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Practical Ways of Lighting for Composite

Lesson 9 from: Fine Art Compositing

Brooke Shaden

Practical Ways of Lighting for Composite

Lesson 9 from: Fine Art Compositing

Brooke Shaden

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Lesson Info

9. Practical Ways of Lighting for Composite


Class Trailer

Day 1


Class Introduction


Why Composite ?


Logic Checklist


What Not To Do When Compositing


Shooting for Composite


Changing Backgrounds and Light


Shoot: Simple Swaps Part 1


Lesson Info

Practical Ways of Lighting for Composite

we are going to be talking about lighting now and that's a kind of a strange thing to do considering I don't use lights in almost anything that ideo but I still think that light is one of the most important things in an image especially in a composite so just recently I've been experimenting with lights I had a very nice person give me some light so I don't know how to use them and so I've been sort of like piecing them together and plugging random things in random places and hoping something works and ninety percent of the time it doesn't work so what we're going to do today is talk about white so we have a light over here it's turned on that's all we need so we're going to be playing with that a little bit and I'm not going to talk about how to turn lights on and how to be fancy with lights and stuff like that I'm just going to talk about practical ways of lighting for the composite so based on different backgrounds based on different situations that you might be shooting in that you...

need to fix the lighting that's the kind of thing that we're going to be lighting for not so much you know ten point lighting or something like that is something three point lighting is a thing I know that so we're not doing that either but we're doing a couple of different lights and really practical light sources so we have a standing lamp that we're going to use in a desk lamp that we're going to use is what was this light which is the more professional of the three but I am intimidated by it so that's it let's talk a little bit about lighting now the other day that a lighting test and it was my first time ever that I went into a shoot just to see what the light would be like so I set up two lights and they were to continuous lights just bearable blights and I set up a black backdrop and that was how I started creating this image over here I started with that black backdrop and I went over and I just sort of taking pictures of myself with two lights shining on my hair so one was up here looking down this way and then the other one was back here looking down this way same height same position just behind me looking down at my body so I sort of working with lights like that and I said all I want to do is create separation from my hair in the background I want back white on my head two reasons for doing that one was to practice cutting things out from a background which I do periodically I'll take shots of hair sometimes like this where I don't even need to really and the point is just to see if I can move it from that background just to test it and see what works best and stuff like that so it's what I started to do here so the first thing I did was I did this lighting test the top image was just me wearing my normal clothes taking pictures of the black backdrop in my hair against it so in this case I wasn't trying to do anything fancy I just wanted to see what the light would look like now what I did for this lighting test is pretty much exactly the situation we have here I used to artificial whites on either side too backlight my hair but then I used a window in front toe light my body and so there was still light coming in on my face with the two lights behind I started shooting like that and was sort of flipping through the images I found this one that I really liked and that was when I said this is an alice in wonderland picture so let's go for it so I ran to my garage I put on a new dress I came back in and that's when I took this middle photo and I took that picture my on ly thing that I was trying to do was try to match how the hair looked and how the face position and all of that because I wanted to be looking down at the hole in the ground that was not yet there so then you might be wondering why did you take a picture of just your shoulders in your head if you were trying to take a picture of your whole body good question one that you do not need to do ever in your life pretty much but let's mentioned anyways so I was shooting with this black backdrop now I don't have a studio I don't have a space to shoot in my house so I make things up so I bought this black fabric just from a fabric store and then I put my my dining room chairs on top of my table and then I took the black fabric and I took some ponytail holders and I just wrapped him around the top and then that was my studio so I was doing that and I was right next to a window they really the only window in my house that gets really good white so I had the light it was a big door window so that meant that it would light my whole body evenly and because of that I didn't I didn't have space to move things away from that window but if I moved even if I tried to move too far away from my window that I wouldn't be lit anymore enough to counter the lights that were behind me so I was trying to find a closeness to the window that would allow the ratio of light to be correct to be enough that one light wasn't overpowering another light so I shot it like that and then as I continued shooting and this goes into some of the compositing they were going to do later I started taking my tripod since this is a self portrait and I started with my tripod up here and then I lowered it here and then he lowered it here and each time I lowered my tripod I took a picture of a different section of my body so I had a picture of my chest and my arms and then a picture of my hips and a picture of my legs and all these different pieces that I put together to create my body in the final picture we'll talk about that in a second so back to the lighting here now what I did was I have very blond hair now it's a new development and and what I did was I had this hair and decided to light it up and that was the perfect situation for cutting something out of a background you can't get better than this you have backlight which is already creating separation from the hair and the background you have a black backdrop with nearly white hair on front of it I can't ask for more than that so I started doing that test and then I said you know what I'm doing a test for how easy it is to move this hair off the background so let's just move it off the background