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Making a Not-So-Awesome Location Look Rad

Whenever we get some spare time at a wedding, my wife Beth & I try to really let our hair down and attempt something new that we’ve never seen or done before. At Spencer and Leslie’s barn/manor wedding this past September, the stars and planets aligned and we got a chance to do just that.

These clients were two of the coolest people in the world, and their bridal party was just as rad. So we knew Spencer and Leslie were game to try something different. We knew we had trust on our side.

When it began to rain outside the venue, we spied a dingy game room, and lightning struck our brains. Beth and I have created some killer pics in dark rooms before, so we thought, “Let’s mix a little Mad Men with some Godfather and make a composite image that wows the viewer.” Composites allow us to bend reality a bit and utilize dramatic, creative lighting. So we knew we could make magic happen here even though the room itself was nothing special.

Recreating the Moody Mob Movie Feeling

The creative process started with a pep talk for the groomsmen. No matter what type of client you’re working withprofessional model or notit’s always a good idea to explain what you are planning to do and how it might seem strange for your subject. It puts clients at ease.

We wanted the guys to look confident and strong. We posed them in the scene while coaching them to look awesome and sit still. The posing process was very basic and was done in just a couple minutes.

Using a handheld flash, a tripoded camera and our favorite modifier, the MagGrid, I carefully maneuvered through the men, lighting each guy in a dramatic way over the course of 7 shots (6 groomsmen and 1 pool table). The groom was camera-aware to keep the emphasis on him. With the poses planned, the entire process from gear prep to actual shooting took about 10 minutes.

spencer composite setup-1

Back at home, we applied our Lightroom preset to the photos, then opened them all as layers in Photoshop. With stacked layers, once you erase parts of the top layer, your second photo can pop through, and the two layers can be merged down. The process is repeated until every guy can be seen. Next we did a ton of dodging and burning to hide any flaws and accentuate the subjects.

Composites are not exactly easy to edit. They take a lot of fine-tuning, especially if your clients move slightly while the shooting is taking place. But once the photos are opened as layers in Photoshop, simple erasing and merging of layers can be done in under 5 minutes. When finished, clients typically have no clue what you did to the photothey just know they love it.

Our Tips for Slaying a Composite Image

The key to composite images is really knowing your gear and the post-processing. Beth & I have developed a deep knowledge of how light hits people and how we can make them look cool. We study dramatic movies, sometimes pausing the scenes and discussing the ‘how and why’ a person was lit.

When you’re first attempting these kinds of shots, we recommend starting slow with a two-shot composite and building from there. A tripod is key, and a MagGrid is pivotal in controlling the beam of light and reducing light spray. Check out the behind the scenes photo (which is also a composite of a bunch of images) and start practicing. Practice makes perfect!

spencer composite final-1

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