Clinton Lofthouse’s top ten tips for creating epic digital composites
Digital artist and SmugMug customer Clinton Lofthouse gives us his top 10 tips for creating digital composites. Based in England, UK, Clinton uses his imagination to create spellbounding composites that leave us amazed. Watch Clinton’s journey creating one of his epic composites in this video and be inspired to try it yourself with his tips and advice on this unique style of digital art.
Tip #1: Create mood boards.
In photography, it is always wise to pre-plan, but I feel with composites you need to to take this to another level. Composite photography has so many separate tasks that only a crazy fool would blindly go into creating one without any thought beforehand. My pre-plan has a few different tasks, but one of the main components is mood boarding. Mood boards can be used for any aspect of the image creation, but I usually create them in Pinterest to collect images that I can use for inspiration for my concept. For example, if I’m creating an image of a giant monster, I will collect various giant monster art on one page so I can use it to inspire my own theme. If I want a certain lighting in my image, I will create a mood board with images that all use the same lighting. If you don’t mood board, just give it a try and see what you think.
Tip #2: Use reference images.
Using reference images is a little similar to mood boarding but used for an altogether different reason. Mood boards are for inspiration, reference images are used to help you create a certain aspect of an image. Say I am creating an image where someone is holding a fire torch, well how do I know what a fire torch looks like, and how do I create fire in Photoshop to look like one? The best way to do this is to find images of a fire torch and have them where you can see them whilst editing in Photoshop. This way you can use the real-life images as guides to create your own fake fire torch. You can do this with any aspect. If you want to create a snowy lamplit scene, find images of snowy lamplit scenes and use these to guide you and show you what that looks like. You can then copy the characteristics and aesthetics of the reference image into your own creation to add realism.
Tip #3: Tell a story.
Now before everyone starts complaining that I haven’t even touched on any Photoshop tips yet, let me just say that there is more to creating images than editing. If you want to create images that are more than just pretty photos you need to have a story. A story can be literal, or it can be more metaphorical. I believe if you have your story worked out beforehand your final image will be stronger because it will always be in the back of your mind when directing models or making any decisions for the image.
Tip #4: Create your background first.
Why? Because it makes your life so much easier when shooting the model or main focus of your composite. This is because once you have the background, you have all the clues in front of you to show you how to shoot your moveable object. From looking at your background image you can see what lighting you need to use, what angle, what colours, etc. The list goes on and on. Of course, by all means shoot your model first if that’s how you roll, but I believe you will have fewer complications if you work the background first.
Tip #5: Focus on lighting.
There are two biggies that need to match when creating realistic composites, and the first one is light. Focus on the light’s direction and how soft or hard it is. If the light is coming from the left side in your background and your model is lit from the right, the image will contradict itself and not work at all. This might be preaching to the choir, but I have seen a lot of composites where background and subject lighting don’t match. Another one I see often is a natural light environment, but the model has a hard rim light around the body. It may look cool, but you are trying to sell the fake and mismatched lighting is a big give away. This of links back to tip #4. Look at your background light and then mimic that when you shoot your model.
Tip #6: Colour matching.
The second of the biggies that need to match to create realistic composites…colour! Again, this is one of the main issues I see when people are creating composites. Different colour tones in the separate elements. For example, the background image is a frozen winter scene with lots of blues, but the model who was shot in the studio is a warmer colour with oranges and reds. All you need to do is manipulate the warmer model with curves (or whichever technique you prefer) and bring some blues in, eliminate the reds and your subject will blend into its environment better.
Tip #7: Don’t just stick your subject in, blend them.
Once you have cut out your subject and placed them into your background, your mission is not yet complete. You need to blend them into the environment. One clear way to do this is to add a shadow. It grounds the subject. Don’t just stop at that, though. There are lots of little techniques to blend, but it all depends on the surroundings of the image. One good way to do this is if the light is coming from behind, try painting light leaks over your subject. Another route would be, on a very low opacity, to sample the colour around the subject and paint a little around the sides to mimic colour reflection.
Tip #8: It’s all about the little details.
Sometimes we get so bogged down with the bigger picture we forget to focus on the little details. In composite photography, we are trying to sell a fake. To do this we need to create a sense of realism in a fictional image by adding as many realistic details as possible. This could be strands of hair blowing in the wind. It could be the dust particles caught in the light by a window, or the mist glowing in the air by a lamp. All these elements strengthen your image but don’t create chaos or lead the viewer’s eye away from the subject by adding too many. It’s a fine line to tread.
Tip #9: Don’t forget the foreground.
When we create composites, one of our biggest challenges is to create depth. We want our image to come to life, and feel like we could step into that world. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is adding a foreground element, usually blurred. It is always good to think about this beforehand and choose something that fits with your concept. An easy example would be a jungle composite. To add a foreground element you could cut out some tree branches and leaves, bring them into the foreground of your image, and then add a gaussian blur for depth. This technique is surprisingly easy and quite effective.
Tip #10: Observe other’s art.
Be sure to observe, dissect, and analyze the art that inspires you. Don’t just look at an image and think Ooooooohh pretty. Look deeper. How does the composition work together? What colours has the artist used to manipulate the mood? How has the artist used contrast to focus the subject? Once you are done with the technical, look for the deeper meanings. What emotions and metaphors grab ahold of you? Art can inspire you, and you can also learn from it. Surround yourself with images that fire up your imagination and stir emotion. It’s a win-win situation.
Clinton is currently focusing on movie and TV promo artwork and you can view more of his incredible composites on his SmugMug site here.
Models: Nick Hardy, Andy Boocock, Mia Resa, Scu Tempesta, Stephen Harrison, Angela Roberts Makeup: Cyberdoll faces Cyborg Arm and eye Prop : Shortie Props
Feb 21, 2018 · 7 min read