Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Power of Light!

Hello StudioMagic Peeps. I hope you're enjoying the summer and that you're making lots of cool digital art. Here again for this month's blog is Harry Kerker, StudioMagic's President.

Creating dramatic images is all about light. Light can create power, inspiration and spiritual moments. Light creates focus, attention and drama. Needless to say without the power of light, your images can be flat and lacking of visual impact. But how do you do that when your capture is as flat as a pancake? Let’s create some light of our own!

Let’s start with a landscape. I remember pulling my car over when I saw this, then climbing over a barbed wire fence and down a hill into the field. Off to the right of the image there was an amazing sky approaching and so were loud thunderclaps and lightning. I was not going to wait for the sky standing in the middle of a field like a lightning rod. I knew if I got back to my car and waited, I’d find a safe time to get out and shoot the dramatic sky without being electrocuted. Once back at my studio, the first thing I did was pull up StudioMagic 1 with it’s CutOut feature to remove the old sky.

The CutOut feature does a wonderful job of simplifying Photoshop’s refine edge settings so I don’t have decipher the myriad of options for removing something as detailed as trees from a sky. There are a lot of good applications on the market for sky removal, but I found many to be complicated. I like the CutOut tool because it works hand and hand with the best one, Photoshop’s refine edge, it just simplifies it down to something we can all understand.

Now with my sky removed, I can replace it with the one that I actually saw. Interestingly enough, summer thunderstorms in Pennsylvania come and go quick, so it’s not unusual to see the storm pass and sun breaking through in the distance. However I was not able to capture fully what I saw, the sun bursting through the treetops and spilling into the field.

This is where StudioMagic 2 comes in handy. It was created as a full compositing tool for adding important accents to your images with a few clicks of the mouse. The LightingEffex tool has a full selection of light bursts and light rays to choose from that are automatically placed into your image. In this case I chose the burst that was as close to what I saw when I photographed the sky. You can make your own light bursts if you have the time and ability, but these are a fantastic starting place and you can reshape and color them to fit your image without much problem.

Once the burst was placed, I resized and rotated it to fit the placement I desired. The original burst was too white for the overall coloration of the image, so I used the ColorMatch (local) tool in LightingEffex to warm it up to match the ambient light. It was still missing the bright center light I saw, so I selected the burst layer and duplicated it which brightened the whole burst which I didn’t want. I wanted only the hot spot to be bright and the tailing streaks to be lighter and transparent. So I rasterized the duplicate layer and erased off the streaks which reveled the lighter streaks on the layer below. If you look back now at the top original image, you can see now what a difference light can make.

I’m always looking for locations like this to place models. However without the light streaming through the window and hitting the floor as it is, it wouldn’t be much but a room full of rubble. When you shoot images like this you also want to capture that dramatic shaft of light from the window to the floor but it doesn’t always happen. Light does not have color, what you see in a light shaft is the dust in the air being lit.

Honestly being a compositor and not having the light shaft is a blessing in disguise. I want to have the option to place a light shaft on the layer behind the subject and a shaft on the layer in front to create depth. In this case I started by using StudioMagic-1 to CutOut my subject and add a shadow using ShadowCaster to match the long light cast by the window. Once I placed the shadow, I used transform to stretch it even further to match the direction and length of the light.

Using StudioMagic 2, I chose the “Smokey Dust Window light preset, which was automatically placed behind the subject. You do this by choosing the subject layer before you place the light shaft.

Light shafts and rays are starting points; rarely in interior situations like this do they fit perfectly. You will need to use the transform and distort tools to pull, stretch and distort a light shaft to fit the window shape and the length of the light. Once your shaft is sized correctly, open the light ray folder in your layer pallet, select the light ray layer and right click on it. Choose the option to rasterize it, which will give you the ability to trim the light shaft with your lasso tool to fit the shape of the window frame. 

Finish off your composition by placing the same light shaft preset on the layer above the subject and using the same steps above to make it fit the window. Amazing what StudioMagic and the power of light can do for an image.

