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San Francisco, CA
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sean mcclelland

[10]  To be successful as an artist, you have to define your personal style, and then perfect it, if you want to separate yourself from the crowd. Along the way, however, I believe it's important to experiment with unfamiliar techniques. This experimentation helps you stay current, well-rounded, and will often provide new opportunities when you least expect it. My latest experiment was creating a composite (not composting, the former being a photographic technique in which multiple shots are seamlessly combined into single image, the latter being something you should be doing with all of your food scraps). If you haven't see the work of Joel Grimes, Tim Tadder, Dave Hill or James Quantz, go check 'em out, I bow before their work. Compositing today is what HDR was 5 years, all the rage.


With the help of Matt Kloskowski'sPhotoshop Compositing Secrets book, I set forth, and created the image you see above. The final image is not all what I planned... and not even a true "composite" in photography speak, but I had fun nonetheless, and developed an appreciation for the technique.

The original image was shot just for fun, before heading out to a Halloween roller-disco party (gotta love this town). It was shot outside on a chilly night, and I haphazardly rigged up some strobes to get a few quick shots. Using this image for a composite was a bad idea, though, because separating black hair from a nearly black background is a PAIN in the ARSE. You can still see black residue around our hair. After a few tries and failures to put us on a lighter, more interesting background, I settled on a union jack, some grunge, and punk-styled text.


Here is what I learned during the process:

  1. Photoshop's "refine edge" technique works pretty darn well, but it's not exactly the bees knees when it comes to really tough jobs on hair or low-contrast edges. A plug-in like Perfect Mask would probably do a better job.
  2. Composites (really good ones) are very difficult. And even if you are a Photoshop wiz, you absolutely have to pre-visualize the final piece, and plan the shot insure that the lighting, tones and angles all match up.
  3. Composites take time, and patience. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I don't (yet) have the patience for this style of photography. And as it turns out, I don't even enjoy the process very much. I'd rather spend 3 weeks messing with a series of abstract, light painting images, trying to create a random space creature, than spend 20 minutes masking-out a wispy head of hair. To each his own!

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