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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.amazon.com.
Assembling The Image In Photoshop