StudioMagic 1 & 2 for Photoshop are compatible with Photoshop CS 5 through CC 2015.5

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Virtual Studios: "Surf's Up" & "On Track"

Hello my fellow StudioMagic compositors! I'm honored to once again have Harry Kerker, President of LayerCake/StudioMagic with us today. He's going to be sharing two exciting ways to help put the impossible at your fingertips. Your imagination will run wild with what he's about to show you so hang on! Here's Harry.

Opening up a world of possibilities with StudioMagic

Prior to the advent of Photoshop, the image you captured through the lens was what you got. And if there was a subject involved, it required a lot of setup and prep to get both the subject and the environment to work in the same capture. I remember as a young art director working with the famous Reid Miles in Hollywood. Reid made a living on recreating Norman Rockwell in photographs. His technique was to shoot his subjects individually, take the Polaroids and make elaborated collages pasted together. Then he’d send them out to a retoucher who would make the prints and assemble them. The result was great, but it was time consuming and very costly to convince a client to spend the money on. Today Reid would be a Photoshop and StudioMagic advocate. All the things he so painstakingly created, can now be done on your desktop with StudioMagic. 

Photo Credit: Reid Miles

I’ll be using a few examples of our virtual studios, Surf’s Up and On Track. Neither of these could have been created without the use of Photoshop and StudioMagic for obvious reasons. I challenge you to think outside the box from now on just like Reid did. With StudioMagic you are no longer a prisoner of your studio, your only limitation is you imagination.

All good composites begin with a good cut out subject. In this example the young lady is photographed in a studio against a neutral gray background. Now a studio is great, but not necessary, a wall in your garage could suffice. The point is the simpler the background the easier it is to separate your subject from the background. You want to have a good clean delineating edge between her and the backdrop for the masking tool to read. No worry about the flying hair, the StudioMagic CutOut tool has no problem with that. StudioMagic’s CutOut tool will work with more complicated backgrounds, but if you’re starting form scratch, why not make it easy on yourself.

It’s clear in this next example that simplifying the background make the background selection process a lot easier. The StudioMagic CutOut panel has been pulled up and we’ve selected “Detailed CutOut” to pick up the flying hair and a ProMask incase we want to do some touchup work on the final cut out. You’ll notice that I have “Detect Outside Edge” selected as well, because in this case, we’ve selected the background and not the subject. I prefer seeing the red background under “View” in the refine edge panel. Once you are happy with you selection hit ok and your surfer girl is cutout and placed on a gray background ready to move into your Surfs Up virtual studio. The question always arises, “Why do I need this I already have refine edge in Photoshop? The reason being that refine edge is complicated and difficult to master. So we went to a panel of industry experts who determined the best possible defaults for compositing and we built them into the CutOut tool so all you have to do is click a button for great results.

The next step is getting your subject into the virtual studio. You can do this a couple of ways, first a simple selection of your cutout subject then copy and paste into the virtual studio. Another way is to place you subject and your virtual studio side-by-side on your monitor and drag the subject from one image into the other.

The examples below:
  1. Is a Surf’s Up Virtual Studio in its default stage. 
  2. We’ve copied in our surfer girl, rotated her correctly and sized her according to the size of the surfboard. This is a logical guess based on knowing how wide a surfboard generally is and the size of her feet.
  3. Shadows are highly underrated, without a shadow the girl looks pasted in. StudioMagic’s ShadowCaster makes perfect shadows that can be adjusted to the direction of the light. In this case the light is hitting her front on at a slight angle over her shoulder, the shadow is adjusted to match the direction of the light. Now she’s anchored to the surfboard.
  4. The final touch is the ocean spray that is provided as an extra in all the Surfs Up studios. Move the spray over her body and feet and it holds the entire image together. 

Now keep in mind, these types of images are supposed to be in fun and they have an illustrative feel to them. They are great for high-school seniors, kids and people of all ages who love something different.


