Shooting For Post

Everyone has heard the expression "I’ll fix it in Photoshop." Usually, blowing off details when you shoot because you know you can fix them in Photoshop isn’t a good idea, and often it’s not as possible or as easy as you think. However, making images around a concept that uses Photoshop to pull it off is a great way to work.

1 The illustration shows the light effects that will be required. Since all layer images will need to be made without striking the set or ­­moving the camera, make a sketch or shooting list to assure that all the needed layers are captured.

Choosing to use Photoshop doesn’t eliminate the need to know how to properly expose and light. Creating a glow of a backlit liquid, illustrating a correct tonal change, eliminating an unwanted shadow or accurately creating a lighting effect will be difficult, if not impossible, and immensely time-consuming for all but the most skilled Photoshop users. But with an understanding of how light interacts with various materials in the subject, as well as how to use layers, selections and opacity, lighting can be enhanced with the use of Photoshop. While this process can be done with scanned film or transparencies, it’s far easier to use a digital camera.

Photographing With Layers In Mind
To effectively composite images, the lighting needs to be done correctly for the subject, set and background or it will look faked. Further-more, when contemplating compositing an image using multiple parts in Photoshop, you need to understand the specific Photoshop tools and exactly how they work.

This process requires that the angle of view and position of the subject remain consistent in each shot. The technique will work for still subjects, large and small, from tabletop to architectural shoots. Keep the camera anchored and immobile to maintain the angle of view. Also disengage your autofocus and auto-exposure. Changing settings, including focus, focal length and ƒ-stop, also can change the size and quality of the image at the sensor.

2 The first image was made for positioning and to set the background’s tone. The back portion of the calendar isn’t adequately lit because it has no direct reflections showing on its surface.

Remember that the critical issues are light angles, shadows and reflection on and from the subject. These elements need to be consistent on the set and background. In the step-by-step example here, I’ve photographed an adjustable Lucite calendar as I might for a catalog. The lighting created all the effects. When using these methods, there are two related, but distinct stages of image creation. The first stage is the understanding of the lighting for various portions of the subject. We don’t need to contemplate how to achieve all lighting effects prior to setup, but we need to choose what effects we want to see and then separate them into distinct aspects of the lighting. Future planning is required to assure that the parts will fit together properly.

3 The second image was made with a light positioned from the camera side at a slightly downward angle to illuminate the orange surface of the calendar. The downward angle of the lighting reflected the specular, slightly diffuse light source onto the paper material in front of the calendar. An overexposure was made to eliminate tonal inconsistencies caused by any refraction or internal reflections. The result of this image is an even tone across the orange back of the front plaque of the calendar, and the white lines are clear and crisp.

The second stage is putting together the final image through selections, layering and global changes in Photoshop. Because we’re using selections in the production of the image, we don’t need to hide all the lighting components. Therefore, lighting controls like reflectors and flags can be used close to the subject. Lighting tools that appear in the frames will be removed as the final image is constructed. This is critical to your thinking. You’re not fixing the image in Photoshop; you’re planning where you’ll be selecting part of an image—essentially, you’re planning a crop—and with that plan, you’re placing the lights and modifiers accordingly.

4 In the second image, the reflections on the top surfaces were uncontrolled. A third image was made, with a white reflector directly behind the calendar. This was lit to create the desired reflection on the top surfaces.

Putting The Pieces Together…

Because we created the images from a single point without change in focus or magnification, and for specific purposes in the compositing of the final, the images go together quite easily. Here, we use the layering ability in Photoshop to allow the buildup of the lighting effects. Though you’ll want to keep the original images at their highest bit-depth and in RAW format if that’s the way they were captured, you’ll need to work in an interpolated format. It’s best to save these interpolated files with different names.

5 The fourth image was produced to capture the white numbers on the rear acrylic piece of the calendar. To make the numbers show, a black card was placed behind the numbered area. Lighting was angled at the calendar from the front to directly illuminate the numbers and letters within the calendar. This assured that the numbers and letters could be seen in this image.

The compositing can be done in 16 bits per channel (48-bit color) for most applications and operations, but 8 bits per channel (24-bit color) reduces the file size and allows more effects within Photoshop.

In this example, we start with our positioning image. All the images were made from the same location with the same image alignment on the sensor. This means that the files will align in Photoshop. There, you have two distinct choices about how you’ll work with the layers. One is an additive process, and the other is subtractive.

6 The final image in the set creates a light streak—a blush of light—across the face of the calendar. Placing a white reflector in
front of the calendar and illuminating it with a pattern of light from above accomplished this because the camera is pointed down and the light pattern in front creates the reflection that appears on all front-facing surfaces. The blush gives added dimensionality to the finished image.

The first option is to select a portion of each layer and stack one on top of the other. Each successive layer works toward the final image. However, if you take this approach and you make the selections prior to layering, the corners of the frame should be maintained to assure proper alignment. The second option is to use each frame in its entirety as a layer. When you go this route, you’ll need to erase areas after each new layer is in place. While this works just fine and is very useful for some shots, it’s usually more time consuming and potentially less satisfactory than the additive process with small corners selected. If the selection is made without including the corners, then moving and nudging the images into alignment is often required. If any nudging needs to be done, be sure to view the image at the pixel level. In either case, no effect should be used on any layer prior to alignment with the master file.

Glenn Rand is a photographer, a writer and an educator. You can find his books at

Assembling The Image In Photoshop

This screen grab shows the image structure without the lighting effects. Since this image will be the background, the light level of the background was adjusted using Curves.

The second image is then copied as a new layer. To accomplish this, the colored area of the calendar is selected and pasted over the base. This layer used the Lighten blending option to affect only the orange part.

The area around the MoMA logo and the day indicators were worked on to increase the contrast and lighten the logo while darkening the day notations.

Light reflecting from the top of the calendar was taken from the third image and layered into the composite. The highlight was given a slight Gaussian blur to smooth the highlight reflection.

To prepare this layer, the orange was first selected in the image and deleted. This left the black circles with white numbers. The contrast of the black circles was increased to enhance the numbers. With both light and dark portions of this layer, this is applied as a normal layer.

Last, the blush of light for the front face was copied to the composite. Although the highlight was selected, it was copied into the composite as a Lighten blending option and adjusted to 83% opacity. After this layering, the image was first saved as a layered TIFF. It was cropped, flattened and saved again under a different name.

The final image.

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