My Photo Composite Journey

Updated on July 20, 2020
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been mastering photography and photoshop for many years and sells some of her work. She hires out her skills to help people.

My niece Carrie in a photo composite
My niece Carrie in a photo composite | Source

What is Art?

Art is such a joy for me to create and a joy for others to view. The world would be a bland and colorless place with the dedication of artists. Art in all its many forms is what makes the world beautiful and intriguing. Art is what sells products and magazines. Art is what we drive to work every day. Art is the music we listen to and the movies we watch. Art is the books we read and the poetry that inspires us. Art is the dance that moves us and woos us. Art is the photo moments that adorn our walls. Art is the graffiti in the subway and the buildings we live in. Art is the garden in front of those buildings and the bouquets on the table. Art is the meal set before us three times a day.

Sure, I may never be paid what I’m actually worth, but I do this for the passion I have for it more than the paycheck I receive or don’t receive. Very few artists ever received the recognition and compensation they deserved for their life’s work in their lifetime. Still, they painted on. I will do the same. I have often said that I will never retire. I will stop painting and creating when they pull the paintbrush from my cold dead fingers and not before. Like Grandma Moses, I hope to be doing just that until I am 105.

My Dad after a fishing trip
My Dad after a fishing trip | Source

Photo Composites

On this artistic journey, I discovered the art of photo composites. Sure I’ve been taking photos for as long as I could get my hands on a camera. My first one was a little box Brownie my dad gave me at the age of 11. He insisted on only letting me have black and white film because he was sure I would make a mess of the first few photos and color film and color film processing was three times the cost of black and white. He was right, you know. I learned on that brownie. I wish I knew what happened to it. It would probably be worth a lot today, for nostalgia reasons if nothing else.

As the years progressed I married and had children and wanted to record their growth and progress in photos, so I always had a camera even if it was a cheap 110 Pocket Instamatic. When I switched to digital it all changed. Now I was able to do things to my photography and take more photos than ever before without the cost of processing. I could change the lighting, crop unwanted elements, use mood filters, and even adjust the focal sharpness. When I was given an Adobe Photoshop program with my first computer, a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me.

Adobe Photoshop

There is a steep learning curve with Photoshop but once you know and understand the basic elements, it becomes easier. I remember the first day I saw the paintbrush tool, I thought I could use it like I use a conventional paintbrush. I tried to make marks and when nothing happened on the screen I was totally frustrated. I found later I had to open a document or start an artboard, choose the paintbrush, choose the color, adjust the softness or hardness of the brush, all before the paintbrush would work. There are several very helpful YouTube tutorials out there that explain each tool in the toolbox panel. It is important to understand those before you can really begin doing anything in Photoshop.

This is my Magic Forest Photo Composite.
This is my Magic Forest Photo Composite. | Source

The Magical Forest

The Magical Forest composite is one of the first composites I played with. The main photo is a daylight photo of the woods I took on a camping trip years ago and I then changed it to look like midnight by adding several blue filters. I used a photo of a model I draw from live every other week as my main subject. It’s always good to take photos of your model from lots of angles to get just the right one to use. I cut her out of the background in the original photo and then placed her into the forest photo.

To cut out someone from a background, you can use the lasso tool, the magic wand tool, or the quick selection tool from the toolbox panel. It doesn’t cut them exactly. These tools will create a layer mask so that the background is only masked and not cut. It is the best way. It is “non-destructive” that way. In the beginning, I thought I should use the eraser tool. It made sense to me. But the eraser tool is “destructive” because once you erase something, you cannot get it back. I found the hard way that sometimes you want something from the background back and you don’t want to have to do all that cutting over again.

I added a lantern, books, moonlight, fireflies, pinecones, etc. later, all the same way; by cutting them out of their backgrounds and placing them into the forest photo. The fun part was playing with the levels and color balance to create the illusion of night. I used lots of blue filters and even added a moon behind the trees.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My nephew riding a dinosaurA neighbor girlMy granddaughter
My nephew riding a dinosaur
My nephew riding a dinosaur | Source
A neighbor girl
A neighbor girl | Source
My granddaughter
My granddaughter | Source

Dinosaur Composites

With the help of some great photos of dinosaur sculptures, I created these dino-riding kid fantasy composites. I used photos of my grandchildren first. Starting with a good background photo of a jungle or forest, I placed the dino and the kid. Notice that I cannot change the direction of the light in any photo. If the light is coming from the left on the photo of the dinosaur and from the right on the photo of the child, they will not look good together. You must be aware of the lighting in the background, the main subject, and any accessories you add. That is the tricky part that takes the artistic eye.

Source

Francesca Woodman

I appreciate the stories and struggles of artists that had to endure to make their mark in history as some of them have made. Many times it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I know that it seems like artists who are not very talented or who show no more talent than some others who did not achieve fame do, however it is a lot of chance, happenstance, and who you know more than talent much of the time.

