bill-simonesm

When Brad asked me if I would be interested in being a guest blogger on Scott’s site, I immediately said yes. It is one of my frequented sites and It seems I always learn something when I visit.  However, being a visual person, writing does not come easy for me, and a long period of procrastination ensued. So thanks to Scott and Brad for their patience with me! I am thrilled to be here.

I have chosen a piece of work that is a selection from a small series we recently produced. We were asked by a design firm working for a specialty clothing manufacturer to produce a series of photographs for ads and collateral material. As is normal for the process, we had several meetings to discuss the strategy of the campaign, and the proposed look of the photographs. From these meetings were born a number of very rough sketches. The creative director and I have worked together for a long time, and only need a certain level of refinement in the comps before moving to the actual shoot. I wish I had kept some of the sketches to share with the readers, but…no dice, I could not find them. Just imagine your worst sketch on a paper napkin!

I’ve been immersed in compositing for a number of years now, and often go to it for solutions to visuals I am asked to make. This series seemed perfect.

A number of scenarios were proposed to fit the products chosen to be featured.

  • A rough and tumble outdoorsman pulling the winch cable from the front of his old Land Rover pickup truck, hopelessly stuck. (The only one not executed as a composite, shot outdoors as you see it.)
  • A young, pretty, athletic rock climber girl.
  • Another young pretty girl in a snowball fight.
  • A really fun one for a line of SWAT team clothing.
  • Clothing for undercover cops.
  • And finally the subject of my blog…a snowboarder doing something cool.

Here is the final composited shot:

1finalsm

(See the end of this article to view the other finished photographs.)

It just so happened that one of the photographers working in my studio, Pammi Shirk (you can see more of her work at simoneassociates.com) was traveling to New Hampshire to visit friends and one of them was a snowboard instructor at a NH ski resort. It also happened that Pammi was itching to attempt a composited photograph.

Pammi and I discussed the particulars of executing the concept as a composite. This included a clean exciting photograph of the snowboarder doing a jump, and shooting plenty of scenic views to serve as background plates.  She gathered strobe equipment, a Hasselblad with a Phase One H20 back, and our Canon MkII, and off she went.

Meanwhile, back home we set about executing the other concepts.

When Pammi returned, we edited the photographs. She photographed the snowboarder as follows in her own words:
“We built a small jump in front of his house, and lit him with Bogen battery operated strobes at night so as to freeze the action as best we could and produce as clean a background as possible.”

Here is the camera original file as it looked coming out of Capture One as a 16 bit TIFF file:
2snowboarder-cam-origsm

Next we sat together as I worked through the desired post processing. I am showing a screenshot of the basic procedure I used for this shot. It is not complete, as I tend to make many decisions during this sort of process such a localized burning and dodging, isolating areas with paths etc. I often merge these layers as I proceed through the post production. The screenshot represents the general idea. It is as follows:

  • I either process another RAW file as a B&W with manipulations in the RAW processor or duplicate the Background layer and desaturate it in photoshop. I make this decision based on whether I feel there is anything to be gained to help the process in the RAW processor. In this case I duplicated the background in PS desaturated it and manipulated it in PS.
  • This layer is set to Luminosity, and then using Luminosity masks that I obtained from Tony Kuyper’s site (thanks Tony) I proceed to isolate various tonal regions of the photograph and manipulate them most often with curves. In this way the contrast and detail enhancing moves are in the Luminosity info of the photo only and do not affect the color information. I find this approach helps me to avoid strange saturations and color shifts.

This process often continues when the photo is placed into the composite, but I try to get the basic look before masking.

3snowboarder-fxsm

I then turned it all over to Pammi.  She extracted the figure using Fluid Mask (which is totally awesome, we could not live without it!) and the pen tool.
Next she began the complicated task of extracting clumps of flying snow from this and other outtakes of the snowboarder (Fluid Mask again!). Then we edited and decided upon appropriate background imagery.  The photos that make up the background are shown next. They are shown as camera originals and all underwent similar post processing as described above.

4left-treesm

5mid-ground-treessm

6backgroundsm

7snow-mound-lrsm

Next came the compositing. I will show a series of screen shots of how the file was built. Compositing is a process of subtleties, often trying things and keeping or discarding them. Always asking yourself if the edit you are making contributes to the overall desired effect.  Again, I must stress that this is how the layers file ended up. Many, many small decisions are made along the way and often merged at the moment so as to keep the file as uncomplicated as possible.  But it will show the primary structure.

comp1bkgndsm
1.)The background

comp2bkgnd-curvesm
2.)A curve adjustment layer for the background/RGB Black point input 100-output 59

comp3-add-mid-ground-treessm
3.)Add the middle ground trees. Add a layer mask to reveal the background layer above the trees. (This is the only layer with a compositing error, the black blobs are there to add some darkness under flying snow, but should have been on a separate layer!)

comp4mg-trees-curvesm
4.)A curve adjustment layer for the mid ground trees. Note it is set to only affect the layer below it.RGB Input 60-output38

comp5-shading-under-boardsm
5.)Some shading under the snowboarder

comp6-add-snow-mound-lrsm
6.)Add a small snow mound lower right in the foreground

comp7-snow-mound-curvesm
7.)A curve adjustment layer for the snow mound, again set to affect only the layer below it. RGB Input 47-output 60, Green input 100-output 98, Blue input 71-output 63

comp8-shading-behind-left-treesm
8.)Some shading behind the left foreground tree

comp9-add-left-treesm
9.)Add the left foreground tree, and use a layer mask to extract it

comp10-left-tree-curvesm
10.)A curve adjustment for the left foreground tree affecting only the layer below it. RGB input 50-output 56, Red input 50-output 48, Blue input 50-output 54

comp11-add-snowboardersm
11.)Add the snowboarder

comp12-snowboarder-curvesm
12.)A curve adjustment layer for the snowboarder. RGB Input 14-output 0 (Contrast and brightness)

comp13-snowboarder-h-ssm
13.)A hue saturation adjustment layer set to normal +37 saturation increase set to only affect the snowboarder

comp14-overallh-ssm
14.)Overall hue saturation layer: Colorize, Hue53, Saturation15, set to softlight. Giving contrast to and imparting a color cast to the photo overall

comp15-flying-snow-1sm
15.)Flying snow previously masked

comp16-flying-snow2sm
16.)Flying snow previously masked

comp17-flying-snow-3sm
17.)Flying snow previously masked

comp18-flying-snow-3-curvesm
18.)A curve adjustment layer affecting only the last flying snow layer. RGB input 4-output 0, Blue input 49- output 45

comp19-composition-masksm
19.)A mask to help work within the desired composition and yet not actually crop the photograph

Here are a few of the other pieces we did for the same project:

8land-roversm

9rock-climbersm

10snowballsm

11swatsm

12undercoversm

Thanks to all for this opportunity to discuss our work. I hope it was enjoyable and informative. If anyone has specific questions, email me at bill@simoneassociates.com.

Bill