Believe it or not, portraits on railroad tracks are extremely popular and dangerous as well. Here’s how you take the danger out of the process and get the same fun result. The process is the same, as with Surf’s Up so we won’t go into the detail.

Select your subject with the magic wand; you’ll see the dancing ants around it.  Select “Detailed Cutout” and refine edge appears. Go in and out of refine edge by simply canceling it, which allows you to repair areas in the selection that you may have missed. Once ready hit “Detailed CutOut” again in order to see refine edge. Keep doing this until the subject is selected as well as possible. The red overlay will show you what’s missing and what needs to be added to you selection. The selection tool changes from add to subtract with the option key on the mac and the alt key on the PC.

Final step, copy in your CutOut subject, add a shadow with ShadowCaster and you have a super portrait in minutes that without StudioMagic would have taken you hours and perhaps gotten you arrested for trespassing on railroad property! 

StudioMagic simplifies many of Photoshop’s most difficult tasks and reduces them to a few mouse clicks. It’s used by professional and novice Photoshop users around the world. It’s not necessary to own our virtual studios, you can make your own with StudioMagic. They just provide a nice starting place and an easy way to learn compositing without starting from scratch.

So there you have it. StudioMagic with Surf’s Up and OnTrack virtual studios. Tons of different scenes in this package and a bunch of new ways to make some cool composites. Get creative and happy compositing!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Virtual Billboards. Making Composites "Larger than Life!"

Hey Everyone. I'm back with another blog post today after having Harry Kerker guest blog the last couple of times. I'm going to be sharing a great way to showcase your clients and make them... as the today's title says, "Larger Than Life".  As usual, StudioMagic makes things real simple.

So, what comes to mind when we think of an impactful way to make an important visual announcement that all can see from near and far? A hint would be: "Will You Marry Me?" That's right. I'm thinking BillBoards! What better way to make your client, family member or friend the "Star of the Show" than to plaster them all over a billboard? Right? The good news is that you don't have to rent one, thanks to StudioMagic's PhotoBoards. Let's take a look at how simple it is to get someone you know up on their very own billboard.

Above you see a finished PhotoBoard and the first unusual but totally cool thing you'll notice is that
the subjects are so (here it comes again) "Larger Than Life" that the edges of the billboard can't contain them. Let's see how we can produce this with the help of StudioMagic I and we'll even take it a bit further to knock it out of the park with a little "one-click" accent from StudioMagic II. Let's go!

To start, we need to cut out our subjects from the original photo. Just a note that a simple empty background is best.  For that we'll go to StudioMagic I's CutOut feature. I'll open it up and using my "quick selection" tool in Photoshop, make a few swipes at the background so it looks something like this:

Once I've got all of the background selected, and judging by all the detail the edges have due to the hair, I'm going to click the "Detailed CutOut" button and make sure the "ProMask" button is checked. What that'll do is give us a mask when it's all said and done so we can have the luxury of tweaking the edges after the fact if we need too. Once we click "Detailed Cutout", the "Refine Edge" dialogue box appears. It may look complicated but StudioMagic 1 chooses the best settings for you to get you going...

...and this is what we get when we click "OK". If we like the quality of our mask, then we can right-click on our layer mask to apply the effects of the mask.  But hold off if it still needs a tweak here or there. Simply paint on the mask with white to reveal more of the photo, or less by painting with black. Then right-click on the mask and choose "Apply Layer Mask." The mask then goes "bye-bye" since its work is now done.

Note the transparent background of the subject layer when we chose "Apply Layer Mask".

Now with the layer of our subjects selected, let's copy the contents of that layer so we can paste it into the PhotoBoard image by going up the the "Edit" menu then down to "Copy". I prefer keyboard shortcuts so I use "control (pc) / command (mac) along with the "C" key but here's the menu:

Back in our PhotoBoard image, let's command/control click on the "Paste Outside" layer's mask. This will select the area defined by the mask and lets us see the space our models will occupy once pasted back in. Note the marching ants surrounding that space:

To paste the copied image on the billboard we do the following:

And voila! Into the PhotoBoard they go with their very own layer mask to prevent them from poking out the bottom of the billboard! See? Right there on "Layer 1". You can now resize using the transform tool (command/control "T") and/or move them with your move tool to get them sitting in the board just right.