and so that's how we get to the spinal picture here where this image exactly ended up coming down here and you can kind of see in these images that almost every single little hair has been transferred to that final image so we don't have the problem of all these hairs that are around here not following through to the final image because they're being cut off for something or your selection process isn't good enough they're all still there every little hair and that's what I really really want I mean nobody wants to have to chop hair off when you're moving here to a different background so that was the goal here and it wasn't the easiest process for me I mean I don't do well with moving things very often but what I'm trying to do is get as much air as possible and put it on a new backdrop no one thing that I will share about this is that I started with a white background here nearly white there were no clouds in the background of this image and I'll show you that in a second and when I transferred my hair onto that background I noticed that there were some black outlining of my hair when I moved it which is just a process that one usually goes through to cut something out of a background so I had this black outlining and s so good so I was trying to figure out what I was going to do to fix that and I decided to put clouds in the background that we're a little bit on the dark side that way it kind of counter that a little bit but I also went in with the dodge tool and went around on those black edges justo lighten them a little bit so then it smoothed out a little bit more I did things like brightening the hair around the edges just a little bit to get that teo sort of blended in a little bit better but in general I tried not to go with two bright of a sky behind there so that it doesn't look like just two contrast ing so this is what I mean by I moved my camera down and took new pictures so I started with the camera up here and then actually this is already with some of the mid section put on and then over here this is one picture to picture three pictures now there and then we have the rest popping on so more dressed down here we have the legs coming in here and then this was the final composite here so what we had was we had the top of the head to the bottom of the foot and all of that was put together even though I only had about four three or four feet of space in front yeah you do photos like that do mark the spot where you're standing or I find going back and forth behind the camera in front it's really easy to forget where you were and I d'oh I always mark my spot and usually usually um outside so usually just put a rock down or some things that I know like okay my right toe has tto be there when I stand up straight because a lot of the time I'm not just standing there usually I'm like doing this or moving or something so it gets a little confusing always have a marker in this case I was just looking at my floor which is like has sort of a spy watch e design on it and I said that's my spot right there so yes so that is what I was doing there now obviously you can see here that the black backdrop which is just on the chairs in the background didn't really go down to the floor there was just table behind there and stuff like that and I knew that that would happen and I knew that that was okay too because nothing in my house is bright as my skin that's nothing in the world prabha always hurt my skin but yes so I was sort of very ghostly in front of that window very litt I didn't have to worry too much about not being able to cut myself out because that was a pretty simple process because of the contrast so one thing that we're doing with lighting in terms of cutting somebody out of a background making absolutely certain that there's enough contrast between the subject in the background we have a model here today for the shooting segment where she's dressed in quite a dark dress and that's just to show how to come back that now this is a very bright dress so of course the white easily let that dress up but what happens when you're wearing a dark dress and you don't have that luxury this was the first shot that I started with which seems really silly but this was supposed to be a group shot that I took this year earlier of some new friends that I made and in this process I was just sort of flipping through pictures looking for stock photos that I had and I came across this now what I did in this picture was I actually had my focal point right about here in this picture why I don't know that I did and they were out of focus back there so that was a really good thing for me because I could use this as a stock image despite thinking it was just a I mean I don't even know why same to this picture it was just there was very serendipitous so I ended up using this is my background shot and the things that are working for me here is that we have white sky in the back which as I mentioned I don't want a white sky but that is perfect for adding clouds in so we'll talk more about that later so I had the white sky and we have the trees which I got rid of and very unfortunately got rid of all my people here but I did and so what I ended up doing was I started to build first thing as I did this now what is happening here there's a perspective shift happening here so if I go back you can see the whole ground is moving up so you can see that moving up and that's because I'm changing the perspective of this image so I'm going into photo shop amusing the transform tools and I'm changing the perspective so that everything matches this was not a perfect match this is one of those situations where maybe I should have gone to shoot a separate background but I wanted this sort of manicured lawn look and I did not know where to get that where I live we don't have that so I don't know where to go this was working pretty well after some adjustments so I move forward the hole in the ground which obviously wasn't there to begin with is from another shot of mine so this image was very much about piecing different things together from wherever I could find it so I found this hole that I had used once and it fit perfectly in this grass it was really really good match just based on the angle so that was great so I put that hole in there and I said okay that works now let's see if my body will pop in and it did so it's a very drastic changes what s so I put everything in there and now this is not the final image even though it kind of looks like the final image so what's wrong with this picture as it is right there the lighting avi I guess that's obvious because we're doing a lighting segment but anyways this is something that I never would have noticed on my own it's something that it