August 12, 2020

Applied Practice | Dream Theory Project | Creating final composites 01


A quick roundup of the experimentation required to build composite images.

My initial ideas were about making multiple images collaged together, separated by some sort of structural network.

As I worked through the thinking on this approach it appeared too complicated and also I felt that I was trying too hard to deliver an illustrative analogy for my idea.

Once I reached this stage, my thoughts had matured into a simpler approach. Two elements; a photograph (possibly with modification), and the lattice of strings motif. These two elements would be woven together in some way that I felt worked with the images.

I would leave a broader interpretation to the viewer.

Naming and description

This leads to another question about describing and naming photographs. I've tangled with this problem in previous work too. How far should I try to explain my work, and how should I name it?

For example, I think this series of previous work needs some explanation since I set out to make a set of images based on a specific artwork. But with the current dreams project, I hesitate to try to explain it because I think it is perhaps better for the viewer to discover it themselves.

For this project I think I'll try to keep any explanation to a short paragraph. If I show them in future I'll probably name them very simply—Dream Theory I, II, III etc.

Proof of concept

I made my first composite after I'd shot the stand of pines in Wimbledon, before I had shot the large strings rig.

I made a few rough 'proof of concept' images using the pictures of my maquette that I had shot on my phone. This helped me decide to move forward with building the large strings rig.

Rough proof of concept image with maquette strings

Another rough comp. These were enough to decide to move forward.

High res composites

Having built, shot and chromakeyed the background of the strings images I now had something to layer into the pines image.

Placing the strings on top of the pines


I wasn't entirely happy with the result here, something seemed out of balance. I initially wanted to simply lay the strings over the top of the pines, but this had the effect of obscuring them. I needed to find a balance between the pines and the strings so I started masking them into the image.

Masking the strings behind the trees

I thought this was better, but I wasn't sure that the colour was working so I went through a process of experimentation.

Knocking the saturation back

Trying out negatives and blending layers

More blending experiments

Over manipulation

I was trying to find a way of making these images more evocative somehow. More dreamlike, or more suggestive of a world created in the mind. I thought that maybe introducing a colour palette that was deliberately unreal might jibe with my theme.

But the more I worked into the images in this way, the more the feeling that I was trying to contrive something unnecessary grew.

This goes to something I've mentioned before, the endless possibilities available in manipulating photographs. It's easy to go down a path of digital tricks that actually take an image away from its intention and erode its integrity.

So I decided to try to keep the colours as natural as possible across the series. I might tweak the saturation and hue of the raffia a little, but it was yellow in real life, so I'll keep in that hue range for these images.

Letting go of the curiosity to alter every detail actually freed me up. If this image wasn't working then it's most likely the image itself, there's nothing colour palette manipulation will do to alter that.

Returning to natural colour with a subtle vertical exposure gradient to help balance the image


From this point on I knew if I was going to succeed with this project I'd have to shoot some better base images and build from there. At the time of writing I have yet to attempt this pines image with the sunlit version, hard to know if this will transform the image but I have others to experiment with now.

Having gone through this process I now had a better idea of how to plan and shoot further images. I decided to try another pines shot but, next time I would shoot a much wider image with more detail and variation to it if possible.

Download PDF
Download PDF