How Combining Photos Into Composite Images Can Help Your Creative Process
When you’re putting together a creative campaign, sometimes you have to move quickly. Other times, you have to produce work that’s highly specific to your client’s or your business’s needs. Sometimes, it’s all of the above. Using stock photography can help skip the often-multi-week timelines of photoshoots, but then you might not have the custom treatment your project demands. This is where composite photography can help.
In essence, a composite image is created by combining two or more images together—layering them on top of each other or taking components from one and adding them to another. This work requires a skilled designer or photo editor and takes great care to do well. That’s why we sat down with Lisa Moses, Senior Designer for iStock to get her take on the dos and don’ts of composite imagery. Read on for her tips.
Create mockups for complicated subjects
If your client wants an ad but isn’t ready to spend money on a concept until they see mockups, composite images can be a great way to pitch sketches. “Say you’re designing an ad concept,” says Moses, “you can combine various backgrounds, subjects, and prop images into one design to show the client for approval.” This is a way to visualize an eventual final product before you commit to a concept. In this case, it isn’t as crucial to make the images look 100% authentic, but instead, just to illustrate the idea.
Design real-life sets and spaces for mockups
Similarly, if you’re producing a photoshoot, it’s sometimes quicker and more cost-effective to try to create a mockup of that shoot before you start scheduling. “Sometimes I use composite photography to communicate an initial design for a physical space,” says Moses. “This helps to get a feel for how furniture will look and how lighting and textures might come out.”
Fix incorrect subjects after the fact
Sometimes after a shoot has been done, you realize that the wrong subject was in the wrong image. “I remember a specific fashion shoot where our team realized that we didn’t have the right accessories paired together in the photos,” says Moses. “We ended up combining some of the images from the same shoot.” In this case, the composite work was easier because all the photos came from the same shoot, with the same lighting and same conditions. If you’re going to try to do composite work like this, it’s best to select photos from iStock that are produced in the same set for the same shoot.
Pro-tip: When looking at a photo on iStock, you can scroll further down the page to see similar images. Many of these related images will be from the same shoot or at least the same contributor—making them a little easier to use with one another for composite imagery.
Only use composite images if they work—don’t force it
Moses made sure to underscore that composite imagery can go very wrong. “Bad quality photoshopping work can create huge issues,” she says. “Always make sure the scale, lighting, colors, and image resolution are matched between your images before you start combining them.” In short, if you can’t make all the original images work well together in a way that looks convincing, you shouldn’t try to force a composite image.
Be honest and authentic, never misleading
One of the biggest concerns that arise when creating composite imagery is when it is used for ingenuine purposes. If you’re creating an outlandish piece of art for fun that’s clearly a mashup of images, then that’s one thing. But using composite photography to make your viewer think something is real, when it isn’t (particularly egregious in real estate or travel photos) can be seen as misleading. In other words, tricking your audience is not the way to build trust and brand loyalty.
Stay within the terms of your licensing agreement
One final note is about altering licensed content. If you shoot the images yourself, you’re obviously free to use and edit them however you’d like. But, if you’re licensing stock photography, be sure to read your license agreement carefully. At iStock, our license agreements give you generous usage rights for most of your commercial work, and that includes the ability to alter the photos (subject to any applicable restrictions). But many providers don’t afford this level of flexibility. For specific questions about our license agreement, please check it out here.
Looking for images to create mockups or explore concepts using composite techniques? Check out the latest photos we love right here.
*This article is for information only and is not intended to be legal advice. Please seek your own legal guidance for laws in your country.