goes back to that logic idea and how I don't have it and so I have trouble seeing things in terms of light and perspective and stuff like that so I showed this to my husband as I always do and hey said well you know it's nice but the white doesn't make sense in the background because he did not see how I shot this he did not see my setup he didn't watch me do it yet he still knew that the light was coming from above me in this picture where I shot myself and I was kind of like a drafts he noticed and I've got a tinge it and so eh so I started with this these clouds back here because I just loved the sort of atmosphere that I brought him I loved how it drew your attention right to the center of the image I thought it was really dynamic but then I said okay I need more light so first thing I did was I moved this light from the clouds and I moved it up but it looked really unbalanced it just looked like there was so much nothingness behind her and then just a whole bunch of light up top it didn't really make sense so that's when I started thinking what else can I do should I add more clouds in should I you know how should I fix this so that's when I did that no you also notice my arms moving which let me go back here you see that I don't really get it that see this is how my arms really look but if they just looked too tiny what what I really dio I still don't know it's a mystery so I guess I have really tiny arms and I had to make them bigger but mostly what I did here is I added the sky up top so because we have clouds up top is well it indicates that there's light up there and coming down here so that means that the light could be coming from above or behind or just anywhere in the distance in the background there it's good movement what we have here okay so that's where the light was coming from in this picture without being able to pinpoint where your lights coming from that generally means the other lighting issue I mean either it's overcast lighting so you know the light's coming from straight above or lights coming from the left or the right or the front of the back and those are all things that we just have to know when you're doing a composite so that led me to realize when I was thinking more about light even in this first one that the grass didn't match I mean we were we had clouds that day it was sort of overcast and so what we're going to do about this we had to fix it I mean I had to change the white on the grass and I didn't do that by selecting the edges of each blade of grass to create backlight on them or anything like that because that would be crazy so instead I just selected a very big general area and added a lot of contrast and by adding that contrast it gives the look like the light was a little bit harsher on that grass than it was before so if I go back here you can see that there really isn't a lot of light on the grass that makes it look like a spotlight effect really but then here we get the sense that there is light coming from above and hitting the subject from above and on the ground and that was very very important to me in this process so no light source in the motivated light source and that's when I say motivated light I'm simply talking about where's the light coming from like logically and I don't mean you have to see a light source but in this case we did have to see a light source otherwise it just doesn't quite make sense especially because these clouds gets so much darker as we move up there's no way those clouds would be darker if the light was coming from above it just can't happen ok any questions about that last image though okay I think it's worth pointing out just how much effort you do go into to think about these these concepts because that's something that it's again it's you said earlier that it's the shadows sometimes that really sell an image and this idea of motivated light and actually thinking okay despite the fact that this is a it's a very surreal image it's you know most people don't float in the air above holes in the ground like that doesn't happen but it's still there's an internal reality to it um again when you're talking about planning your your images out how much time do you spend thinking about things like this or is this something that you start to kind of bring in once you're actually working on the image I so for example because this was an interesting process for me and that I started with just a lighting test I didn't even put it cost you monks I thought nobody will ever see this I just need to practice and once I started doing that I became inspired but I will never go through the photo shoot until I have the full idea so before I ever shot you know might the rest of my body and the dress and everything I said okay I'm going to be alice and wonderland she's going to be jumping down this hole that's going to be the story so I went forward with that in mind not necessarily knowing that I would use those clouds in the background but definitely knowing what the composition would look like the kind of setting that I wanted I knew that I wanted a little bunny in there and well that little bunny I like that money because I went searching for a bunny once and it was like right after easter so all the bunnies were gone so sad and I finally found this one bunny at like nordstrom or something like twenty five dollars for that bunny wrap it so now I try to use it whenever I can because you know I spent twenty five dollars on a bunny rabbit it's craziness that's fu fu bunny okay anyway so yeah so that's somebody pointed out terror pointed out that it is a relatively subtle difference so how much of your time do you think is spent on these subtle little differences versus the big elements well to be honest I think that the planning process is where I think about the big picture and then once I get into editing it's all about the tiniest little changes for me and so I start you know with okay so I've got a composite my hand onto my body because you can kind of see in one of these processes here or somewhere there that my hands actually cut off in this picture so it's things like that where it's like you know in the end nobody's going to think that I spent ten minutes attaching a hand to my body and yet I'm on ly focused on that hand but I'm only focused on fixing that little part and then I'm on ly focused on putting the legs on that I'm on ly focused on making sure the feet match and then you know so it's so many little tiny things and that's why I like in my process much more teo a painter in that I start with a very blank canvas and I'm on ly worried about which a blob of paint needs to go on next in order to set the foundation for more paint to go on and so that's kind of how I like to approach it

