man in a coat and drivers cap in front of Pittsburgh skyline

Pittsburgh Self Portrait

I've always loved film noir style images. I also seem to be naturally attracted to the urban night. I think the reason I love them is because at night, in a city, you have a lot of possible light sources. Night time also offers a lot of drama, and I love dramatic images. On the technical side of things, its also much easier to light up a set on a smaller budget using lower power gear. Daytime shoots require me to call in the big guns. 12-18K HMI's if I'm working on a film project, or pack and head flash systems if I'm shooting photos. Either way, it's a lot of stuff (and people) to lug around, it's also hard to be lightweight and nimble if you plan to do any artificial lighting mixed with sunlight.

Technical Details

This shot is a composite of 5 images. The background was shot separate from the foreground, but in and of itself consists of three images. I shot it as a stitched pano and later added in stars from a night sky photo I shot in Idaho. The foreground I shot indoors using a single strobe light bounced off of a white ceiling behind me, then bounced again into my face / chest using a 45 degree angled reflector that is above me and pointing downwards at me - as opposed to the classic below and pointing up position so many are taught. Upward reflectors tend to look very unrealistic. They give this weird look on most people, it's especially horrible looking when it's silver and used with very hard light. See your local news for examples of this! The lighting setup is what really helps me look like I'm really standing in front of the background. I have a nice soft back light that seems to be originating from the city behind me. All the fog / haze in the shot is from a photo of water steam on a black background. I have a lot of these on hand for atmospheric haze effects.

Realistic optical qualities are a huge factor in making a realistic composite image. I would argue that this is what really makes a composite become seamless. A lot of people mess this up - in fact, it's extremely common. Matching light is pretty easy compared to optical characteristics like angle, depth of field, distortion, haze, etc... I needed to look like I'm actually a distance away from the city, so I made sure to create a layered look to the images contrast. Closer objects should have stronger contrast than objects further away - this effect is much more noticeable in outdoor settings. It really amps up the photo realism. I used the Photoshop lens blur tool to blur the background just a touch. It's a wide angle shot, so not too much is needed, otherwise the optical characteristics of the image would seem out of whack.