Now as I mentioned early on, I said we'd use StudioMagic II at the very end to give this image a little something extra. So let's pop it open and spice things up just a bit. As I look at this scene, I'm thinking "night time" and what comes to mind?... the moon! So let's do it. Let's head down to the "MoonClock" section under the "Compositor" dropdown menu. I'll click "choose preset" and let's feast our eyes on all the various moon phases. Once I choose one, I click "create" and there it is! All that's left to do is resize by moving the "Resize" slider and "update" or if you prefer, with the transform tool (command/control "T") and drag the corner handle while holding the "Shift" key to keep the proportions correct. When done, hit "Enter/Return" and you've sealed the deal. We could even pop open the "Starry Night" dropdown and sprinkle stars all over the night sky with a single click but you get the idea. Let the image tell you what it needs and know that StudioMagic delivers!

Easy. I told you! And here's our final image:

But is doesn't end there, folks. Remember that with the aid of SM I & II you can really take these images to a whole new place by applying your imagination. Think atmosphere as in sun, clouds, fog, painting with light. That and so much more awaits you. Oh, and I forgot to point out that yes, there is a shadow layer behind our subjects. As if extending beyond the billboard to make them pop out isn't enough, you could take advantage of the shadow, courtesy of StudioMagic I to make your models really jump out from the background even more.

So there you have it. StudioMagic PhotoBoards. Tons of different scenes in this package and a bunch of new ways to make some cool composites. Get creative. You could mix and match elements from the different scenes to create your own. So explore, create and most of all... Happy compositing!

To See tutorials on PhotoBoards, click here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Guest Blogger: Harry Kerker - "Location Shoots On Your Desktop"

Hello LayerCake/StudioMagic community!

Peter again with another StudioMagic blog. As you've noticed, we've changed the name of this blog to "Clicks, Tips & Compositing Tricks". We feel that the new name better encompasses what we set out to share here. And speaking of sharing, Harry Kerker, President of LayerCake/StudioMagic is back again this time talking to us about StudioMagic's Picture Windows. Prepare for new possibilities for your creations. Once again, here's Harry.

Location shoots on your desktop

Remember location shoots? I do so maybe that dates me, but it wasn’t so long ago that we were dragging a van full of lights and assistants to some ungodly location at 5 am. Also the cost involved became prohibitive, few clients wanted to spend the extra money asking if maybe it could be done in a studio… which it couldn’t.  Compositing in Photoshop changed all that. Now you can do that location work from the comfort of your computer desk and have a sandwich at the same time. 

In this article we’ll discuss creating virtual window studios. Window portraits have always been popular, but depending where you live you’re limited to what’s in the neighborhood. Many clients, especially high school seniors, are always looking for something different - “Put me in the Old West!”, “Put me in something edgy” - and brides may want something more sophisticated… hopefully. 

If you have a list of things in your head to look for like me, shooting cool windows is second nature. 
I snap them off on all my trips from San Francisco to San Gimignano. 
I try to shoot windows as straight on as I can, otherwise you may limit the subject you can place in it because of an odd angle.

Now you have to start thinking layers. Remember understanding layers is the key to compositing. 
I named the company LayerCake because that’s what compositing is, making a cake of image layers. If you think of your image in a three-dimensional sense, and turned it sideways, it would be a layer cake. Once you visualize this, the whole process is much easier to understand.

