Elevate Photographers Spotlight: Loni Smith

mushroom in the fall in the forestAre you at a standstill with your creativity? Do you have an idea for a photo that can only be achieved with composite work in Photoshop? Do you want the confidence to ensure your clients that you will get their desired family photo with everyone smiling? How do you feel when a client asks you "Can't you just photoshop that?"

It's a question that every photographer gets asked, a question that can even cause a little anxiety because, contrary to popular belief, photographers aren't magicians. But we do have Photoshop and that comes pretty darn close to magic if you ask me.

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In today's photography world, the possibilities are endless and client expectations are higher than ever before. Ideally, we want to get the image as perfect as we can in camera, and I'm 100% behind that when time isn't an issue or when your subject is really cooperative.   But when photographing a family with small children, not every subject is really cooperative and time is not a luxury we have. How do I guarantee my clients that I will get them their perfect family photo, and then some?

image 2Or maybe you're proficient in perfect family photos, but you're looking to stretch your creativity. You've had an idea for a photo that you've wanted to create for a long time, but you know it will require a lot of Photoshop work that is beyond your skill set. How do you make your photo come to life? How do you make all of the elements come together into one cohesive work of art?

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Composite work is the answer.   Learning how to composite images means complete creative freedom. It also means that you can fulfill your clients' requests. It means that the next time your client asks "can't you just photoshop that?", you can confidently answer, "I can!" And knowing how to composite means that you spend less time at your session trying to get the perfect family shot in one photo which gives you the time fit more poses within an session, which translates to higher sales. Now are you on board?

So how does one go about getting started in shooting for composites? I created a list of basic tips to keep in mind when venturing into the land of creative freedom.

  • Use a tripod when shooting for face swap When your camera stays in the same position at the same angle, and the family stays in the same spot when posing for their photo, face swaps can be done much faster than you think.

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  • Focus on one child at a time. I've photographed TLC's Gardner quadruplets since they were born. It would be totally amazing if all four babies looked at the camera and smiled at the exact same time. The reality is, this never happens. So I work on one child at a time. Get the first child cooperating, capture the image. Then move on to the next child, capture the image, etc. In the end, I photoshop all of the images together to create one perfect image.

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  • Take a lot of photos. Sometimes you might need to snag a better posed arm from one photo, and a smile from another photo. This rule also applies if you're shooting to composite someone into an entirely different background. I'd much rather have too many photos to pull from than not enough.

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  • Angle and focal length are of utmost importance.   Every photo that you plan to use in your composite must be taken from the same angle. For example, when shooting the background image for this strawberry photo, I shot in a minor downward angle. When shooting my daughter separately in the studio, I took great care in shooting at approximately the same angle. Also, focal length is extremely important when it comes to distortion. If you shoot a background image at 200mm, but you shoot your subject at 24mm and try to composite your subject in the middle of that background image, the composite won't add up.

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Lighting is a major key in making it happen. Take cues from your background image. When photographing your subject and other elements for your background image, make sure the light is all coming from the same direction. In my strawberry photo above, I made sure to light my subject and the individual photos that I took of the strawberries from the same direction so that the composite would all match up.

Make sure your subjects are interacting with the background image in some way. For the entire photo to work together, your subject needs to have some contact with their surroundings. If you are adding your subject to a background image, photograph your subject in a way that will allow them to interact, whether they are grabbing something in the background image, or looking at something in your original image. If you are going a simpler route and just adding an element to an already photographed image, try to pose your subject in a way that they can interact with the added element.   In the photo of my girls and the reindeer, I had my assistant stand in front of them and jingle some bells. They looked up at her and smiled. My assistant also asked my younger daughter if she could have the apple, and my daughter held it out to her. I then photoshopped in the reindeer, and took my younger daughter from another photo when she was holding out the apple and composited the three images together. Interaction with the reindeer makes the image more realistic.

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These are basic tips in getting started on the shooting portion for composites. Are you ready to try it all out? Would you like to learn more? I will be speaking at the Elevate Conference on September 23rd and 24th (www.elevatephotographers.com) Join me to get more behind the scenes information on my composite process and to get some basic tips on the photoshop portion of composites.

Use code Loni50 to save $50 off your registration!

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Loni Smith is a Utah newborn and child portrait photographer with a special focus on composites. Her whimsical, dreamy style enables her to create fairy tale heirloom portraits for her clients. Her favorite subjects are her children that are often the inspiration behind her creations. She has been shooting professionally since 2011 and has taught workshops nationally and internationally. Loni has been married for 17 years and has 5 really cool kids – four girls and a boy.

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