The Art of Compositing Dancers

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

Ron McKinney




Composites are sometimes planned, and often unplanned

Dancers are amazingly capable of taking you places that don't exist in their actual setting, and that's when composites take over.

Let's face it. You sometimes have an amazing dancer with you who is capable of so many different poses and action shots. But your setting isn't up to speed. Maybe it's the natural light. Maybe it's the location. But it's just not working.


The shot above of the dancer (Sofia Taranis) with her foot up on the railing was just like that. I did shoot this as the sun was setting, but the sun was lost behind some thin clouds, and it was just gray and drab and uninteresting. As I was setting up this shot, I knew that I was going to lay in this exact background. By using this other background, I brought in colors that were vibrant and took the scene to another level.


While this composite was technically unplanned, I was able to plan it on the spot. I had already seen this background and knew that I wanted to use it for a composite image, and it was really just a matter of photographing someone with the sun in the right direction and the perspective correct.


How it's done


The big challenge is being sure your perspective is right, and the lighting is right. The angle of the shot of your subject has to match the angle of the shot of your setting. From there, it just has to be a clean transition from foreground to background.


In the image above, the dancer (Lauren Wakeman) was actually bouncing off a trampoline off her back -- so this shot is actually her upside down. But when we flipped the image, it appear she was flying down. I only had to take some of her hair and move it to go with the rest of her hair to help achieve the appearance she was diving down off the cliff's edge.


The stock image I used here was actually facing the other way. But the light on her face made it appear the sun was in front of her, and the cliff's shadows would have made it appear the shadows were opposite each other unless I flipped it around. Now the direction of light was correct, and it also helped give the impression she jumped off the rock.


Giving a new look to an old photo

Breathe some new life into some of your older photos by getting creative with them.

In this image below of the dancer (Selma Masinovic) jumping from one cliff to the other, I had photographed the dancer years before as part of a silhouette shoot I was doing with the DePaul University dance team. I got this shot of her without turning her into a complete silhouette and then one day I stumbled across these cliffs. When I saw the cliffs, I immediately thought of this image and making it appear that she was jumping from one cliff to another.



The next task would be to find a background that would add some drama to the shot. It also needed to be from a very high perspective so it would look like the dancer would have a pretty good fall if she didn't make it to the other cliff.


Once I had the cliffs in place, and the mountains down below, it was time to focus on the size and placement of the dancer. If I made her too big, it would look like an easy hop from one cliff to another. Too small, and she gets lost in the environment. I finally found the size and place I wanted her to be, so it appears like it's quite a jump and she just might not make it.


Next up was to work the mountains in the background that worked perfectly with the angle of her legs, body, and arms.


Challenge Yourself

Come up with a concept, and find a dancer to help you create the concept.

Dancers love to be a part of a project, especially something that can be done in just a few hours. Don't settle for the first shots that you take. Do it over and over again and over again, until you have the shot just perfect, and then get to work compositing.


And be sure to share your creativity on our forums!



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