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Logic Checklist
Must Have Shots
Favorite Photoshop Tools
Lighting Effects
Practice Files - Cutting out Hair from Background
Practice Files - Building a Dress
Practice Files - Swapping Hand
Practice Files - Levitation
Adorama Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Logan Fox

I'm so thrilled to have come across this course and to have been introduced to Brooke Shaden. As a bit of background I do photography as a hobby, and always had an appetite to composite my work. It's only after watching this course that I can finally put a name to a craft that I love, that being 'fine art photography'. Through my own personal journey I've read various books, followed online tutorials both paid and free. When I came across this course I did hesitate. I wondered 'is it going to teach me anything new'... 'would the standard of the course be up to scratch'. Well, I can honestly say with hand on heart that this is by far is one of the best courses I've come across to date. As a solo photographer myself I've found it difficult at times to be both photographer and subject at the same time. From the outset what became clear was that Brooke is just like me in this respect which made the course so 'relevant' to what I do. Brooke shows throughout the course what can be achieved with a little planning and some creative approaches to situations that can be difficult to pull off when on your own. She is such a joy to watch and listen to, I loved her sense of humor and great how the audience were involved in some of the shoots. All I can say is, if you're in to photography and interested in compositing your work, you should give this a go, you wont regret it!


I'd like to show my gratitude and gratefulness to Ms Shaden and other wonderful people at CreativeLIVE for sharing your vast knowledge without making a fuss. Not everybody has a super computer and a top-notch camera, not everyone has a studio to work in and not everyone needs to know everything as perfectly as some instructors and professionals do. I, for one, have gained so much insight and have been intrigued by Ms Shaden's present and past lessons, she makes the most difficult and surreal subjects unfold so easily and effortlessly. Ms Shaden has made me believe no matter where I be and no matter what i have, as long as i have a good story to tell, and the right vision, I should be able to handle it with a working camera and any version of Photoshop. Unlike many other instructors who kill us every 5 minutes to buy their flashes or gear and support this or that company and agency, Ms Shaden has spent the whole time teaching and teaching and teaching and I am sorry I cannot be there to thank you in person, but you, Ms Shaden, are awesome and nobody can unawesome you :)


I have been a huge fan of Brooke's work since the beginning of the flickr days. I'm so excited to see her in her element on CL. So many years ago i was so very interested in learning and creating and CL makes this possible now. A lot of my work has been inspired by Brooke's dark yet beautiful work style and i am super inspired to create some using her advice. I cannot wait to delve deeper into this world i have been waiting so long to indulge in it and now i will even more so than i have the last 3 years. Thank you Brooke and CL ! =) Sarina Gito Photography (

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