Unreal Nature

October 30, 2007

What is the Single Overwhelming Limitation when Making Photorealistic Composite Stills?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:58 am


Actually it’s two consequences of gravity: angle and base/feet. These are almost certainly not what a non-compositor might have expected to be the limitations of this medium.

People who don’t mess with their straight photographic content seem to think we can do anything we like. Not even close. First, compositing requires considerable explicit knowledge of lightfall, and the skills required to create that in Photoshop. The latter is immediately intimidating to beginners, but I can tell you that the harder part of that skill set is learning what light (shadows) really looks like and why. Tint, angle, stretch, edge blur, fade within the shadow, overlapping shadows … first why? and then how?

Those are skills; hard but not insurmountable. You can’t get around gravity. Consider the Sky Stones series. Why, when you look at those pictures are you so intensely aware of weight and balance? Why must the rocks be where they are? After all its just colored blobs on your screen. Then consider why it doesn’t bother you that the sky behind the stones is sideways; those clouds should be above the stones, not behind them. Sky Stones

 Angle has to match. If I use a background that is at a 45° angle then all objects added must have been photographed at a 45° angle. It is almost impossible to know at what angle you are shooting unless you always use a tripod fixed to the same angle and sitting on flat terrain. In addition, lightfall of overlapping objects then becomes many times harder to estimate. Therefore, I stick to shooting and compositing perfectly horizontal or perfectly vertical (straight down). The latter has the great advantage of removing all issues of lost base/feet on objects.

The feet or the base is that upon which (because of gravity) something must sit. Must! The rocks in the Sky Stone series can sit on almost any of their round edges as long as they appear balanced, but living things, and many inanimate objects have a particular base upon which they must stand in the absence of a clear reason otherwise. Unless I am lucky, or take care in the setup arrangement (assuming I am in control), every object that I collect for compositing has missing content at its base. For example, a single sunflower seed can obscure most of a bird’s foot. Reconstructing a birds foot is not impossible (by borrowing from other birds – of the same color, same angle, same species…) but it’s not practical when dealing with seven or eight birds per picture. I can and do almost always have to reconstruct bird mouths which are full of bird seed but beaks are less complicated than feet.


Therefore you see in my composites where feet are obscured or cut off. The base of whatever is being composited is almost always a rigid limitation on what can be created. When I start thinking about a new series, the first thing I think about is not how to make fantastic, wildly creative beautiful scenes. The first thing I think about are (bleeping) feet.

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