The anatomy of a location composite shoot

Last month I was commissioned by 'Psychologies magazine' to shoot and put together a composite photo of a party scene where the same model appears 5 times, wearing different clothing in a different mood, to depict how we all react differently in certain situations, depending on the company we are in.

It knew it would be quite a challenge,but very doable

So,my first call was to my super efficient producer Clare who got to work straight away on casting and sourcing a location

In a little over 24 hours she had sorted it, some going!

One of the most important requirements was to give each character equal prominence, shooting on a 50mm lens on my Hasselblad H1 with a Phase One P45+ back was going to be the order of the day, this would mean that all of the characters would be too different size in shot, so we had to choose a room with considerable depth,up to 8 meters(18 ish feet in depth)

The first job was to introduce myself and the crew to the hair, make up and costume crew,while we settled on the final angle of the shot with the art director from Psychologies, my assistants were unloading the car,lugging several tons (well, that is what it felt like to them!) up the two flights of stairs

It can seem a little harsh to let your assistants do all of the physical work but it is of paramount importance that the photographer photographs, and is not worn out by helping his long suffering really is a case of being cruel to be kind!

Concentration at this point is ALL

Working with a visual pinned at eye level (to a convenient door) the angle of the shot was worked out and camera was locked down on the tripod


1. Plan, plan and plan again!

Great composites happen BEFORE the shoot, not after.

If you apply just a little thought beforehand and come up with a basic plan of how you want the final image to look all of a sudden it is not so difficult to place the models with great precision.

Nearly ten years ago I undertook a composite shot without planning and ended up retouching the image for nearly a week.

I shot the job at a loss.

It was a lesson learned

The hard way

2. Locking the tripod down to a fixed position is THE KEY FACTOR to making a composite shot work

If the camera is locked down is makes layering the image together quite straight forward instead of resorting to the services of your beloved retoucher

When you work your position out mark the position of the tripod feet with duct tape(just in case!) and be sure that everyone on the set knows the importance of not moving or bumping the tripod

Needless to say importance of a good quality tripod and head has never been greater,they are not cheap but they make the world of difference, skimp on these at your peril!

You will see from the images I use a rather cool integrated laptop/camera solution (I will be covering this rather cool set up in the very near future)

3. Keep the lighting consistent and plausible

Once you have established how you are going to light a set, keep the lighting the same,as much as possible.

Vary the power of individual lights by all means, but not the direction, otherwise it will look wrong and fake.

And we all know there are a TON of bad composites out there, right?

Here is my lighting set up

An equipment list and what it all did....


1 x Elinca Ranger in a Chimera Globe lantern as the main light,to give an overall natural light,I use this on booms as the battery pack makes a great counter weight!

2 x Elinca Style 600 heads in Chimera letterbox soft boxes to provide uplit fill

1 x Elinca 1200 head with a honeycomb to provide an extra little 'kick' on the business couple on the left hand side of the frame

Triggered with Pocket Wizard radio transmitters


Hasselblad H1 with Phase One P45+ 39 megapixel back

Hasselblad HC 50mm lens

Tripod and lighting supports

Gitzo 1548 carbon tripod

Redwing Boom

All other lighting supports by Manfrotto/Avenger

Putting the 'letter box' softboxes straight on the floor is really not in any lighting guides I have read,but it can work a treat when giving some uplight 'fill'

4. Shoot for individual components

Treat the whole shoot as a giant jigsaw puzzle

A simplistic approach but if you have not shot an individual element to the image(varying exposure on it for example) there is NOTHING you can do about it short of spending a ton of money on post production retouching.

So remember, if you have not shot it, you cannot include it.

A bit like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece...........

Here we have taken a shot just for the illuminated side board lamp to be added in the final comp

5. ALWAYS remember to shoot a blank frame of the set before you tear it down

This will give you the 'Background anchor' shot to layer all of the components onto.

Without this 'empty' you will end up rebuilding and cloning in bits of background for hours and hours and hours.....

Here are the separate shots

This one is for the 'extra couple' on the right of frame

This one is for the couple in centre of frame,note how I asked her to toss her head back to get some animation into the shot

This shot is for the business couple
, the black suit meant I had to use supplemental light just for them

This one is for the couple in the foreground,getting her forehead to touch the bottle helps brings her character alive

For the group of 3 ladies on the left.......

And finally the 'Blank' of the set

In the next week or so I will be covering a far more daunting montage assignment where I had very few visual reference points to work from, and the models were all over the UK....

I,m VERY pleased with how it worked out though, so watch this space