Building your own PictureWindows
Start by creating a new layer for your window image. Select it, cut it and paste it on a new layer of its own. Fill the blank background layer behind it with black, you can always change it later if you want. Select your lasso tool and change the feathering to “0” so it’s a hard edge. You want to remove the glass from each windowpane. Click with your lasso in a corner and click around all four sides until fully selected and hit delete. You’ll now see the black background we created showing through where the windowpane once was. Continue removing the glass until all panes are removed and save this new file as a PSD. 

Look through your portraits for subjects that you can at least see to their waistline. Now you probably have a strategy for doing the extracting from the original background, and there are many applications on the market for masking out people that tout ease of use, but few live up to that promise. In all honesty, Photoshop is still the best tool for masking, however if you’re not an experienced user it can seem complicated. 
The CutOut tool in StudioMagic 1was created to simplify Photoshop’s refine edge, by defaulting all the settings to those recommended to us by a panel of industry experts. It also gives you simple options like Auto CutOut for hard-edged objects and Detailed CutOut for things like flying hair on your model. 

Once your subject is removed you can now drag the layer into your window composite. It’s a good idea to have the layer pallet open so you can see all your layers. Now lets think layer cake. Select the layer with the window on it, then drag your subject from the other image on to the window composite. If you selected the right layer in the window composite, your subject should be inside the window with the black background behind. If not, look at your layers pallet and slide the subject between the window and the background and voilĂ .

If your subject looks a little strange, ask yourself these questions. Is he or she photographed at the same angle as the window? Is the direction of the light on the subject coming from the same direction as outside the window? Is the subject sized correctly relative to the window? 

If the subject’s angle is incorrect, find a different outtake, a different window or reshoot the subject angle to match the window. If the direction of the light is incorrect, flip the subject direction in transform and use your dodge and burn tools to accentuate the highlights and shadows, which will fool the eye. StudioMagic 1 has a cool LightBrush tool which makes this easy, but you want to be sure that the layer mask it creates is behind the window and in front of the subject in your layer structure, otherwise you’ll have dark over the entire image. You just want the Light Brush Tool layer over the model. Relative size is a bit easier; try to determine the size of one pane of glass. An adult’s head is 8” to 10” high depending on age and gender. Size the subject’s head relative to windowpane size and it should now start looking more realistic size wise.

Now if you don’t like the black background behind your model, change it using your bucket tool and pour in a new color or shoot a wallpapered wall to slip behind your subject. Remember this new wall should always be darker than the subject since it’s farther away from the window. If you want to cast a shadow on it, use the excellent ShadowCaster tool in StudioMagic 1, place a “Wall Back“ shadow on your subject and play with the angle slider until it looks correct. 

Lastly, every window needs glass. Make a new layer behind the window and in front of the subject. Fill the new layer with white. Add a layer mask to the new layer by clicking on the small icon that looks like a Japanese flag at the bottom of the layers pallet. You’ll see that a mask has been added to the right of the layer. Select the mask and reduce the opacity to about 20%. Now select your brush tool and make soft brush strokes at a 45 degree angle across the glass so you can see the subject’s face clearly. Repeat it in different areas of the glass. Now play with the opacity so you can see your work. If you want to paint glass back in, hit the X key on your keyboard and it’ll reverse the mask brush to paint back in. When you get it just right, play with the opacity until it looks like a reflection across the glass. Try making masks with gray and black as well, all do different things. 

There’s great satisfaction making your own virtual windows, but you can get a great collection of PictureWindows right in our store, already composited with lots of fun layer options in summer and winter scenes,  ready to drop your subjects into. 
Add StudioMagic 1 & 2 and you have a virtual window-making machine!

Harry Kerker
President LayerCake StudioMagic

Monday, April 4, 2016

Guest Blogger: Harry Kerker - "Always Have Beautiful Skies"

Hello LayerCake StudioMagic community! It's been a while since my last blog and I still intend to hit the next point in the realistic composition series: Color and Saturation. But before we resume that journey, today we have a guest blogger. Harry Kerker, president of LayerCake StudioMagic is going to be sharing how to make the skies in our composites always looks great. So without further ado, here's Harry...

