A few weeks ago I got the gig to shoot a series of images that would be used for huge vinyl banners (literally wall sized) for the grand opening of a new gym called “Fight Factory” in Tampa where a number of number of high-profile professional athletes are already training, and I thought I’d share some of the images and some behind-the-scenes production photos.

Deadline: Less than 24 hours
The images had to be shot in one afternoon, edited that night and sent for approval, then I had to deliver the high-res files the following day in order to have the banners printed for the grand opening that coming weekend.

One of the images the client was most interested in having me shoot, was an athlete running up some concrete stairs (like in an old stadium), and I immediately thought of a park in Downtown Tampa where I did a fitness runner shoot this summer that had stairs like that. After talking with the client, the plan was to shoot in the gym first, and then head out to the park afterward, but once I got to the gym, the client informed me that we wouldn’t have enough time to get out to the park. They asked if  there was any way we could create that look using the wooden stairs you see below, which lead up to a storage loft above the gym’s offices. Yikes!

Of course, I said “Hey, we’ll sure give it a try” (hiding my internal cringe as I looked over to the temporary wooden planks we’d be shooting upon).

Above: Here’s the shot on the stairs. Nothing fancy—a hard light on one side, and a fill from behind. The light on him is OK, but everything else looks pretty bad, but I knew I wasn’t going to keep him on those wooden stairs for long, so I was OK with it. I can only imagine the client was more than a little concerned at this point.

Above: I know this is kind of a busy shot, but I added some captions to help cut through the clutter—-click on it for a much larger view (photo by Brad Moore). Brad thought we should bring two separate battery power packs just in case, so we brought our beloved Ranger Quadra with two heads [though we only used one], and a Ranger RX unit with one flash head. The Quadra flash head is positioned in front and to the side of Mo—our subject running up the stairs. The second is behind and to the side acting as a fill light. That’s me at the bottom of the stairs wondering how this is all going to work.

A big shout-out to Mo, because after a few frames he asked me, “Should I be running up one step at a time or two?” I had him show me both, and we settled on two. This turned out to be a key move in this whole process (thanks Mo) as you’ll see in a moment.

Luck Favors the Lucky
OK, I totally lucked out on this next part. I head home after the shoot, and I bring up the Fitness Runner shoot I did last summer and start looking to see if there’s a shot of the stairs where I actually wanted to shoot this scene in the first place.

Above: I took about 300 shots that sweltering August day, so I figured I’d have an outtake or two from the shoot that might work as a background for the Gym shoot, and sure enough, I found the shot above, of our fitness runner Jill Papapanu, that I thought might work.

Above: This is the result of nothing but trying Photoshop CS5’s Content Aware Fill one time. Nothing else. It’s not perfect, but I’m about 95% of the way there in just 15 seconds. Content Aware Fill still amazes me to this day. Of course, Jill’s probably not too crazy about this shot. ;-)

Above: Here’s the final composite again, just so you don’t have to scroll back up to the top. Thankfully, the client was absolutely thrilled with shot (especially after seeing it shot on those wooden stairs).

By the way, one of the principals of Fight Factory is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL Wide Receiver Yo Murphy (who also went to the Super Bowl with the Rams). Yo is the one and nicest, funniest, and sharpest guys you’d ever want to meet. Super cool guy all the way around.

Post Processing
I got Mo off the stairs using CS5’s Quick Select tool and the new Refine Edge features, which are truly amazing (Matt says they’re his single favorite feature in CS5, and I think I’d probably have to agree).

Once I dragged Mo onto the background I darkened the entire image by reopening it in Camera Raw, then I added a dark Vignette all the way around in Camera Raw as well. Then I applied contrast using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.0. Since I’m not a shark at shadows, I usually add more than one—that way I can claim to have multiple light sources and things get squirrley. There are a few other important tricks that help make it look like he’s really there, and I’m showing every bit of these techniques (well, not to this image, but the whole start to finish technique, including the lighting) in my “Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It Live!” tour, so if you’re in Boston, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, or Chicago, you’ll be seeing exactly how to composite stuff like this live, because I have a whole class dedicated to it. If you haven’t signed up yet, it’s not too late.

Above: Once I had Mo selected off that background, I found another background from that same fitness runner shoot, and gave them a second look just in case. Hey, since I had him on a transparent layer, I put him on different backgrounds—at a carnival, at the beach, jumping hurdles, sky diving, underwater (OK, I didn’t do those last ones, but you know it would have been funny as $#%&).

