Tom the Farmer Composite: Photo Shoot, Technique & Tips

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: April 11, 2012

Category: General

Hi Folks,
Today I thought I’d give you a little look into what went into making one of my recent pictures: Tom the Farmer

Now ideally I would have liked to photograph Tom against a grey seamless but as this started out as an ‘on location shoot’ I hadn’t intended to do any composite images, and to be honest it wasn’t necessary. You see I knew that I didn’t want to add a solid wall or something like that behind him so I wouldn’t be using the Soft Light or Overlay Blend Modes to drop the background in. For this picture I knew I’d have to cut Tom out so all I needed to find was a plain(ish) wall to photograph him against.

Choosing the right kind of background to shoot someone against and later cut them out is pretty easy; you just need to make sure of a few of things:

  • It’s not the same colour as what you’re subject is wearing
  • It’s not got any fancy pattern/texture on it
  • It’s not in direct sunlight

Making sure that the background isn’t the same colour as what you’re subject’s wearing and also that the background doesn’t have fancy pattern/texture on it is purely to help with the cutting out later. Making sure the background isn’t in direct sunlight is because when it comes to putting composite images together, you want to be the one dictating how and where the light hits your subject…does that make sense?

Anyway here’s a look at the wall that we ended up using which was just inside one of Tom’s barns:

As for the kit, I was using an Elinchrom Quadra with both heads attached to the one battery pack. The rear/side light was a Lastolite Hot Rod Strip Box; great pieces of kit that were originally designed for Speedlights but now you can get adaptors to use them with a variety of other lighting kits. The front/fill light was an Elinchrom Medium softbox…nothing fancy 🙂

I wasn’t 100% sure what kind of background I was going to put in behind Tom for the final picture so I ended up strolling around his farm taking shots of all kinds of things; didn’t end up using them but they’ll come in great for pictures in the future I’m sure.

The background I eventually opted for was from a few shots I took when my wife and I popped out for a stroll just down from where we live. Now I’m not a big user of HDR but the background is actually 3 bracketed shots all combined using Photomatix and pretty much using the default settings. As for the sky I added that in afterwards and that was just made up of a few shots, again that I took out on the walk. Incidentally I’m always taking photographs of the sky when I’m out and about to build up a library that I can turn to later.

Tip: If you’re photographing the sky to build up a library to use later in composites, try to take photographs aiming out towards the horizon as opposed to pointing your camera directly above you. Clouds will appear smaller the further away they get so if you photograph them directly above you, they just won’t look right. Sure that can be fixed in Photoshop but by just taking your sky photos out toward the horizon saves you having to do that later…does that make sense? Maybe I should record a short video showing what I mean?

Once I had all the images, it was then a case of putting it all together in Photoshop, and as I wanted this to have a kind of cartoony/fun feel to it I ended up increasing the size of Tom’s head just a little, giving him a bit of smile and then adding the cartoon effect:

And that’s Tom the Farmer. You can check out a larger version over on my 500px page here [Link]

I did take a few more shots of Tom around the farm; one of which was the one I included in the recent post on the Invisible Black Backdrop [Link], so if you have any questions or comments then please as always feel free to make use of the comments section below,

Enjoy 🙂

•     •     •

Keep up with Glyn ‘Day to Day’ and get more from ‘Behind the Scenes’…


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  1. David

    Thanks for sharing. Very creative
    But may I know how do you add the cartoon effect? Is it a filter in any 3rd-party PS plug-in?

    • Glyn

      @David…The cartoon effect is applied in Photoshop using a the Reduce Noise filter and High Pass. I’ll look at putting a tutorial together or maybe include it in a webinar. Cheers

  2. Jonathan Thompson

    Another fine composite & post, I’m really starting to sound like a groupie ;), this is the 1st time I’ve seen you increase the head size & you could be fooled into thinking it’s normal, but that’s only because Tom has such serious mitts 🙂
    Thanks for showing how straight forward the shooting stage is and that you don’t need to shoot famous people or models, there are interesting people all around us, you’ve just got to look. I’ve taken Zack Arias’s words to heart.

    Thanks for sharing
    Cheers JT

    • Glyn

      @Jonathan … Wise words mate 🙂

  3. Russ Robinson

    Always a pleasure to peel back the veil and catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse at other compositors in action. I really like what you did with the sky, in terms of getting the lighting to match. Looks spot-on. I typically use stock images for my skies, because I never can seem to get the perspective and/or focal length to match what I need. Speaking of which, you mentioned the possibility of throwing together a quick video on your “horizon” technique, so I’d like to encourage you to do that if you can get around to it. Either way, thanks for a quality post….enjoyed reading it very much! ~Russ

  4. Robert Gordon

    Excellent walkthrough my friend, and fantastic final composite, no over done, just perfect.

    • Glyn

      @Robert … Thanks mate

  5. Shawn

    Yup I like this one too and appreciate the bts info. That has to be one of the cleanest barn floors I have ever seen.

    • Glyn

      @Shawn … Yeah I know what you mean; spotless huh 🙂

  6. Phil Frigon

    I too would like to see in more detail how you use the High Pass filter and reduce noise filter to do your cartoon effect. Enjoy your work.

    • Glyn

      Guys re the comic style effect I’ll look at putting that into the next webinar 😉

  7. Michael Tracy

    Superb post, Glyn. Showing us step-by-step takes a lot of the mystery out, and you do a fantastic job of stating WHY you choose to go a certain route in your post-processing. Sometimes, that’s as important (or more) as HOW it’s done. Sharing this with us is very kind of you!

    Also, I’d be as interested as Phil to learn the nuances of your cartoon effects. Not to mimic you, but to learn how to use it to achieve our own unique looks.


    • Glyn

      Michael..Thanks for the comment there mate and yeah re the comic style I’ll be putting that in a webinar for sure 😉

  8. David Kelly

    Hi Glyn,

    Thanks for the BTS info on this shoot. Just wondering how you did the smile on Tom – was it via the liquify tool and some gentle nudging? Would be good if you could add this step to the webinar. I’ve tried it before and not been so successful with it, particularly when beards are involved!



  9. Justin Blair

    Soooo funny that the cartoon effect topic keeps coming up on this post because it’s the exact thing I came here to comment about. I notice that almost plasticy, shiny, illustrated look to a lot/most of your images. It’s something that I could see lending itself to some of the stuff I do as a little touch. The cartoon like effect as a whole doesn’t fit with a lot that I do…but that detailed skin texturing would be a nice touch here and there. Is that the Cartoon thing we’re talking about?


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