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Monday, July 09, 2012

Easy Image Merging with the FlexDrop2

Lighting Equipment

These days, there are all kinds of digital imaging software available (much of it free) that make it easy to merge two digital images together to create a photo-composition. But not every digital photo composition ends up looking photographically authentic. Much of the challenge of merging images lies in matching lighting conditions and camera angles. After that, it's all about the fine details.

This lesson, featuring the new Photoflex FlexDrop2, examines some lighting and digital imaging techniques to seamlessly merge two images together.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     The Concept
  •     Matching the Lighting
  •     The Digital Merge

The Concept

For this lesson, I decided to light and photograph my model, Rebecca, and then later digitally drop her into this shot I took recently inside Grand Central Station in New York City. [figure 1]

Figure 1

Rather than use the Pen tool in Photoshop to draw a path around Rebecca, I decided to take the easy route and photograph her in front of the new Photoflex FlexDrop2, which is a two-sided, collapsible green screen / blue screen. As you'll see later in the lesson, this FlexDrop and some simple Photoshop techniques would allow me to quickly drop Rebecca onto the background. The goal at this point of the project was to focus on the lighting of the portrait.

Matching the Lighting

In assessing the backlit conditions in this shot of Grand Central Station, I knew that I wanted to create some rim, or accent lights on Rebecca, but I also didn't want her face to fall too deeply in shadow. Yet as with developing the lighting strategy of any indoor portrait, it's typically a good idea to first focus on the quality of the main light.

Here, I knew I wanted to have a diffused-yet-directional light source that would compliment the rim lights I would later add to the shot, so I decided to have a StarFlash 650 Mercury OctoDome Kit serve as the main light. I then clipped a LiteDisc Holder to the edge of the FlexDrop2, mounted the LiteDisc Holder to a Medium LiteStand and positioned the setup a few feet behind Rebecca. [figures 2 & 3]

Figure 2

Figure 3

Once I had the StarFlash strobe synced up wirelessly with my camera, I took a few test shots of Rebecca to see how the lighting looked. Below is an outtake from this series. [figure 4]

Figure 4

As you can see from the result, the lighting on Rebecca looked both soft and directional, but not much of this light was strong enough to adequately illuminate the FlexDrop2 behind her. So next, I decided to bring in the background lights, which would also serve as accent/rim lights.

Next, I set up a Photoflex StarFlash 150 Gemini LiteDome Kit, since it's comprised of two light kits. But I ended up substituting the Small LiteDome with another Medium LiteDome to achieve even lighting across the background. I started by placing one of the light kits off to the left and more or less midway between Rebecca and the FlexDrop2 so that light would spill onto both. [figures 5 & 6]

Figure 5

Figure 6

Once that light was synced up, I took another few shots. Here's one from that series. [figure 7]

Figure 7

Here, you can see that the background light is pulling double duty: lighting the left side of the FlexDrop2, as well as rim-lighting Rebecca, which is exactly what I wanted this light to do.

Next, I set up the other light kit and placed it on the other side to even out the lighting. [figures 8 & 9]

Figure 8

Figure 9

Once that light was in place, I took a few more shots. Here's one from that series. [figure 10]

Figure 10

I liked the quality of the rim lighting on Rebecca and was also happy with how even the lighting was on the FlexDrop2. This would make it easy to separate Rebecca from the background.

Next, I realized that Rebecca's hair needed to be lit a little more in order to blend in with the background shot, so I attached a hair light to a Photoflex Boom and Boom Stand and positioned it over Rebecca. The hair light consisted of a Photoflex StarFlash 150 head, a small Photoflex HalfDome SoftBox, and a Photoflex StarFlash Connector. The light was then counterbalanced on the other end of the Boom with a Photoflex RockSteady bag. [figures 11 & 12]

Figure 11

Figure 12

Once this last light was synced up, I took a few more shots. [figure 13]

Figure 13

Here, you can see the hair light is subtle, yet effectual. At this point, the rim lighting felt complete to me.

In reviewing the shot, though, I felt that the lighting on the front of Rebecca was just a touch dark, so I decided to bounce a little light from the right background SoftBox into her face using a 22 inch MutiDisc Kit. [figures 14 & 15]

Figure 14

Figure 15

This would be the final lighting setup. With the camera and lighting setup all dialed in, I was now free to concentrate on my interaction with Rebecca as I shot. I took a fair number of shots and guided her as she struck ma variety of poses. Below was the shot I decided to go with for this photo-composition. [figure 16]

Figure 16

The Digital Merge

After the shoot, I uploaded the images to my computer and pulled up the final image, along with the image of Grand Central Station. I then used steps, which are demonstrated here in this Adobe video tutorial, to drop Rebecca onto the background. [figures 17 & 18]

Figure 17

Figure 18

Since I had taken the shot of Grand Central Station in a stylized, black and white mode, I needed to convert the layer of Rebecca into black and white and apply some "grain" as well. [figures 19 & 20]

Figure 19

Figure 20

In reviewing the result, I realized that it might look a little more realistic with respect to the lighting if the Rebecca layer was "flopped" -- that is, facing the other way. After flopping, repositioning, and resizing this layer somewhat, I was happy with the final result. [figure 21]

Figure 21

So when it comes to photo-composition, make sure to pay attention to the quality of lighting, as that's the biggest hurdle. And remember to have fun in the process!


Written and photographed by Ben Clay, contributing lesson writer for WebPhotoSchool.com® and Photoflex.com®.

Modeled by Rebecca Roach.

Hair, makeup and styling by Tamara Savage Clay.

Lighting Equipment


On February 20, 2013 at 04:24 PM, flawa brodericks said:

i am still not able to use my lighting after 3 or 4 years of order from b & h newyork nigeria voltage is 220 - 240 what i have is 110v that is u.s

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