A photograph is usually one slice in time, but on occasion it’s more than that. Composite images are a good example.
A composite image is “assembled” from several images. In other words you start with, say, five shots and end up with one. This can be a very simple or a very complex process. Let’s keep it simple!
The above composite image was made from five separate shots. Note that there’s five of Suze in the final shot – that’s multiplicity. Less expensive and less messy than cloning – what’s not to like?!
WHAT YOU NEED
- a camera
- photo editing software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop)
- and a vision!
Splurge a little (and make your life easier) by adding:
- a tripod
- manual camera controls to keep your exposure constant
- remote shutter release (if you’re really high maintenance!)
SEE IT, SET IT
Right, time for your glorious vision. These sorts of images “work” best when a subject is moving through the shot and the viewer can “see” multiple images of their movement all at once. For example, a snowboarder appears frame-right, launches off the lip of a jump, gets crazy-inverted, flips, twists, turns, lands, and exits frame-left.
What will be an interesting path for the action through the frame? Think about any subject’s movement in terms of a path and where it will go, and point your camera accordingly. What’s going to be visually interesting about the path: lateral, diagonal, mimicking another element of the scene? Every scene is different, but suffice to say the best images of this breed marry the “frame” and the “action”.
In order to keep things the same from shot to shot and isolate the subject’s movement, a tripod is always a plus. To lessen the chance of bumping the camera while shooting, try a remote shutter release. OR you can wing it by handholding and pay for your sins in post. When running and gunning (or smack in the middle of a stream just hiking along, like my above shot), don’t be afraid to just go for it.
PREP THE CAMERA
Two more things, and they’re important! First, meter the scene, note the exposure, and then set your camera in full manual mode to expose accordingly. This ensures that you’ll get consistent exposures throughout the shots, which will help to make your final image appear seamless. Second, if you’re shooting a moving subject, make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough to effectively “freeze” the movement. Five blurs across the scene just aren’t going to do your vision justice, now are they?
Right. Ready, set, shoot – before the subject moves into the frame begin firing off a burst of images and continue doing so until they have exited the frame. Go nuts.
As you can see, I shot nineteen images while Suze crossed just upstream. I also moved the camera considerably because I am a general nuisance to myself… No matter – take heart for keeping your exposure constant and living large, remote cable release or not!
Overshoot. Out of the nineteen images, I chose five for the final composite based on Suze’s position and form. Fewer images equals less options for the final image.
To combine your selected images into one, open them in Adobe Photoshop (or a similar photo editing program), and proceed to combine them all into one file as separate layers. This is like taking five physical prints and stacking them on top of each other.
The next step is akin to cutting up physical prints so that you can see through holes in each one and view all five instances of the subject at the same time. Using the selection tools and/or the eraser tool, get busy making multiplicity!
Sink as much time as you’d like into perfecting your blends. As you might have already noticed, my hack job above is visible in more than one place. But much of the fun is in the making, not necessarily the perfecting!
Now that you got skills, keep in mind that combining images like this is handy for other tomfoolery too, like HDR photography.
Finally, for pioneering studies of motion Google “Muybridge” and to see a master of composite images who did it all in the darkroom check out Ulsman. Happy trails!