I have always been a photographer who likes to get the shot in camera and not rely on any compositing or retouching to ‘make’ the image. I think this stems from my skate photography and documentary/lifestyle roots where everything is done in camera. For those styles of photography you want it to feel natural and authentic so only a minimal amount of retouching would be done to an image, if any. No matter how good a photographer is at compositing or lighting, you can always tell when an image has been composited. Just like in cinema, no matter how good the CGI is, there’s always something that gives it away.
But it’s very rare that you get a shoot where everything aligns and you get the exact shot you had in mind in one frame. While I will still always try to get the shot in camera as much as possible, it’s important to know how to shoot a scene with the intention of compositing, even as a backup option in case something doesn’t work.
This is especially important for commercial jobs. No matter how set in stone a campaign might be before the shoot day ‘We’re 100% only going to be using these images on bus stops in portrait orientation’, you can bet a few days after the shoot day you’ll get the request ‘Actually the client wants to run billboards with that image and also a wide version for the header of their website’. This is why I’ll always shoot horizontal and vertical options for each image on a job, but also why you should shoot plates of the background in each aspect. Background “plates” are simply shots that you take of your background without your subject. (They’re called plates because, back in the olden days, backgrounds used to be printed on plates and set behind the subject.)
I recently drove out to Howth with the intention of shooting images that I would composite together, or build backgrounds with, completely different to how I usually shoot. The resulting images were two wide panos of the Bailey Lighthouse and a GAA pitch at the top of Howth.
One big advantage is that the resulting images are absolutely huge megapixel-wise, they’re both made up of 5-7 22mp vertical images, so it’s a great quick way to achieve huge images without the need for a medium format camera (or one of the new ridiculously high megapixel Sony mirrorless DSLRs).
Although I rarely see myself shooting for composites, or changing my style to a more photoshop heavy photographic style, it’s still very important to know how to shoot this way and create images made up of a number of different elements. You never know when something will go wrong on a job and you’re left trying to figure out what you need to shoot in order to combine it later in post, or something will change after a job is shot and you wish you had shot those safety plates. It’s also quite limiting to only ever get the shot in camera. So, go practice the areas of photography you don’t enjoy so much, you never know when what you learned in that hour you spent photographing wide landscapes and compositing them together will come in handy.