Always have beautiful skies

We work so hard at perfecting our photos, but many times the most important part gets overlooked. Some think skies are secondary to the photo’s story, but a poor sky can detract from the overall impact of a photo particularly in print competitions. Sky replacement used to be time-consuming and tedious even for advanced Photoshop users. 

There are many applications on the market for masking out skies that tout ease of use, but few live up to that promise. In all honesty, Photoshop is still the best tool for masking, however if you’re not an experienced user it can seem complicated. 

The CutOut tool in StudioMagic 1 was created to simplify Photoshop’s refine edge, by defaulting all the settings to those recommended to us by a panel of industry experts. It also gives you simple options like Auto CutOut for hard-edged objects and Detailed CutOut for things like trees. Once the sky removal has been completed, the new CutOut image with the sky removed is automatically placed on a simple gray layer which makes it easy to see. Drag the sky of your choice behind the landscape layer you just removed the old sky from. The original image you started with is always saved behind the gray layer as the background. I’d save this PSD as a master in case you decide you’d like to go back and try a different sky at a later date. Do a “save as” and save the new version with a new file name. To see tutorials on sky replacement, click here.

Tips for better replacements

A few clouds may be just what the doctor ordered!

Not all skies need full replacements; they may just need a little help. Let’s say you captured a brilliant blue sky, but it’s cloudless and boring. StudioMagic 2’s Compositor tool includes Cloud Creator. Cloud Creator gives you access to a library of masked clouds that with a click can be automatically placed into your photo, resized, and adjusted for intensity. The cloud is placed with an automatic mask so you can brush away what you don’t need. 

    StudioMagic 2’s Cloud Creator is a quick and easy way to put life in an ordinary blue sky. 

The trick is to place a few clouds from the library at different sizes to give you depth and perspective. You can also transform the clouds by flipping them with the flip horizontal selection tool, and then they can be overlapped and erased from the mask to build a realistic looking grouping.  If your sky is approaching sunset yellow and red, use the Color Match tool under LightingEffex to adjust the cloud’s color to match the overall sky. 

LayerCake has stand-alone collections of drag & drop clouds and cloudbanks as well, but for ease of use and saving time, the StudioMagic 2 is the best option.

To see tutorials on sky replacement click here

Don’t be afraid of the ultimate makeover!
Sometimes there’s no getting around it. You shot a beautiful landscape, but the sky is white and blown out. It’s just a fact of photography, when you expose for the landscape the sky will be overexposed, expose for the sky, the landscape will be underexposed. So what’s the solution? A smart solution would be to put your camera on a tripod, shoot one exposure for the landscape, shoot a second for the sky and marry them in Photoshop. Unfortunately, few of us think of that when we are trying to get the perfect framing and we left the tripod in the car. 

StudioMagic 1’s CutOut tool and LayerCake’s sky collections fix all that pretty quickly. In this example you’ll be using the Detailed CutOut tool because of the delicate tree branches intruding into the sky that we intend to replace. Notice that the image has a pond with the blown out sky reflecting in it as well. In order to make this replacement look realistic, we’ll need to select both the sky and the pond area for removal.

Next we need a sky. Now if you have a collection of your own skies, by all means use those. But if you don’t, LayerCake has beautiful collections of skies that include all types, from sunsets to stormy. Once the sky and the pond has been removed, place the new sky on the layer behind the CutOut landscape. The sky will look great, but the pond will look funny. That’s because the pond is a mirror so the reflection needs to be upside down and reflecting the new sky above it. Which means you need to make a duplicate layer of your sky, flip it upside down and roughly reposition it to match the sky above. Now turn off your landscape layer, and with your rectangle selection tool, select the area from just below the horizon up to the top of the image and hit delete. Turn your landscape layer on again and you’ll see that the sky and the pond reflection are now correctly matched.

   Original sky and pond area removed with StudioMagic 1 and replaced with a LayerCake Sky.

