Photography Composites; Rangfinder Magazine, Cookbook

Photography Composites

August 15, 2006 By Joe Morahan

Everything changes when I step on the soccer field. For 90 minutes the world is reduced to a very small pitch of turf where 22 athletes compete. The exhaustion at game’s end is exquisite. Capturing such elusive feelings would prove a very difficult assignment. I’ve shot soccer many times before, but no shot I had taken adequately captured the emotional depth that I was looking for. So, after much trial and effort (and failure), I concluded I needed a composite shot, since nothing else was working.

• Camera: Canon 1D Mark II and Canon Elan
• Lens: Canon 80–200mm f/2.8
• Flash Card: Lexar 4GB
• Film: Fujichrome Provia 100
• Flash: Canon 550EZ
• Computer: Macintosh G5
• Software: Photoshop CS2
• Scanner: Nikon Scan 5000

By constructing a composite, I would be able create the scene I had in my mind’s eye and would have complete control of every element of the photograph.

I headed off to the beach—to shoot myself! I set up the camera and went to work. I would jump in the air and do bicycle kicks over and over. I would check my shot. Not quite right. The angle was wrong. My arm was out of place. The ball was too high. After 30 takes, I could not lift my right arm.

The next step was to shoot a beautiful tract of grass, simulating the thick, full pitch of a soccer field. I made sure to shoot the grass under the same lighting conditions. I then went to a local park and shot a hill so that the grass would carry over onto the horizon line. I now had the first two elements of the composite shot in place; I would have to wait for just the perfect sunset.

I would wait nearly a month for the conditions I needed. I wanted a cloud formation that was somewhat triangular in nature that would add depth to the composition in the final image. Finally, that day arrived and the clouds appeared about right. I gathered my gear and went to get the shot of the sky.

The final element of the picture is a shot of a friend of mine looking down from the clouds. I shot this beautiful picture of her and placed her within the thick, turbulent clouds—a graceful presence, overlooking from above.

Now that I had all five images shot, it was time to put all the elements together in Photoshop. This proved far more challenging than I had originally anticipated. I first arranged each image on its own layer, displaying it as large as possible for precise work. I used the Pen Tool to select and cut out individual elements and used a Quick Mask to isolate the grass. Next, I blended the different elements together. I applied a Gaussian Blur filter to the grass to help give the photograph depth, which also helped blend the sky and the grass together. I took time to make fine adjustments—to position the soccer ball relative to my body position, to blur the edge of the grass just so, to blend the sky at the horizon line just a tad more. In time the image took form. Because all shots were made in the similar lighting conditions, the pieces came together nicely. It is really kind of a cut and paste composite photograph.

Rangefinder Magazine
January 2006

Rf Cookbook by Joe Morahan

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Joe Morahan