Olivier Lance of Sylights last wrote a guest blog post here back in August about why one should use lighting diagrams. He is back with a short series of quick interviews with photographers. Here is the first one, with Michael Guarisco, an amateur photographer living in Nancy, France. He shares his knowledge and tutorials here (in French).
Sylights: This picture is a composite image of at least two photos: one of the model and one for the background. Why did you choose this technique?
Michael Guarisco: This compositing technique is similar to the one used by Joel Grimes, an American photographer. He used it in some ads for Nike, for instance. I'm a fan of this style he achieved, so I wanted to try it myself. I love this work in different phases, it brings in several constraints: on lighting, on the choice of the background, and a heavy post-processing. I wouldn't make it my specialty but it's really instructive!
S: What is your workflow for that kind of compositing?
MG: I take a picture of my subject in a studio on a seamless background (black or white, depending on the subject's clothes, as I need a good contrast) to facilitate his extraction. The point being to find an effective lighting with three light sources, with the right modifiers, etc. … I know Joel Grimes uses large softboxes or beauty dishes. As an amateur, I'm happy with some simple umbrellas! After having processed and extracted my subject, I set off to find my background according the subject's attitude and style. It can take a lot of time, one needs to move and search a lot to find the background that will fit both the processing and the subject. When I've found my background, I take 5 photos with different exposures to perform an exposure fusion. Then I retouch the image a bit to get a satisfying result. If the subject's extraction has been done properly, the final compositing is done easily.
S: How do you make sure that the lights on your subject match those of the background? Do you have any special tips to achieve this?
MG: It's true that it's difficult to have matching lights between the background and the subject. You must simulate light coming from behind the subject to make it look real. Though I don't necessarily look for a perfect, logical lighting, I do make sure that my resulting picture as a whole looks coherent (prevailing color, temperature, etc.). I work a lot with the curves tool; I use it on my subject so that it integrates well into the background, then I use another curves layer on the complete image (I have a fondness for a slight cross-processed look). I completely assume using compositing and I think it's normal that anybody might see my picture is composited, but it's important not to neglect the image's fluidity. I want to hear people saying, “Yes, it's composited, but it works well!”
S: What's the place of lighting diagrams in your work? Do you use them as a preparation tool or rather as a documentation tool?
MG: Lighting diagrams are certainly the most important aspect of working with flashes! First of all, they allow one to quickly learn what setups lead to different types of images. It's a very educational tool! Then, even when you're more experienced, it's still useful to plan a session by sketching a bunch of setups we'd like to use. I've always worked with lighting diagrams, I use them for myself as well as for showing others how I've created a photo, on my website. Even in the middle of a chat, a diagram scribbled in the corner of a napkin makes oral explanations way easier! In that sense, Sylights lets anyone archive flash photographs; the sharing aspect pops out, as anybody can understand how each posted image has been created. Moreover, when we work with many different setups it's pleasant to be able to find them back easily on the website!