Shooting Interior Composite Portraits - Part 2

Once the shoot is finished and the images are uploaded, load them all into your favorite image browsing software.  The first thing I do is pick which of the portraits (the shot with the model) I like the best.  A great about shooting this way is that if I do not like another element in a photograph - say a chair was moved - I do not need to worry, since I am only using pieces of each image.  After I have settled on the best shot of the model, I meticulously go through the entire shoot, picking out different pieces, and also a good, clean shot of the background to use as my base image.  I am always keeping in mind the fact that I have heavily bracketed.  If I have a completely white window, sometimes adding a small amount of detail can create an excellent sense of depth.  If there are no bracketed exposures to work with, then there will be no detail to add in, leaving me with a large, white rectangle.  

Once all the shots are picked out, open the background image and the best portrait shot in Photoshop.  Make sure you process the raw files the same way.  White balance, contrast, etc should be the same.  Using the "move" tool (shortcut - V), hold down the "shift" key and drag the background onto the portrait.  Using the shift key makes sure that the background image is perfectly lined up with the portrait.  Now add a mask to the background shot.  For a basic composite, simply take the paint brush tool, and paint out the elements of the background that are obscuring the portrait.  In this image of the woman at the table, my light took up most of the left side of the frame, so after dragging the background image, I painted over most of the right side of the frame.  This allows me to retain the well-lit portrait, but also have the original scene that was located behind my strobe.  

InteriorPortrait Image 3.jpg
"In this image, I used a large, soft light source that I placed on the left side of the frame.  This gave me ideal light on the model's face, but would need some compositing to bring the image to final product, as seen on the right."

In this case, the resulting mask will not look pretty, but it does the job.  In more complex situations, a cleaner mask will be needed, especially if you use different exposures for the background and portrait shots.  In this image of the man in the canoe, the back of the garage was lit with car headlights, and the model was lit with strobe.  In combining the two shots, I had to carefully mask out the original background behind the model for the headlight-lit background to show up.  

Thumbnail image for InteriorPortrait Image 4.jpg
"The result of careful compositing."

What I am left with is an image in which I have removed traditional limitations of lighting and composition.  Using this technique, or variations of it, allows for significantly more options in making portraits.  A fascinating environment can add another layer to the story of the photograph, as well as insight into the subject.  It is easy to overlook our surroundings and focus in on a tight headshot, or be tempted to crop out all the "empty" space around a subject.  Shooting wider used to mean compromising with lighting or using elaborate equipment.  With a sturdy tripod and Adobe Photoshop, what was once the realm of only the most well appointed photographers is now open to almost any passionate practitioner of the craft.  

Here is a list of some of the equipment that I use to make "interior portraits," my personal preferences are indicated in the parenthesis.

  • Digital SLR (My preference - Canon 5D Mark II)
  • Lens Wider than 50mm (Canon 35mm F1.4)
  • Sturdy Tripod (Bogen 3021 base and 3047 head)
  • Cable release
  • Lighting equipment - any strobe or continuous light source will work
  • Sang bags - for weighing down tripod and light stands

Any version of Photoshop works; there are no elaborate tricks in this process.  If you can drag one image on top of another, and make a decent mask, this is within your skill level.  

jf.gifJoshua Lehrer | Website
Josh is a recent graduate of the Advertising Photography program at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  His career started in the NJ/NYC area where he worked as a freelance photographer, writer, and consultant.  He also worked as marketing coordinator for a large photography retailer.  He currently resides in South Florida, where he continues to be heavily involved in the photography industry.