My Photo Composite Journey
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.