Virginia Hamrick Photography » Architectural, Commercial and Portrait Photography

Image Harvesting and Compositing in Architectural Photography

One of the many benefits of digital capture is the ability to combine elements of various individual frames into a single composite image in post processing. I often employ this technique in architectural photography especially when shooting in large public spaces where the human presence is out of my control.

In a large open public area like the one shown in the sample image below, when the right configuration of people exists in one area, chances are that other parts of the space will not look good, perhaps being too crowded or too empty.

To capture the individual frames for the composite, I set up the shot with my camera on a tripod in a fixed position with the exposure set to manual, and the shutter speed selected for the amount of motion blur I want. I patiently watch with a cable release in hand and take a shot whenever I see the right configuration of people located in the right position. (Sometimes I alter the shutter speed while maintaining a consistent exposure to mix up the amount of motion blur.)

In addition to waiting for the right number of people to congregate or walk through the scene, I also watch for the right body stance and direction of movement. This might be sitting, walking into or out of the space, walking up or down the stairs, or standing still depending on the circumstances and the environment. Individuals might be interacting with one another or autonomous. Capturing the right gesture is important. All these factors help to reveal how the space is used in a still photograph.

After the shoot, I browse through the captured images and choose the candidates for a visually harmonious result. It is at this stage that I also consider factors such as the person’s size and their clothing style and color.

Once I decide on the collection of shots to use for the composite, I open them as layers in a single Photoshop document and use masking to reveal (harvest) the portions of each of the individual frames that I want to have in the final scene.

Here is an example of this technique put into practice. The finished composite is shown first. Then you’ll see the individual shots that were combined to create the composite. A red circle indicates the piece of that frame that was harvested for the composite.

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