Creating a realistic composite photograph

Creating a realistic composite photograph is time consuming and painstaking … when done properly.

First, there’s the intricate mask required to separate the truck from the original image file. This not only involves outlining the exterior with all the tools, lights, and ladders, but also going through the windshield and outlining each item in the cab. The glass creates a sheen or reflection or a darker color to the windshield and windows in addition to whatever is visible.  Shiny surfaces like mirrors and fenders pickup the reflections from their surroundings which must be considered. The shadow beneath the truck is also distinct to the original image.

Once all this is taken into account and corrected, then there’s the angle of the shot to work into the new setting and the scale of the truck to the new background. Lighting can also be a dead giveaway if the position of the sun is different in both images. The time of day and the season that correspond to each shot also can vary, creating an unrealistic composite.

When I shoot a truck in a nice setting, I will often keep my tripod in place when I’ve finished so that I can photograph the scene without the truck. Then I file these location shots away for potential use in future compositing. I know that I generally have pretty good consistency with the angle that I shoot from which increases my chances of placing another truck into a setting that I’ve saved.

Here is a series of images from Alexandria, VA. The sun was out and I was grateful to get the truck into a nice open space, but it turned out to be a bit cluttered for my obsessive compulsive nature.

tractor-drawn aerial fire truck
Alexandria FD Truck 304 as shot. Larry Shapiro photo

So, I took the time to create a partial cutout and I experimented with several of my stock settings.

tractor-drawn aerial fire truck
The same setting with a new sky. Larry Shapiro photo
tractor-drawn aerial fire truck
A dusk setting keeping the foreground but adjusting the overall color to match the background. Larry Shapiro photo
tractor-drawn aerial fire truck
Another stock image of mine featuring a sunrise and subsequently a new shadow to correspond to the sun’s location. Larry Shapiro photo

In each of these examples, I made it much easier on myself by keeping the entire foreground and part of the background. This eliminated the need to match the truck to any new pavement and it saved me from finishing the mask around the base of the truck, the tires, and shadow.

There’s more than one way to do everything when it comes to editing or enhancing image field.