Magazine Article


The Sky's the Limit


The Sky's the Limit

Compositing in Photoshop Lets You Push
the Imaging Envelope


In fact, the worst part about scanning images and playing around with them in Photoshop, is all the time I end up spending in front of the monitor. I love coming up with groovy stuff but by the end of the day, I have to shut the computer off because I've usually been sitting there for 12 hours or so.
The image here was the result of one of those days—a day when I was putzing around with several photos on the computer and came up with a really cool composite. The image actually combines four separate photos including a shot of star streaks that was once used for the cover of an annual report for a telecommunications firm.
I began by pulling up the star streak image, which I photographed at the Joshua Tree National Park in California over 20 years ago. That initial photo was created from an 8-hour exposure on Kodachrome 64 with my Nikon F3 open at f/4. I just pointed the camera at the Polaris star with the rocks in the foreground, and eight hours later I had the streaky effect I wanted.
While fooling around on the computer one day, I thought it would look interesting to combine the star streaks with a shot of a model I had done in the studio. The model was photographed with a Nikon F5 with a 35-70mm zoom lens in a neutral background. The sensuous shadow on the lower half of her body was created using a Norman 2000 Power Pack and a three-foot Chimera softbox with a grid on it, mounted on a C-stand and aimed directly down at the model. She was standing on black velvet so there was no reflection below her arms.
The great thing about Photoshop is that it allows you to take the ideas you have floating around in your head and turn them into images. In this case, I envisioned the model standing in front of the star streaks, so I just popped her in and there she was. It was that simple.
The stars are actually comprised of two separate layers of identical streaks, with Photoshop's hue wheel dialed 180 degrees to give each set a complimentary color. After dropping the model in, I thought the image looked a little barren so I went through my archive of photos to find something else to add.
I came up with two images I thought would layer well with the working composite: a photo of cactuses taken in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and a separate shot of a setting sun.
Once everything was set, the fun part began. With numerous ways to arrange the images and saturate them with color, the sky is really the limit in Photoshop.
In this case, I made the cacti purple, the rocks blue, and the sun a rich orange, while leaving the model pretty much as she was, to create a trippy effect.
Before the days of Photoshop, I would create montages using a Beseler slide duplicator. But the results back then were far different from what you can get now. With a duper you just don't have the same quality or control, and with each generation you get further and further away from the original.
When people ask me how much training I had before I started making composites in Photoshop, they're surprised to hear that I had very little at all. For me, the general rule of the thumb is to assume I know nothing and go from there. It works every time.
For those just starting out in Photoshop, I recommend taking a look at the MacAcademy CDs and videos, which give you the most bang for your buck.
Granted, creating cool stuff in Photoshop is not for everyone. Some people just want to shoot in B&W and work in the darkroom, and that's fine. For me, though, I don't care how I created the image, just as long as I make something that's interesting.
Most of the digital stuff I do these days is used for stock or created as personal work for gallery showings. The beautiful thing about Photoshop is that it allows me to go into areas I've never been before. I'm still shooting interesting stuff in-camera, but now I can take it to another level.

Pete Saloutos' website is