Picking the right sky is critical 
We all go for the most dramatic, but it may not match the light in your image. First off, if it’s bright daylight, a sunset will never match. If you place a sky but the horizon of your landscape appears to be lighter than the sky, that’s an indication that the sky doesn’t match the landscape’s lighting. Now there are a few things you can try, first a lighter sky; most times that will fix the problem. If your sky is still too dark at the horizon, use a broad soft eraser tool to lighten the sky from the horizon up about a third of the way until the bottom of the sky blends with the horizon. Another trick is you use your burn tool to darken the horizon to match the sky. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two techniques.

You can’t fool Mother Nature
Another thing that gets overlooked is direction of light. How often have you seen composites that look a little strange but you can’t quite put your finger on it? Unfortunately, good print competition judges pick up incorrect lighting right away, and once they see that, they start looking for more Photoshop tricks that have gone awry. Stand back and view your entire image for a minute, look for the direction of shadows and the angle the light is coming from. If shadows go right to left, the position of the bright area in the sky needs to be coming from the right. Flip the sky if need be. If the shadows are short, it’s closer to midday and the sun angle is higher in the sky. If the shadows are long, the sun’s angle is lower and an afternoon sky or sunset may be more appropriate. 

   Original sky removed with StudioMagic 1 and replaced with a LayerCake sky. Light beam added
   with StudioMagic 2, balanced with ColorMatch and LightBrush.

Yes, you can fool Mother Nature
StudioMagic 2’s LightingEffex tool offers a library of Rays, Beams and Bursts that are easily placed with a click of your mouse. On most skies you can place a burst with a light ray where you want the direction of the light coming from. In many cases, by placing this new light source in a convincing position based on shadows and overall angle of light, you can fool almost any eye, even those pesky print comp judges!

To see tutorials on sky replacement, click here.

Harry Kerker
President LayerCake StudioMagic

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Compositing Principle #3: Size and Scale

Hello Everyone. It's been a busy month getting ready for the release of the new Studio Magic II panel. You people are going to love this thing! Some great stuff coming from Layer Cake and Studio Magic. So hang on and fasten your compositing seat belts! Anyway, my apologies for the lag time but here we are again ready to reveal more compositing secrets!

Let's move on to the next on our list of compositing principles. This one has got to be one of the most obvious ones when overlooked. It can make you look like Godzilla is about to crush the house or reduce you to one of the actors from "Honey, I shrunk the Kids"... and if you're not careful, it can also make a grizzly bear look more like a teddy bear! Unless that's what you're after, perhaps we should consider a few tips.

While this is largely a visual thing and needs to be determined with visual imagination, it first comes from observation. So if you're not gifted in this area, we can still take mental notes to get us in the ball park by observing. Our first cue is... Identification! Is it a hammer, a surf board or maybe pencil? Once we've got that down we have our first layer of information. Armed with that knowledge we can go to step two which is Comparison or scale. This has to do with observing things next to each other (as opposed to in front of or behind each other).

This only works if the object we're trying to size is not the only thing in the scene. If it is, then we'll have a scaling dilemma. A person standing out in the middle of the desert with nothing in sight may not tell us how tall he or she is like standing next to a telephone pole would. So, if it's a hammer, are there any other objects in the scene we'd like to place it next to that we can compare it to? Let's see... Hey look, there's a book on a coffee table. Let's put the hammer there. We know from personal experience that an average book is roughly 10" long. Hammers are usually longer than that but no a lot longer so we size accordingly. Get it? So we can look around the environment to get our cues for scale and size our hammer properly.

Let's try another scenario. We've got a cup we need to size but this time it needs to be on a table about 8 feet behind your subject. We start by knowing how big the cup would be if in the subject's hand but this time we have a new layer of information: Distance. The table is not going to be in her hand or next to but behind her. The distance between the viewer/lens and the object affects its size too so when we scale it, we have to take comparison AND distance into consideration. But how quickly do we reduce the size as it goes back in the scene, you ask? Well, every photographed scene leaves a clue... lens Distortion or Compression! Every scene will be different.... read on.

