Compositing Tutorial – adding objects with convincing lighting

Compositing Tutorial – adding objects with convincing lighting

Generally, in my photography, I steer away from excessive photoshopping. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have hangups about Photoshop — on the contrary, I use it all the time as a tool to help me bring what my vision was for an image to the viewer.  I am not opposed to getting rid of a power line or an obtrusive sign in my imagery.  What I am opposed to is adding things in that were not there. This includes, but is not limited to putting in new skies, adding sports cars, models or whatever. For me, adding things that were not in the original composition of an image moves away from photography into compositing. Now, I am not one of those people that advocate against using Photoshop because I don’t know how to use it…. How many photographers do you know that shoot natural light exclusively because they don’t have the first clue about how to position a strobe? Just saying…

In this tutorial you will learn the dirty little secret for compositing. Did you forget to add a salt and pepper shaker during that food shoot? Or you want to add that fancy sports car into the landscape you shot last weekend? Here is a convincing way to do it, regardless of the light used to shoot the image to be added into your new composition. Before we start however, lets state upfront that there are a million ways to skin a cat, especially when it comes to Photoshop. People get hung up on doing things in one specific way and lets face it, everyone is a Photoshop “expert”. Having learned from some of the real Photoshop experts, I know enough to make me dangerous.

The idea for the composite was Doctor Who themed, because I happen to have some Doctor Who LEGO figures sitting on my shelf, but the technique is the same for a car, a person or a dog. In a Sunpak Lightcube, I placed a single strobe directly above the cube facing as close to straight down as my stand would allow. I then set my camera for Manual mode at ISO 100 f11 and shutter speed of 1/125th and checked exposure. I wanted the cleanest images possible so I shot at ISO 100, and f11 or f22 is needed especially for close-up work to ensure that as much of the subject is in focus, it should be noted that the closer you get to your subject when shooting small the less of it will be in focus. This aspect of photography can be difficult to master when first entering into the world of close-up shooting.  My 400 watt strobe was almost at its lowest power for a proper exposure. These settings left the background mostly white and the front of the subject dark. I framed my shot and added a large white bounce card which brought in more than enough light; achieving a nice flat lighting scheme.


_V3C9538-EditUsing Photoshop’s select and mask feature to cut out the images I then pasted them as smart objects into a background I found on Google of a Dalek ship. If you want tutorials on cutting out your subject from the background, a quick YouTube search will yield more than enough results to keep you entertained for hours. There is no reason for me to reinvent the wheel here and show you the technique.  I use smart objects because it allows you to resize the images once they are added to your composition without quality loss. Paste and Transform is limiting in that it doesn’t allow you to scale up without quality loss. Once your new subject is pasted into your image, go to image -> Transform and choose Free Transform. Hold the Shift key and grab a corner which will allow you to size the object while maintaining the proper proportions for your object. Hit v to activate the move tool and move the object around the scene until you are happy with the way things look. Here is what I ended up with. Looks great right? Except that everything has that classic 80’s pasted Photoshop look. Here is where the secret comes in…





Choose the layer your subject is on and then go to filters -> Render -> Lighting Effects, right away things will start looking a whole lot better I bet. The small oval inside is the light source, you can grab and elongate the source as well as adjust the power and color of the light.  Take a moment and look at where the light sources are in your scene, I chose this image because it has clearly defined light sources which I can mimic. Taking notes where your strobes are during a shoot can often be invaluable to adding objects in this fashion later on. Here is how I adjusted a couple of the objects in the scene with the rendered lights. And the final image.  Fun stuff right? Now you know the saying with great power comes great responsibility, at least if you are going to add that Corvette you wish you owned to the picture of your driveway, you can do it convincingly.

Doctor Who Composite