Francesca Woodman is a photography artist who died tragically but first created such fabulous photographic art that she is worth checking out. I wrote an article about her you can see using the link above. In Francesca Woodman’s case, her tragedy was one of the factors that propelled attention in her art, as well as the grieving family she left behind.

Water Pixie
Water Pixie | Source

Final Thoughts

I think even these photo composites and fine art photography are art. Do you agree? Do you disagree? There is a fine line between just snapping a photo and taking a good picture. Ansel Adams was revered for his artistic photography of Yosemite National Park. Do you think he was an “artist”? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Comments

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Nelvia,

      I'm so happy to have gotten you excited about the possibilities. So much can be done with torn and cut paper from old magazines, old calendars, and even catalogs that come in the mail. Why contribute to some landfill when they can be turned into art? I love feeling like I'm being ecologically conservative. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • profile image

      Nelvia 

      2 weeks ago

      Enjoyed this article and now have to read more. I use GIMP and while similar it has been an uphill Learning climb. Also use Sketchbook Pro and find many things can be done there as well and it is a bit more friendly to a Non-techie mind.

      Also am loving your YouTube channel and started at the beginning or end of the list. But I have cheated and watched some of your collage Videos and now you got my blood pumping.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Mary Norton,

      I think so too. I've had people argue with me but I do it anyway. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      I think this photo composite is art given the time one spends on composition, color, mood, et al. The ones you have here are lovely.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Devika Primic,

      It is so kind of you to say so. I try to keep color in everything I do. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Peggy Woods,

      I'm happy you like the one of my dad. It's so iconic now. I remember him like that. Rugged and manly and with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, even though before he died he managed to give up smoking. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Best Education Page,

      I'm very happy you like this topic. I've loved it myself. Quite the journey from snapping photos to making composites and creating art out of them. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Linda Crampton,

      Yes, that little boy was delightful. I was taking some candid photos of him and then he spotted me pointing the camera at him. I didn't think I could ever use that pose for anything but then I thought he'd look darling as a pixie on a turtle. The rest, as they say, is history. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • profile image

      Devika Primic 

      3 weeks ago

      Denise great composition of artists. I like te fact that you showed a lot of color and creative indeed. You always share valuable information and with great interest

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      Ansel Adams uniquely portrayed nature. Your photo composites are amazing! I have to spend more time learning how to navigate Photoshop. It would be so much fun to create composite photos such as you are doing. You surely have an artistic eye!

      Like you, I got my first Brownie camera at about the same age, and also like you, I have been taking photos ever since that time. Thanks for sharing the one of your dad and little brother and his cousin.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your composites are lovely, Denise. I like them all, but "Water Pixie" is my favorite. The expression on the boy's face is delightful. You are very talented.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Eric Dierker,

      That's so nice of you. I do hope I speak the language of love without pretence or guile. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I do not get love at all. It evades my understanding. But I see your posts and I jump and read. Maybe that is love of something. Thank you much. I figure that says it.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Demas W Jasper,

      It's nice of you to go along with me on my photo journey. I love doing composites. As a matter of fact, it's time for me to start working on another one. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      3 weeks ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      I loved reading this one, and appreciating the photos, too.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Abby Slutsky,

      The dinosaur composites were fun to create. I had to find some good photos of dinosaur statues since there aren't any roaming around these days. The boy on his back is my nephew. I got a photo of just the right angle for this by taking the photo when he's on his dad's shoulders. I just erased his dad and put the dinosaur under him and presto. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Bill Holland,

      That's so cool. He was a Hooser come to California to meet his bride and ended up living here. But he still talked with that Indiana drawl. This fishing trip was on one of our trips to Indiana to visit his folks and he and his brother went fishing for catfish in the Ohio River early one morning. He always dressed like that. As a little girl, I used to pull on his hairy chest hairs to annoy him. That's my brother next to him with his arms crossed and his brother's boy Jeff next to his left hand. I picture him in heaven still with that cigarette hanging out of his mouth like that. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      Lorna Lamon,

      Thank you for those kind words. I love making these composites. I'm glad you like them. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Abby Slutsky profile image

      Abby Slutsky 

      3 weeks ago from Pennsylvania

      I loved the dinosaur photo. You are very talented.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      That photo of your dad is such a classic 40's and 50's look. It could easily be my father...the cigarette hanging out of the mouth, the buttoned shirt, belt pulled tight, trousers.....I had a wave of nostalgia wash over me right then.

      Blessings always

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      3 weeks ago

      Such a lovely photo of your Dad Denise which reminds me of fishing trips with my own Dad. I think the photo composites give an added dimension to the picture. They also give the painting an ethereal feel - I could almost walk into it.

      I feel that Ansel Adams amazing photography comes from a deep understanding of the environment, which is portrayed in his photos. An incredible artist.

      This was such an enjoyable and interesting read and I learned so much from it Denise.

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