If the scene was shot with a wide angle (17-40mm), things will be more distorted and stretched out i.e. things close to the lens are really big and things towards the back are really small (think of that comical close up portrait where the nose gets really, really big). Same scene through a long lens (70-200) will be the opposite... more "compression" i.e. things closer and farther from the lens have less of a difference in size. In fact, the background might even seem to be right up against the back of your subject though you know it's way back there. Side Note: Check the photo's metadata for focal length info. So based on how much distortion or compression your scene has, you can use that as another hint for how drastically the size will change when you resize (move the cup close or farther back in space). Factor this in with the knowledge that the table you're going to place it on is about 8 feet behind the subject and your chances of making the cup size believable are real good.

If this sounds complex and just not the kind of thing you're used to thinking about, the best way to make it second nature is to cheat. Huh? Ya, cheat. You know. Like when you looked at the answers at the back of the book that one time... or two? Well the answers are all around you. In photos, in real life. Observation is the key to artistic knowledge and intuition. When my mind's eye can't come up with the answer I need, I go research it. I look around and identify, compare and observe what distance and camera optics do to things. Make plenty of mental notes and next time you're needing to replicate a spacial illusion by sizing an object, your mind will draw from your findings!

Join me next time when we hit compositing principle #4: Color - saturation & temperature. Till next time, happy compositing!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Compositing Principle #2: Perspective

Hello once again, LayerCake people! Today we move on to the second in our list of principles for good compositing... Perspective. When I say "perspective", I'm referring to the angle and height of the viewer/camera as it looks toward the subject. All our different elements/photos in our composite must share the same angle/perspective to be believable.

Let's say you have a scene in which there is a hot air balloon rising well above the ground and your goal is to place a person in this scene. How do we need to shoot that person for maximum integration? What we need to consider is what angle the camera was pointed at when capturing the photo of the balloon. Obviously, we can see the underside of the basket of the balloon... to some extent, right? Why? Well, because it's above the viewer so the underside is visible. That tells us that the camera was pointed up. Though we don't have the luxury of always knowing what the exact angle was (especially if we're using stock photos), optics and lens distortion always leave clues...

Ever notice how when looking up at sky scrapers the bottom is wide and the top is narrow and tiny? We don't even need to know why... we just need to take note that this is what happens to objects when we view it through the viewfinder while pointing the camera up. Soooo, what are we going to do when we take a photo of the person for our scene? You guessed it, we're going to point it up. How much? Experimentation and observation is the key to know how much, but once you nail it, the blend is perfect. What happens if you don't observe and respect this principle when shoot/creating your works of art? Well, if the building is offset as it is when we point the camera up (the building looks like it's falling over backwards, doesn't it?) but the person is shot with the camera pointed level? The person will look like they're falling forward... not exactly the effect we're going for.

Here's a quick composite I made to illustrate perspective using a couple of stock images and our trusty LayerCake Studio Magic panels:

Notice how we can see the underside of the chin, shoes, nose etc. This is consistent with looking up at the building. He's bigger at the bottom and smaller at the top, just like the building is.

Another aspect of perspective isn't just angle. We also have height. Let's say we're not pointing our camera up OR down. We still have to decide the camera height from the ground. We could shoot the model at eye level or down by the floor. Again, which do we do? Look at the scene for clues. If there are cars in the scene, can we see the tops of the roofs or are we eye level with the headlights? 

I purposely used an extreme angle and example today to make a point... that it DOES matter what angle and height we shoot from when trying to integrate our scenes with our elements. Hopefully you've become sensitized to perspective and height and will be able to decipher what your scenes are telling you about how to shoot the elements.

Up next: Compositing rule #3: Size & Scale (correct proportions). We'll talk about what kinds of observations to make to decode this mystery! Till then, keep that camera pointed in the right direction and at the right height. Happy compositing!