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Flash Composite

October 6, 2011


I had been meaning to try out a flash composite portrait shot ever since I attended a workshop by Ryan Brenizer and he demonstrated the technique. It’s a neat way to create a unique looking portrait using only one light source. This shot is really just my first attempt at this and was only meant as a test. My family was just hanging out in the living room and became somewhat willing subjects of this experiment 🙂

The first requirement for creating a photo like this is to use a tripod. I suppose one could handhold the camera, but it would be difficult to keep the camera position identical for each shot. The tripod will allow you to take multiple shots that will line up correctly when layered together in Photoshop.

Obviously, a flash is also a requirement. In my case, I used a Canon 580EX II flash and I attached a Lumiquest Softbox III to it to diffuse the light. The flash was in “slave” mode and was triggered using another 580EX II on the camera, which was configured to be the “master” and not actually fire itself. I had to make a couple of test shots to get the exposure correct. Once that was dialed in, I had my daughter go to each person and hold the flash a few feet away while I took the shot. I had to hold the flash myself for the shot of my daughter and set the timer on the camera.
Here are the six shots I used to make the composite. The first image is a base shot with no flash so I could have a photo without anyone standing in the frame with a flash.

Once I had the base shot and images of each subject lit by the flash, I selected all of the photos in Lightroom, right clicked and chose Edit as Layers in Photoshop. This function opens Photoshop and adds each image as a layer in the same file. I then added a layer mask to each layer. The black layer mask hides whatever is in that layer and by painting on it with white, it reveals whatever is under that particular area. Below is a screenshot of the final image in Photoshop and you can see the layers panel on the lower right. Notice the black layer masks and the area of white on each of them. The white area corresponds to the area of that image where the subject was lit by the flash. I also did a little burning and then sharpened the image a bit.


I think the resulting shot is pretty cool.  Not the greatest, but I could definitely see using this technique now and then to create some unique looks in my photography.

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