Behind the Orchids: Making of a heist and three tips to successful compositing

The Heist was the first image in a recent series I did that explores the darker side of orchids. I based the project around three concepts, each concept exploring a criminal activity that orchids might get up to when our backs are turned. Without dispelling too much magic, I wanted to run through how one of the images was created. From the start I didn't want to use any stock images in my work. Stock images are expensive and their licence terms could make it tricky, if I wanted to self-publish a book or sell prints at a later date. Half the fun is being resourceful and working within the constraints you may have.

I could have had the orchid pulling out a diamond necklace from the drawer but I don't have access to a diamond necklace. I know I could have got some costume jewellery, and I am sure my wife would have been delighted to receive a real one. However, the image is better for not being so obvious. A key leaves what the orchid is stealing open to the imagination.

As you can see below, there were not that many source images used in the heist. Other than the two keys (did you spot the clockwork key? - a little reference to... well I'm not going to give everything away) I needed to source longer aerial roots for the image, some that I could manipulate using Photoshop's warping tools. The background was just too flat, so a texture of some panelling did the trick.

The Heist's Components



The key things to pulling off a good composite are clean selections and masking, consistent perspective and light.

  • Although a lot of people don't like the quick selection brush, I find it really good, quick, and gives the right amount of softness on edges. Though using the right method for the image you are masking, is key.
  • Perspective needs to be consistent for all the source images in the composite. Thankfully the brain is fairly forgiving here. For example, in the image above, the key was shot straight on but in the final image the viewer is looking slight down towards the key. We can use some of Photoshop's transformation tools to correct the perspective.
  • Light consistency is probably the trickiest thing to get right, not only do you need to create source images with a consistent light source (you can sometimes fake it), you also have to recreate shadows that would be cast by the things you are adding. The best way is to hand paint them (I highly recommend a Tablet for this Wacom make excellent ones). This takes practice. Removing shadows is even harder...

You can see all the images from the series here: The Darker Side of Orchids