the carriage for a nice underglow, the inside of the lamps, and the car emblem. Every small detail will go a long way in the final composite image.

For the most part, only one exposure will be needed which saves a lot of time, but with all the options you have in lighting, you can really make your scene look unique.

Post Editing and Compositing

In Photoshop, make your base layer your ambient shot. This will be your reference. From there, stack each photo on top of that. I’ve never had to worry about the order, because you’re only keeping the part of the layer you want most for each shot.

Now what comes afterwards is the fun part by erasing everything but the lighting you wish to keep, but before doing that, you should mask the layers you are working on by going to Layer> Layer Mask> Reveal All. What this will do is allow you to erase portions of the photo without destroying the actual layer itself that would occur with normal erasing. If you made a mistake and want to go back to the original state of that image, just go to Layer> Layer Mask> Delete.

Since each layer is the same photo with different lighting, just go through and start erasing the portions you don’t want to keep. This should leave just the lit portion. Now start doing this with each layer. What you should start seeing is a composite of all your shots in one image.

Remember the details. Even the smallest detail can enhance your image. Look for logos, random plastic bits, blemishes, color, contrast and especially shading for each portion of your composite object. Each one of these can drastically enhance the overall look of your image and draw eyes to parts of the object or scene that would most of the time be ignored.

The goal is to make it look as if you had 20+ lights, grids, flags and reflectors to shoot your project. There is nothing better than hearing someone ask how many lights were needed to create your shot and revealing that you used only one. The trick is by doing something that could realistically be done with enough equipment and lighting skill, with only one light.

On the other hand, if you get too carried away, there is nothing worse than someone asking if you used Photomatix to compile your HDR garbage shot followed by “My 13 year-old has that program too!”

With these tips, we hope you have success in creating unique and outstanding images. If you have any questions or would like to share your images using this technique, contact us any time on Twitter @aesonica, @mardenblake, or @kimguanzon.

Have fun!
-Marden Blake & Kim Guanzon