Step-by-Step Composite: UO Tennis

This is definitely not going to be as extensive as the tutorial from last week. A lot of this is just repeating steps but I still want to give you an idea of how this composite was built. This photo ended up being a lot more complex because the cutouts were super difficult. My initial concept didn’t have so much overlap and thus I didn’t plan on needing a white background to shoot onto. I’ll get into more detail on this later but let’s jump into the steps behind creating this poster.

Step 1: Base Image – There always have to be a starting point and this was the background plate I decided to use for the background plate. I realized going in that all I really needed was a small portion of the court and lines because Trudie (our athlete for this poster) is obviously going to be the main focus. With having the motion blur added and seven different poses, I didn’t want any extra attention to be paid to elements in the background.

Step 2: Contrast and Gradients – If you didn’t check out the Step-by-Step Gymnastics post from last week to get more detail on how there is such a drastic change from the base image to this (mainly steps 2-6). Here, I added a new layer and filled the top part of the frame with black and then used a gradient to blend it in with the ground. And then I once again used my gradient tricks to make it look like there’s a spotlight on the center of the court. I also stretched the frame horizontally to remove some of the court boundary lines and make it look a bit bigger (so I can fit more in without making her look like she’s a giant).

Step 3: Insert Individual Sportraits, Add Shadows and Motion Blur – Once again, I’m combining multiple steps into one. Here’s where we start layering in the pieces of the composite. The first step is just to cut out the subject which I do by using the magic lasso tool and then going in and hand painting in and out what I need/want. I stated on Monday that my original concept for this got scrapped because it looked too much like another poster that they have coming out for another sports team soon. The problem is I didn’t plan on having so much overlap and made the cutout process much more difficult because I didn’t shoot onto a white background. This is a huge part of why it took so long to create this image.

After inserting the image I decided to add the motion blur to make it look a little more dynamic. I accomplished this by using the motion blur filter. If you’ve ever used this before, you’ll know that it blurs in both directions (in front and behind, left and right, or however you want to classify it). I just wanted it to go in one direction or else things would get way to crazy and complicated. So I moved the blurred layer to the point where it’s only coming from behind and then set it to screen blend mode.

Another issue I had to worry about was shadows. Most of the time I try to add realistic shadows to try to keep the composite as realistic as possible. With something like this though it’s clearly not real and adding a bunch of shadows would make this look like a huge mess. All I did was, on a blank layer, paint a solid black line just below her shoes and then added a Gaussian blur to make it look like a nice contact shadow (I definitely just made that term up). This at least helps make it look like she’s on the ground rather than floating on top of it.

After that it’s a little bit of rinse and repeat. Add in a new subject layer. Add in the motion blur. Add the shadow. It’s a lot easier to say than do. One of the challenges is the University wanted the subject to be moving forward rather than just staying in the same position on the back line. That meant, I had to naturally make her grow as she comes closer. This also become a balancing act because you want to position the subjects relatively the same distance apart but I also didn’t want a hand cover another hand or a leg covering another foot.

The next picture ended up being one of the most interesting to add into the composite. This is the point in her motion where she makes contact with the tennis ball (I delivered two versions to the client, one with and one without a ball). The problem is, if you remember, I didn’t shoot this with a solid white background and somehow needed to see through the center of the racket which was completely back besides a few highlights on the strings and the W logo. I didn’t want to just cut out the center because it would look really weird without any strings. To fix this, I created a layer where I just had the center of the racket selected and then changed the blend mode to screen. This drops out the black and leaves everything else (in this case it dropped the background and left the strings). It was still a little too light to notice the strings so I went back in and used a curve layer to accentuate the highlights in the strings.

The final piece of the puzzle was adding in a final image where she’s already contacted the ball, she’s already followed through, and now she’s finally looking straight at you. The first six images in the composite she’s focused on the ball but I wanted there to be some connection when you look at the poster. I didn’t want something where she’s always looking off to the side. I wanted a final piece where she’s making eye contact with you as if you’re her opponent.

Later this week (Friday) I’m going to do a quick post about the individual Sportraits making up this composite. It’s more or less going to be a little before and after image so you can see the post processing that goes into the most important pieces of the composite puzzle!

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