Step Two
Remember when Mo asked me if he should be running up one or two stairs at a time, and I said “two?” Man, did I get lucky, or he wouldn’t have fit on those large concrete stairs. I also used Free Transform to make sure his feet landed at the right place—-I just proportionally scaled him down until it worked. I did have shots of both one step and two steps, but mostly the two steps. Again, I really got lucky.

I added their logo, and some slogans for the final vinyl signs, and they had us print some 20×30″ posters for hanging around the gym as well.

More Shots to Come
I’ve got a lot more shots from the shoot, and I’ll share some here in the coming days, but I thought I’d kick things off with this one—the only layered composite from the shoot. Thanks to everyone at Fight Factory, including Mo our subject, Andrea in Marketing, and of course Yo Murphy. And, as always thanks to my assistant Brad Moore for his help, and for thinking to bring two power packs.

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About The Author

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for Photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books.

57 Comments

  1. Scott, is that Matt K running up the stairs? 8-)

    • Oh! It’s Mo, that’s what I get for not reading first. Sorry Matt (didn’t think it was you anyways).

    • Ken: We can’t get Matt to keep his shirt on for 10 minutes around the office. If you even look at him the wrong way, he rips it off like he’s the hulk. He scares me.

      -Scott

      • Ken: By the way: if we’re going to just go back and forth like this, why not just send me an email? ;-)

        -Scott

      • Ripping my shirt off as we speak ;-)

      • So all of you guys at Kelby Media are like….superheroes??? :D

        Hmmm, let’s see…if Matt is the Hulk (no wonder he never wears the same shirt on PSU TV!), Scott must be Capt. America. RC could be Spiderman, of course; he is the Web Master! Dave C. could be Thor, because of the long-flowing hair (oh, wait…). Corey could be Iron Man, because he could make the suit look really cool in 3-D.

        Scott, if you get permission from Marvel, this could be a great theme for next year’s PSW! Although you would have to wear spandex tights….. B)

        –John

      • John, that would be the best PSW theme ever!!!

        – Brandon

  2. Great shots! I’m thinking about some quadras myself… They look great.

  3. Content Aware Fill – Thank you Scott i did not know about this tool)

  4. Scott, just curious….did you use the D3 for the shots? Was 12MP enough to make the huge wall sized prints?

    Scotty

  5. Isn’t compositing amazing ;)
    Hearing Matt’s keynote over here (will hear it a few more times) I decided to do something I always said I will not do…… Yeah I will try it also lol.

    Great looking shots Scott, looks very very convincing.

  6. Awesome job, Scott!
    Great shots and you nailed the shadows!!!

    Can’t wait for ‘The Grid’ tomorrow AM :)

    – Brandon

  7. That last image is great. You should try to sell it to BK lighting as an add for their step lights. http://www.bklighting.com/products.php?ID=361 For some reason that is this first thing I noticed, I must be a lighting geek.

  8. Great behind the scenes look. Thank you for sharing that with us. How lucky that Mo asked that question. One step would have been far more difficult. I do have one question however.

    On both of the composite shots I notice on the horizontal rails there is a small misalignment just to the right of his head. Was that corrected in the final version that was sent to the client? That is always the hardest part for me when making a composite making sure all the lines line up. Just curious.

    Thanks for all you do.

    Regards,
    Upde

  9. Love it Scott! Amazing composite. This is probably the main reason I love PS so much! There’s no limit to what you can do! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Great shots Scott and I have to agree -Refine Edge certainly makes making those selections a lot easier and faster!

  11. So you shot Mo while working for Yo?

  12. Great final shots Scott. I particularly like the shadow play. I’ll have to experiment with that.

    I am interested in reading opinions on the following.

    Do you think the advances in the CS5 selection tools have made the Green Screen obsolete or does it still have a use? What do YOU use it for if at all?

    Counting the days until PSW!

  13. Will Matt ripping his shirt off be part of the Keynote at PSW?

  14. Excellent job on this assignment, Scott, although I agree with Dave U. above that the railings do look a bit funky around Mo’s head. But I’m sure no one will notice it when these photos get blown up to wall size…. ;)

    It always amazes me that companies demand that these projects are done on such short notice. So you really had only 1 day to get this done? Including the post processing? Good thing you’re the Yoda of Photoshop…

    I’m excited to see this workflow when you come to Boston. It should be interesting to see how it’s done from start to finish! Will dropping your subjects onto different backgrounds be part of the class?

