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USA, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, Composite portrait of man with his RC plane. MR (Rick A. Brown/www.moosephoto.com)

With all the cool stuff I’ve recently posted to my web page, I had a hard decision deciding what to blog about today. Eventually, I decided to describe how I made this aviation themed composite portrait. You may remember, I wrote about this idea here, when it first popped into my head.

After reading and learning the techniques taught in Matt Klaskowski’s,  Photoshop Compositing Secrets: Unlocking the Key to Perfect Solutions & Amazing Photoshop Effects for Totally Realistic Composites and acquiring my studio lighting, I thought that a composite portrait of a pilot with his plane flying over his shoulder would be something fantastic I could offer my clients. So I immediately set upon creating an example piece.

I started with the portrait of my Dad, the RC pilot. This was actually the first serious project I undertook with my lighting kit. I went with a gridded strobe behind and to one side and a bare speedlight on the other side (I currently only have two studio heads.) I then placed a beauty dish without the diffusion sock above and in front. Ratios were set so that the lights behind and to the side were considerably stronger than the front light. Once I got this image into the computer I lightened the shadows considerably, darkened the highlights significantly as well and set the clarity quite high in Lightroom.

 (Rick A. Brown)

Next I decided on what to use as a backgound. I decided to go with this old sunset at Rocky Mountain National Park.

USA, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, sunset from Forest Canyon Overlook. (Rick A. Brown/www.moosephoto.com)

This is an image where an HDR image was merged with a standard image to arrive at this image. You can see a more detailed account of that process here. A general overview though, is that I tone-mapped the image in Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. This yielded overall a great image, but I hated how the sunstar looked. So, I picked the original image where I liked how the sun looked the best, layered it on top and then masked everything else out.

Finally, came the plane. This took a while as initially we did not have a plane that looked cool enough, in my opinion. Furthermore, I was initially planning on taking the image of the plane in actual flight and we needed to get good enough to fly the plane at me safely. Well eventually we got the super cool Carbon Cub from E-flite and we figured out a more controllable way to get the image. We hung the plane upside down from monofilament and placed a strobe such that it would closely match the light that should fall on the plane if it were actually flying in the image. Then I placed a fill flash near the camera.

 (Rick A. Brown)

This shot was then brought into Lightroom and processed along the same lines as the portrait.

Then came the actual compositing. I opened all the images in Photoshop and selected my Dad and the plane in their respective images using the techniques of quick select and refine edge as described in Matt’s book. Let me tell you the plane was easier to select, even on the sort of messed up background. I think this is because planes have very defined edges where us Homo sapiens have fuzzy edges with all of our hair and what-not. I output these selections from refine edge as “new layer with layer mask.” I then drug the images into the background image and placed them where I wanted them.

Then came the step of trying to make the portrait and plane look more like they belong there. I started by selecting the mountain and sun part of the landscape and putting that on its own layer and using the Average Blur filter to create a swatch of color. I initially tried the whole landscape, but with all that blue sky, it resulted in gray. I then blended this with the portrait and plane on color mode and adjusted the opacity of the layer so that it only gave the two items a little color. Then I stamped all visible layers to a layer on top, the famous [shift][ctrl][alt][e] shortcut. I then opened Color Efex Pro4 and applied the Tonal Contrast filter on Balanced mode to unify the image and give it a little of the gritty look I wanted.

My final step was to make the prop look blurred. I tried to merge from a photo of the plane running, didn’t like that. So I used Radial Blur in Photoshop. This was quite difficult to get lined up correctly and even now, it sort of looks wonky. Thing is, I like it the way it is now.

Take a closer look at this image and look my entire portrait portfolio.