‘Jedi in Training’ composite behind the scenes
A good friend of mine Jonathan Coates (Tank) offered to help me out with my weekly photo project by modelling with his awesome son Alex. Tank is an extremely talented singer songwriter and one half of the band Barricades Rise. He is also a keen photographer and is dedicating a lot of time this year developing his skills. You can follow his progress on his blog here.
Tank came up with the concept of a Jedi themed photo shoot, thanks in part to him owning a sweet homemade Jedi outfit and toy lightsaber (his, not Alex’s!). We set up my grey seamless backdrop in my living room and had a 430ex and 430exII 45 degrees, camera left and right firing through 42″ shoot through umbrellas.
I was shooting tethered directly into Lightroom, this was only the second time I had done this but it is great to be able to review your images in real time on a full screen and also saves having to transfer the images later. Below is the original photograph SOOC.
These settings generally work for the setup I use but can be tweaked if necessary. Once the preset was applied I imported the image into Photoshop to start masking.
To mask out Tank and Alex I used the Quick Selection tool to draw around them, then used the Refine Edge tool to create the mask. As there is a distinct difference between the colour of the subjects and the background (the beauty of using a seamless backdrop) the Quick Selection easily found the edges of the subjects. I applied the Refine Edge setting as a layer mask.
The mask was pretty successful but there are some rough edges on the lightsaber that I had to remove later by painting with a black brush on the layer mask (white reveals, black conceals). Next I ran the Portraiture plugin to soften the skin (if you haven’t got Portraiture any skin softening technique will do), seems a bit drastic on a little’un like Alex but the tonal contrast plugin I will run later can make unsoftened skin (even on babies) look like a well worn sofa.
Now that the skin is softened I can run the Nik Color Efex 4 plugin Tonal Contrast filter. This is a lazy man’s equivalent of using the Dodge and Burn tools on the highlights and shadows, so if you haven’t got Nik Color Efex follow these steps:
Hold down the alt/option key and click on the New Layer Icon. You should get a dialogue box up on the screen (see below) select the Blend Mode as Soft Light and then tick the box that says ‘Fill with Soft-Light-neutral color (50%) gray’.
On this grey layer get the Burn tool with a range set to Shadows and Exposure of about 5% and paint over the shadowed areas.
Once you’ve done this get the Dodge tool with a range set to Highlights and Exposure of about 5% and this time paint on the highlighted areas of the image. This basically recreates the effect of the Tonal Contrast filter and brings out the detail adding an almost 3D feel to the image.
Once these steps were complete I dropped in the background (just to confuse matters I decided to change my choice of background later on so ignore that for now). I also used the Pen tool to create a selection around the lightsaber ‘blade’ and mask out the rough edge.
I created a new layer and filled the selection with a green colour then opened the layer style dialogue and selected the Outer Glow option with a Blend Mode of Screen. This created the glow on the outside edges, for the glow down the middle I created another layer with the Blend Mode set to Screen and with a soft brush set to the same green colour, painted down the length of the blade.
To give the illusion of motion I duplicated the background image and ran the Radial Blur filter and used a layer mask to remove any unwanted areas of blur. I only wanted an area of blur leading from the lightsaber blade.
Ok this is where I started to get frustrated. The background wasn’t doing it for me, it almost looked like the backdrop from a local theatre production and the overall feel was a little too bright. I found a new background image with an edgier feel and to add a little separation between the subjects and the background I ran the Knoll Light Factory Plugin. This plugin allows you to add lens flare and lighting effects to images. I used it to create the light burst behind the subjects and add to the drama of the image. I do like this plugin but it slows my laptop down to a crawl and bumped the file size up to 2gb!!! (In future posts I will produce tutorials on how to achieve all the same effects as my various plugins using the features native to Photoshop). So with a new background and lighting effects added I saved the file down as a TIFF and opened it back up in Lightroom as you can see below. Even though part of the lightsaber motion blur was created using the old background I kept it in as it still worked… even on top of a completely different background image. If it aint broke…
My usual step at this point is to boost the Clarity slider to bring in more detail but this was removing the blur from the lightsaber so instead I used the Clarity Adjustment Brush and painted the Clarity in everywhere on the image except for where the blur shows. I nudged the Sharpening slider slightly and added a bit of a Vignette just to burn the edges off a little.
Alex’s blue dressing gown wasn’t Jedi enough for our liking so I simply opened the Color dialogue with the Blue channel selected and dragged the Saturation slider to the left. I then adjusted the Vignette to burn the edges even more and added some extra Contrast.
And there it is! Pretty sure this blog post took longer than the actual composite, my original intention was to produce a time-lapse video of the post production but the screen recording software slowed my laptop down waaaaay too much. (I tried the native Quicktime app and also Viola). Maybe next time. Anyway let me know if this was of any use to you.