www.alantowerphoto.com Spokane Photographer Alan Tower Image includes the Nautilus in southern Utah.

This is a composite photo of the Nautilus with model Taylor Ewing playing the woman in trouble in the desert.

I knew the nighttime photo of the Nautilus in my portfolio was interesting, but it lacked “center stage”. For several months I planned to change the image by making a composite image. Composite images include several pictures, all combined into one. I used the base image of the Nautilus, which was shot under a full moon at midnight with the temperature near zero. It is rock, not ice, but trust me it was icy getting that shot with ambient and light painted illumination.

Nautilus formation in UT. Spokane photographer Alan Tower www.alantowerphoto.com

Here’s the original image of the Nautilus. A nice shot, but the stage is set for center action.

Additional images were first planned, such as sketching a model on a print to see what pose would fit it just right. I asked artist Eric Alain Parker to sketch a pose with the model crawling out of the Nautilus and he provided a line drawing that gave the model the basic pose that would work. Then I took about 25 images of my model for this photo in that pose against a white background.  I cut the image out from the background after reviewing several to see which I liked best in the composite.  Because you can lay them over the image in a mostly transparent way you can see how to size and select the image that fits best.  Taylor Ewing was very professional and was eager to see what this project would yield just as I was.

I could have gotten her dirty for the shots, but instead I practiced my compositing and took 9 photos of dirt that I selected and separated from the background and added those pictures as well. Those are the dirt on her body. Photoshop allows you to have as many layers in a picture as you wish and the layers can be of varying opacity and blending modes. As a result, you can make the photos of dirt blend in and have a realistic appearance.

texture file created by Spokane Photographer Alan Tower www.alantowerphoto.com

One of many dirt images used to make Taylor look battle weary. I use psd files so the background can be transparent.

Yet another photo went into this composite, a Phlearn texture, which is basically a selection from a photo that gives a somewhat textured look to the finished product. In this case, I made that effect subtle and even erased some of the more prominent texture marks.

With all the pieces in place, I modified lighting using NIK (silver relector efex) which cast a similar light over both the model and the original photo, making them more in keeping. I also used the neutral density filters in NIK Color Efex Pro to blend light.  Then I used the Kuyper burn/dodge layer to shadow the image. If you look carefully, you’ll see that I don’t get wildly caught up in making certain every shadow is exact. That is mostly because there were virtually no shadows in the original image thanks to the very soft lighting. But if you don’t add in the shadows, accurate or not, the pictures won’t blend all that well, and that’s the point of a composite image.

Though not a traditional portrait, this sort of image is one that will be kept in portfolios and demonstrates the skill of the model perhaps more than a headshot. Mostly, it is a conceptual project which transforms an interesting image into an image with a story. As cool as the Nautilus is, no one will see this composite image and ignore Taylor. She’s the concept, the struggle in the desert. To some, the dessert for this desert shot.