The creation of composite images is now possible through the application of software technology in post-production. This Exercise asks me to use digital software such as Photoshop to create a composite image which visually appears to be a documentary photograph but which could never be.

Whilst I have access to both Lightroom and Photoshop and have some limited experience of using them to perform simple image editing tweaks, I have never attempted to carry out more complex operations such as the use of layers and masks and tools such as Magic Wand as are required to create composite images.  This was therefore a steep learning curve for me.  

The Exercise text made it all seem so simple as did the many online and magazine tutorials that I read avidly and attempted to emulate.  It was far from simple!  All the tutorials appeared to miss out vital steps or make assumptions of previous knowledge which drove me back into other tutorials and descriptions all of which seemed to confuse and entangle like a maze to such an extent that I lost sight of where I was going and why.  Even uploading multiple images and creating layers that made sense was a challenge but then all the elements that I tried to extract from images via selection tools such as lasso, magic wand, etc. left great chunks of background attached or great chunks of the selected subject missing.  All the tutorials seemed to start with a subject against a simple white or black background and not a complex rocky beach or woodland setting! 

After several days of frustrated floundering around and getting agitated that I ‘should be doing other things’ I did manage to make some faltering progress and succeeded in getting something from sense from all of the technology.  I got some help from the website Photoshopessentials (*1) which I found to have the best and most accessible tutorials of the many sites that I explored.  The next challenge was finding something that I wanted to create. Technical problems prevented me from successfully placing a seal pup on top of a Stonehenge trilathon or extracting a large fly from a flower head to sit on model’s shoulder.  As for putting a tree on top of an upside mountain and then placing it on an ocean to create an island as suggested by the tutorial in my ‘Teach Yourself Photoshop’ manual (*2) , I couldn’t get off first base. 

As a result my ideas were limited by the need to find a simpler project in terms of image and subject and I arrived at an image that I had taken recently of a red kite against a clear blue sky which I was able to isolate and extract after some false starts by using the background erase tool.  I immediately recalled the image by Joel Sternfield of an open air lido from his ‘American Prospects‘ series that I had included in my Learning Log post about street photography as this had seemed to me to be rather empty and lacking in interest.  Rather flippantly, I thought that the inclusion of the red kite in the sky above the lido might provide the necessary interest and drama!

  1.  Original Image by Joel Sternfield

Joel Sternfield wet-n-wild-aqua

Joel Sternfield From the series ‘American Prospects’

© Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York, 2012

2.  Image of Red Kite extracted from one of my photographs after serious cropping (hence the poor definition!) and removal of the background sky.


3.  The composite image after the insertion of the kite into the lido photograph

Joel Sternfield wet-n-wild-aqua copy copy


I found this to be a technically challenging and frustrating exercise but I am pleased that I eventually managed to achieve a result of sorts through trial and error and experiencing a steep learning curve from zero to a little way above zero.  I recognise that the complexities of software manipulation of images is a skill that I will need to work on and develop because it seems to be such an important element of popular contemporary image creation.  It can also be a valuable tool in the creative artistic process generally. I also recognise that, provided that the manipulation is either declared by the artist or is implicit in the contents of the photograph then there is no lie or deception involved.  

The resulting composite image above is a bit of fun and in my view could never be taken as a serious work of art.  However, who am I to say whether it is or not?  My understanding of what qualities justify the label of ‘art’ in contemporary photography is so out of kilter with  informed opinion that I have no confidence in my judgment.  Does this composite image have any of the qualities of art?  Does it make valid statements about the blandness and lack of interest in contemporary photography?  Does the fact that the introduction of a bird of prey to the landscape create a surreal tension or an entirely different meaning to the image that engenders further thought and discussion?  Does the fact that my decision to create the image was prompted by a need to fulfil the requirements of the Exercise rather than any deep and philosophical exploration of life or contemporary photography remove all merit from the image or can it stand apart from any such consideration and be evaluated in isolation?  Does my choice of a bird of prey rather than a sparrow impart a significance and meaning to the image that the viewer can reflect on?  

I could go on but I won’t.  It is as it is, and the consumer / viewer can make of it what they will.  I would welcome reader’s thoughts!


*1      http://www.photoshopessentials.com/

*2    ‘Teach Yourself Photoshop’    A Photo masterclass from the makers of Digital Camera


———-     o0o     ———-

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