    –John

    • Hi John:
      (1) I had fixed the railing in the final image. Caught it before it was too late
      (2) opening a gym is a lot of work, and the banners were just one small part of it, so it came down to the last minute for them. More typical than you might think.
      (3) dropping images onto other backgrounds is part of the class. You’re going to love some of the tricks in that section. :)

      S.

  15. As always – thanks for showing the behind the scenes setup shots and detailed explanation. After reading this, I think I will go back to hanging on to my ‘outtakes’ instead of deleting them.

  16. Love the use of the lighting Scott, the compositing and most of all your “look” coming through.

    I love how you blended your Quadra and Elinchrom heads to really work as one light source instead of two separate hard light sources. Beautiful stuff.

    Did you get my email about getting up here to Memphis?

  17. Fantastic post, as always, Scott! As I’ve said before, I’ll see you in Chicago. (Tired of hearing that yet?) My only regret is not having CS5; I’m still in the “Dark Ages” of CS4, so Content-Aware Fill is not in my toolbox. Someday…….. Until then, I will just do what I can, and file the rest in my brain for when I catch up!

    – Kev

  18. Very well done, Scott. Photoshopping at its finest, I would’ve never noticed it’s a composite without you saying it is.

  19. Very nice looking. However, I have (another) stupid question. If this is for a gym to get people to got TO THE GYM, why would they want a guy working out at a stadium somewhere? Seems like they would want to say the excerise would be BETTER in their gym. Just my twisted view. But good shot and post.

  20. Scott,

    That’s a great shot. I actually thought the runner was at the location. Will your Light It, Shoot It seminar be only available to those who attend, or will it eventually be on dvd?

  21. Scott, I know this is a very rookie question, but what is the difference between Adobe Photoshop elements 7.0 and CS5? Thanks.

  22. isnt it funny how when you have to rig a image in Photoshop like that of course they are going to print it huge!! So it has to be absolutely perfect.. (no pressure) Man isnt that the way it goes. :-) You did a hell of a job. I wouldn’t have guessed it was a composite.

  23. What was your thought process behind the shadows? The Highlight runs along the left side of his body and your main shadows are to the left. I would have thought you would need to have the shadows more to the right side to follow the laws of physics, sort of like how they are in the alternate composite. Did you make that choice on purpose to create tension?

  24. Why is it no matter the industry everything is left for the last minute and has to be done fast, fast, fast? Guess it keeps you young…

    • In no way am I taking away from the fantastic job done by Scott here, but Steven, you raise a good point. Imagine how much better work would be, if we had the time to properly plan and execute……

  25. could you please explain how you got the shadow into the image? looks great!

    • dont want to step on any toes here but one way to get that shadow he has there ( and it may have been the way he did it) is that since the guy is on his own layer you just make a copy of it. then control click on the copy to make a selection of it and then fill it with black. Drag that layer below the main one. Use free transform to stretch the black copy out to make it look like a shadow. Then lower the opacity of the layer so it looks more realistic. Also add a blur to it to make it look more realistic as well.

  26. Scott great shots, maybe you could do a small video like the Notre Dame poster presentation. I’m sure I’m not the only one that would like to see how you did this composite. It would be real helpful and informative. Keep up the good work and tell Matt make sure he wears a strong deodorant when he rips off his shirt. We all know he sweats alot.. lol..

  27. Scott, just going to say one word, WOW!!
    By the way Scott, I have emailed you those images you requested from the Jay Maisel video.
    Regards
    Neil

  28. I find the most difficult part about photography as a business is pricing. When you come up with location and the client changes the scene and you end up having to composite and pull from your stock…does your pricing change? Do you build that eventuality into the initial quote? Any chance you could recommend any resources on pricing that helped you?

  29. Scott…I have a client that also wants to make large wall-sized banners….should I rent a medium format camera or did your D3 (I am assuming you used the D3) have sufficient resolution to blow up to huge sizes?

  30. I think that this comes from playing too many “What is wrong with this picture” in Highlights Magazine when I was a child, but the first thing that I saw with this picture was that the light was obviously coming in hard from the left, and yet he still managed to cast a shadow to the left. I know…I’ve gotta get a life, but I still like the feel of the shot.

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