Photo Composites / by Chris Dahl

For many years I worked in Photo Labs where we produced photo composites (before Photoshop) for advertising at trade shows, malls and airports. We would create layered artwork showing the image and type placement. Then we would use large copy cameras to shoot 8x10” film of each element. Enlargers, pin registered frames, Ortho film (Black and Clear after processing) and Rubylith (For cutting shapes aka selections) just to name a few of the other tools we used in the process. Many hours were spent at a drafting table, in the camera room and ordering type setting sized to the artwork.

Here is a link to my home darkroom to show you what an enlarger looks like, the darkrooms I used at the labs would have 2 or 3 enlargers. This allowed us to use different film formats and leave jobs setup.

Just like Photoshop all of the elements were arranged in layers and a specific sequence. Each layer required an Ortho film be produced to block out all unneeded areas. If color type lapped over an image or colored background. The space for the type had to be held back when the image or background was exposed onto the film. Every element would be exposed onto a single sheet of color film and every exposure on that film would be different.

For images (see below) the photo was sized with duplicating film and the mask was hand cut to fit the image. If we needed color type it was created by projecting colored light from the enlarger directly to the film. We kept reference material with color values to use as starting points.

It truly took a team of creative people to produce this work.

Ortho film from a Rubylith cut mask.

Ortho film from a Rubylith cut mask.

See the pin register holes on the right edge of the film.

See the pin register holes on the right edge of the film.

This was cutting edge at the time. The department was known as the Black Hole, jobs might go into the department but never come out! Actually that was rare we were pretty good at what we did and always had a backlog of work.

Xmas_1990.jpg

When I was at the Lab I used to produce Christmas Cards each year of my girls. The first few were posed photos around the house. As the years progressed I got a little more creative. The image to the left was made in much the same way as mentioned above, a single posed image stripped out of its background and added to the line art. We did these cards until about High School when the girls pushed back on the idea.

Fast Forward to today!

For years I have had Photoshop and I hardly used all of its potential. All of the tools we used in the Black Hole and darkroom are now in Photoshop. They are greatly expanded and streamlined for ease of use. Photoshop is just beyond the edge of daunting with confusion.

This year I have committed to learn more about Photoshop and expand my ability to make digital composites.

Following are a few images I have started to experiment with. These are all fairly basic jobs in Photoshop.

Moon Over Death Valley

Moon Over Death Valley

The image above has three alterations. The original background photo was taken in Death Valley. I actually retouched out a moon captured in the image and evened out the shy. I added a shot of a super moon that I captured last year and I added a painterly effect using Topaz Software.

Flooded Fort

Flooded Fort

The image above many of you have seen before, it has preformed well in Juried Gallery Shows in the original version. For this image, I used a technique I read about in Digital Camera magazine (Issue 216). They also supply some files with their projects for you to work with. To create the water. I used a file they supplied and imported it using the Displace Filter. There were a number of steps that needed to be followed to make the effect work.

Other World

Other World

The Image above has three elements combined in Photoshop. I took a photo of water drops on a blue background and placed the moon above the wave. Then I added the clouds.

I intend to build on the simple elements I am learning and ramp up to more complex projects.

Many of these techniques I have found in articles in Digital Camera magazine which comes with a disk loaded with sample files and video instruction. I also find lots of good information on YouTube.

There are also many very good local resources available to us, your local camera club often brings in speakers on this type of subject. For instance the Booth Photography Guild has a monthly Photoshop SIG (Special Interest Group).

Thanks for you interest.

Chris