Con­sid­er­a­tions for your next com­pos­ite prod­uct photo

Com­pos­ite pho­tog­ra­phy can be a great way of work­ing with­in bud­get and time restraints. How­ev­er, com­pos­ite pho­tos require care­ful plan­ning in order to make the shoot­ing & edit­ing process effi­cient and the end result suc­cess­ful. We’ve out­lined a few con­sid­er­a­tions you might want to think about for your next com­pos­ite pho­to shoot.

Start at the end and work backwards

If you are attempt­ing a real­is­tic prod­uct com­pos­ite, the image you choose as your pri­ma­ry back­ground will have a huge effect on how the prod­uct will be shown. Choos­ing a suit­able image can save you time in the shoot and a lot of time retouch­ing. So here are a few things to con­sid­er when look­ing for an image.

Be selec­tive

Con­sid­er how the image will inform the per­spec­tive, scale, light­ing and colour of the prod­uct being added to it. Will the light­ing show prod­uct well? Does the image have suf­fi­cient depth of field? Is the light source obvi­ous and are you able to re-cre­ate it? What sur­face will the prod­uct sit on? And does the over­all feel of the image match the aspi­ra­tions of the tar­get market?

Con­sid­er res­o­lu­tion and aspect ratio

If the final com­pos­ite is going to be print­ed at a large size, or used in a por­trait ori­en­ta­tion, your choice of image should account for the required res­o­lu­tion and ratio. If the image will have mul­ti­ple uses, try to account for the most demand­ing use.

Look at the metadata

Once you have cho­sen your start­ing image, look at the meta­da­ta (if it has any) and try and deter­mine sen­sor size, focal length, shut­ter speed, aper­ture and ISO. All these para­me­ters will inform you how best to con­vinc­ing­ly match your shot with the found image.

Look for the horizon

By estab­lish­ing where the hori­zon line is with­in your image you can match the van­ish­ing points of the prod­uct you are adding to it with those already in the scene.

You can find the hori­zon line by fol­low­ing par­al­lel lines until they meet. This often involves extend­ing the images can­vas in your image edi­tor, then draw­ing lines that orig­i­nate from objects in the scene. Images may have more than one van­ish­ing point. For exam­ple if you’re pho­tograph­ing the cor­ner of a build­ing and can see two of its sides there will be two van­ish­ing points.

The hori­zon is then drawn across where those van­ish­ing points meet. You now have the begin­ning of a per­spec­tive grid. The hori­zon can tell you a few use­ful things about the image. If the hori­zon falls below the mid­dle of your image the lens was like­ly point­ing down on the sub­ject. And if the hori­zon is towards the top of the image the cam­era was like­ly point­ing up at the sub­ject. In prac­ti­cal terms, if you can see the top of objects e.g. the roof of a car, either the hori­zon line will be below the cen­tre of the frame or the cam­era height has been raised.

Shoot for the edit

Hav­ing cho­sen the back­ground image care­ful­ly and exam­ined its char­ac­ter­is­tics, we now have a good idea of the light­ing and angle we need to shoot the prod­uct at to match.

Tips on match­ing the angle

If you are shoot­ing teth­ered with Cap­ture One you can over­lay a ref­er­ence image (the per­spec­tive grid you have already cre­at­ed) to check the angle. A sim­i­lar tech­nique is described on the Cap­ture One blog.

Alter­na­tive­ly, if your cam­era has an inbuilt mul­ti­ple expo­sure mode you can also use this to align the angle of the sur­face you are pho­tograph­ing. First take an image of your per­spec­tive grid on a black back­ground (by pho­tograph­ing your com­put­er screen) then match the lines of that grid to the sur­face the prod­uct is on (the black will become trans­par­ent leav­ing only the ref­er­ence lines). 

Match­ing the surface

If the sur­face you are going to be plac­ing the prod­uct on is reflec­tive, or has notice­able shad­ows, try­ing to approx­i­mate­ly match the reflec­tiv­i­ty and tex­ture can go along way towards mak­ing the prod­uct feel con­vinc­ing­ly grounded. 

Match­ing the lighting

By study­ing the back­ground image you should have a good idea about the direc­tion, inten­si­ty and colour of the light you are try­ing to mim­ic. Con­sid­er the scale of the prod­uct, if it’s small you can repli­cate a larg­er light source in the scene by bring­ing the light clos­er to the product.

Mak­ing it easy to cutout

To make things eas­i­er when it comes to edit­ing, hav­ing a back­ground that is in con­trast to the prod­uct will help to speed up the cutout process. Alter­na­tive­ly, you can use a green screen setup.

Final retouches

When it comes to the edit, you start by cut­ting out the prod­uct, remem­ber­ing to leave any shad­ows or reflec­tions need­ed. You then find the van­ish­ing point(s) of the prod­uct using the same process as ear­li­er. This will give you ref­er­ence points to place on the hori­zon line of your back­ground image. Now you can scale and move the prod­uct any­where along that hori­zon and the per­spec­tive will match. Any colour and con­trast tweaks can then be made to help the prod­uct blend in. Using these tech­niques should help take some of the guess­work out of your next composite. 

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