JetLinx Denver Christmas Card Shoot :: A Creative Composite

After shooting a Holiday Cookbook cover photo for D. L. Adams Associates' annual Christmas mailer, I realized that I had a firm grasp on the nuance of lighting and composition for holiday photography. However, a recent shoot I did for JetLinx Denver required me to come up with a unique and creative approach to satisfy the client's desire to use the Member Area at their Centennial Airport facility, as the background for their company Christmas card. After first being contacted by JetLinx (who I must say are a total pleasure to work with) and discussing some concepts they had in mind for their Christmas card photo, I began visualizing my approach to the shoot, from lighting to posing of the JetLinx personnel. The goal of the photo was to feature 9 members of their Denver team in their Member Lounge, since it is a known location to many of their clients. After seeing a photo of the lounge, I knew I would have limited space to work with, and began planning the difficult task of lighting everyone evenly.

Planning, when it comes to photography, should be the number one priority of any photographer who considers taking on clients and working in a professional capacity. Trying to "wing it" or "learn as you go" in the field is no way to complete a project. It is unprofessional, and a waste of your client's time. What follows is the best photography advice I have ever received, and which I am always eager to share with any aspiring photographer:

A failure to plan, is a plan to fail.

With this in mind, I developed a specific blueprint for JetLinx's photo, and that was to create a composite image that would have every staff member properly and evenly exposed. A composite, for those who may be new to digital imaging, is a single image that is comprised of separate exposures. This was the most efficient approach that I could conceive to illuminate a large group in a small space, while keeping my lights hidden from the camera's field of view.

Composite Image #1

To achieve this, I decided to take multiple exposures with separate groups of people to be able to light them all evenly. To start, I setup my camera on a tripod that was fixed firmly in a static position. This would help me layer images later in post, without worrying too much about ghosting artifacts or alignment. I then oriented the entire JetLinx Denver team in way where they all were clearly visible. See the image at left for the first image, or base layer of my composite. As you can see, the executives in the foreground are evenly lit, but some of the staff farther in the frame fall into shadows.

The orange light on the ceiling was a little touch of color I decided to add in for balance. I created this simply by aiming a gelled speedlight directly at the ceiling.

After getting a solid set of shots with my foreground subjects properly exposed, I had the executives stand aside so I could reorient my lights and shoot those who were situated farther back in the frame. While moving my lights, I set pennies at the feet of each team member, so I could reposition everyone in their original locations without worry. The image at right shows the second layer of my composite, with the rearmost subjects now properly exposed. With a solid set of exposures for each group, I was comfortable knowing that I could create the final composite through post processing.

Once sorting and calibration of my favorite shots in Lightroom was complete, I exported them into layers in Photoshop to build the composite. The entire group shot (#1) was set as my base layer, with the shot of the background group (#2) imported as my top layer. I then used carefully defined masks to bring out the foreground executives from the bottom layer. After a few touch-ups here and there to remove an "Exit" sign (far left), and a funky shadow on one of the window shades (far right), the final composite was ready for client review:

JetLinx Holiday Card Photo :: The Final Composite of Two Exposures

After applying their company logo and sending the image off to print, the 2011 JetLinx Christmas card project was officially a wrap. I must say this was one of the more fulfilling shoots I've done in recent weeks; being able to see a project through from conception to completion without any hiccups was extremely satisfying. I guess my planning paid off. I also have to tip my hat to the entire JetLinx team, who were fun and easy going from beginning to end. Having fun during a shoot always makes a photographer's job a little easier.

I hope sharing this story helps remove some of the mystique from composite photography, and helps some of you tackle your own composite projects. Have a Merry Christmas!