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!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Compositing principle #1: Direction of Light

Hello my LayerCake community! As promised, today we'll be chipping away at our list of compositing principles essential for good integration in compositing. First up this week we have one of the most noticeable ones, in my opinion: Direction, and for that matter, Quality of light. Let's break down these two aspects of light.

Direction is just what you think it is, the location of the source of light. Just taking a moment to note where the light or sun is coming from in your background or subject will help you make an informed decision when picking images/elements to fit your scene. Below is an obvious, and perhaps extreme scene but it illustrates my point nonetheless. If the bird watcher was lit from the left or from above, our brains would think, "Something weird is going on" and wouldn't believe the illusion for a second.

Subconsciously, our brain takes note of the uniform effect the light has on both the background and the subject and... Viola! Perfect harmony and integration. The brain is very sensitive to the light source and if the subject were lit even slightly from the wrong angle, it would pick it up in an instant... maybe not consciously, but we'd know something wasn't quite right. Now, to be totally honest here, this model was originally lit quite flat, straight on,  but I liked him so much that I relit him in post, thanks to Photoshops tools. This is not something I'd recommend getting into because it take lots of hard work and observational skills that most of us don't have the time or desire to execute... but it a pinch, I did it and it worked. It's better to know what you need and either get it right in camera or as you shop for stock images. But I digress...

Here's a more subtle but very realistic example of matching up direction of light but it goes a long way toward perfect integration. The athlete is standing close to the windows at camera right so that told me that I need a model that is lit more from the right. See how nicely he blends in? Granted, he has an edge light on the left but the predominant light is from the right.

Here's a good opportunity for me to jump in and introduce "Quality" of light. Generally, standing near a big light source like windows produces a soft light source. By soft, I mean that there are no harsh edges to the light and it falls off or fades gradually as it wraps around an object. Using a model that was lit in hard noon daylight wouldn't work and would make you think there was a hole in the roof or the wall and the sun was hitting him through that hole. So scroll back up and let's take a second look at our bird watcher friend. Notice the quick fall off of light. Very quick transition. He goes from being very bright to suddenly very dark. That's because the sun is a "small" source of light in relation to the subject. The rule here is the bigger the source of light in relation to your subject, the softer the light. So in the case of the athlete, we have a big source in the windows, and small, distant source in the case of the birdwatcher.

So think about the direction and quality of light next time you're setting up your lighting. To get your model to match the background, take note of the direction of the source AND the size of the source of that light in relation to the subject. Want softer light but don't have a big soft box? Just move it closer so it'll be bigger in relation to the subject. Want the light harder to mimic the bright afternoon sun? Then move the light farther away to make it smaller... you guessed it, in relation to the subject. 

These two qualities will go a long way towards helping you create believable composites that please the eye... and brain. Learn to identify it and recreate it in studio and you're good to go! Don't you love messing with people's minds? That's what LayerCake and the Studio Magic panels are all about. Well, what are you waiting for? Happy lighting and happy compositing!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Compositor's Eyes...

Hello LayerCake/Studio Magic friends! I hope everyone here is excited about the image making possibilities that await as we anticipate the arrival of the new Studio Magic II panel. But while we're waiting, I want to share some essential information that you can put to use right away in your compositing creations. So before we arm you with the most powerful one-stop-shop compositing tool on the planet, let's get to SEEING like a pro compositor.

Now let me start by assuring you that regardless of your level of artistry, anyone can understand and apply the principles I'm about to share with you to a meaningful degree. This applies whether you're doing a complex project that uses lots of different images or just as simple as a portrait placed onto a new background. Let's dive right in and starting examining the different things that help make more realistic and compelling images.

Whether you start your project with a background or the subject, you MUST take inventory of the following qualities they have in order to make any additional images/elements blend as seamlessly as possible with them. So, in no particular order (insert drum roll here) we have: 
  • Direction of light (and shadows)
  • Perspective (angle of view)
  • Size/scale (correct proportions)
  • Color - saturation & color cast (cool or warm)
  • Contrast (strength of lights and darks)
  • Focus (just what you think it means)
  • Detail & Sharpness 
Now, you may be thinking, "Hmmm, that's looking like my grocery list there, mister"... Well most are what you think they are and we'll still go over each of them in detail in future articles. One thing is for sure, if something doesn't look like it fits, it's most likely because there's a contradiction between the subject and its environment in one or more of these areas. All those weird, suspicious heads plastered on celebrities' bodies on tabloid magazine covers comes to mind :)

It's always ideal if the images we bring into our project (whether a portrait, background or some other element) match in all the ways listed above. But that's rarely possible. Then what do we do? We arm ourselves with the compositor's knowledge from our list then bridge the gap in the differences using the Studio Magic pro panel and the soon-to-be-released Studio Magic II panel. Think of them as the "Dynamic Duo" of compositing.

So, your mission, if you choose to accept it? Hang with me and you'll learn how to make more realistic compositing choices that help "sell the illusion" better. By using good compositing principles and mastering the tools, you'll bring all your elements more in line with each other so they play nicely together... like one seamless image. Interested? Then stay tuned!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hello Everyone!

Hello everyone! My name is Peter Hernandez and I'm a professional digital artist, retoucher and photographer. I'm also the new creative consultant and product developer for LayerCake and I absolutely love taking and making impactful and engaging images with the aide of my trusty camera and the awesome post processing tools made available to us... I'm talking about the digital darkroom.
I'll show examples of my work, several winning "Image of the Week" at photoshopuser.com. I show you how I created it with the help of LayerCake. I'll even be sharing and instructing live on the internet via webinars so you can see exactly how I did it and more importantly how you can do the same.

I'm excited about the possibilities that LayerCake offers all of us and this blog is where you can touch base and connect with me to see what's cookin' and LayerCake. We're on Facebook too so be sure to "like" us so I can share the latest tips, tricks and product info. Lot's of exciting things on the horizon so stay tuned!

I look forward to meeting you all soon! Stop by often, comment and let us know what you think about what you see or what you want to learn... or just stop by and say "Hi".

Below is one of my latest LayerCake creations. Talk to you soon... and happy compositing!