Retouching is an essential element of the photographic creative process.
Even when my commercial images are sent to another retoucher, I always retouch my own versions for my portfolio. I have my mentor Shelly Waldman to thank for suggesting this when I started working with external retouchers.
A truly great photo is made up of so many different elements and the editing process – where the colour, light and shadows are enhanced – is one of the most fundamentally important stages.
This is even more vital when you’re shooting to composite. Experimenting during the editing process can produce results you might never have imagined when you were caught up in the many activities of shooting. It’s during the editing process that you really see that amazing glisten of light or that perfect little bubble.
I live for those little bubbles.
I use a combination of Capture One and Photoshop to retouch my images. I get as much as possible done in Capture One (I love the precisions those Layers offer) and then make the final edits and composites in Photoshop.
Compositing for action
Learning how to composite images was a huge breakthrough in my photography and enabled me to shoot far more complicated, dynamic images.
Especially when capturing action, it enables you to craft the perfect scene or hero, then shoot the drips, drizzles, splashes and crashes separately. You can combine different pieces of action from different images to assemble that perfect, delicious moment.
My favourite tool for compositing in Photoshop is the Select Object Tool (found with the Magic Wand). You just drag the box around the piece of image you want to use and copy and paste it onto your hero. You might need to erase a little here and there, but it’s usually very effective and efficient.
Compositing for food styling
Compositing images is also great for your food styling.
Perhaps you only have one true hero item or component, but you’d like to show more. You can shoot the same hero from different angles or positions, then combine them all into one abundant scene.
It also means creating less food waste (the dirty secret of food photography).
Top tips for successful composites
- Think about what you’re trying to capture before you start and how best to divide the image into these different elements. Do all these parts need to be captured with the hero in the scene or can some be shot separately?
- Use artificial lighting and keep the lighting completely consistent between shots.
- Secure the hero firmly in place so it doesn’t move at all when you’re adding additional styling elements.
- Make sure you’ve got good focus across the important parts of the subject – this will often mean high f-stops as you won’t be able the focus stack a moving subject.
- Put lots of effort into styling a beautiful hero – if your composite goes wrong, at least you’ll still have a great result from the shoot.
- Shoot multiple versions of the same composite element (like a drizzle or splash) so you have options to choose from.
- When you’ve finished your light/contrast/colour edits in Lightroom or Capture One, open all the composites in Photoshop, then use the Select Object Tool to copy and paste different composite elements onto your hero image. Erase and smooth edges as necessary.