Interview With Drew Lundquist: The Life of a Composite Photographer

Interview With Drew Lundquist: The Life of a Composite Photographer

I first came across the work of Colorado-based photographer Drew Lundquist in 2013 when he was working for the powerhouse advertising agency Elevendy. Lundquist is a composite photographer who specializes in what he labels "theatrical special effects photography." His composite work is extremely clean with an immaculate attention to detail. Everything from his compositions to his color work leaves you wanting to see more and more. Lundquist's work has been featured numerous issues of Advanced Photoshop Magazine, and his work is the cover image for the current edition of The Professional Photoshop Book. Lundquist is well on his way to becoming one of the big names in the compositing game. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to check out his work.

Anyone who follows me or my work can immediately see why I enjoy Lundquist’s photography so much. I am a huge fan of composite photographers who create epic cinematic pieces with near perfect post-production processing. Put all that in a blender with a sprinkle of comic book, a pinch of Star Wars, and a dash of high school humor and you end up with Lundquist’s work. I reached out to Lundquist for an interview and he gladly accepted.

Finding Inspiration

Composite photography, like anything worth doing and doing well, takes time. It truly is a skill that you "learn by doing." Unlike many forms of photography, composite photography isn't restricted by things like time, weather, budget, or even location. To be honest, the only real restrictions are the ones that pertain to your own creativity. Lundquist’s images all have the look and feel of a big-budget production, but that isn't always the case. Lundquist often calls on the help of his friends for his personal projects. He may not always have an unlimited production budget but there is one thing Lundquist has a plethora of, and that’s creativity and imagination.

I specialize in the imaginative and rely heavily on a post-production workflow to stitch and 'Frankenstein' an image together. I aim to inspire awe and brain blast your mind-grapes for that ‘Holy Crap’ moment that rushes over you causing you to feel enlightened, with a hint of jealousy; Which is what I tend to feel when looking at the work of those who inspire me.

I think his self-description hit the nail on the head.

The Creative Process

Coming up with an idea is only the first piece of the puzzle. The real work comes into play when it comes time to place said idea in motion. A talented composite photographer is much like seasoned chess player. They need to be able to see the steps 20 moves ahead of each other. They need to know how to change their plans at a moments notice and still end up with a cohesive final outcome. As stated before, it's a matter of trial and error. Eventually you will develop a workflow that works for you. This becomes your creative process. After time your creative process will allow you to take on each new project with ease and confidence. I love hearing about other photographer's creative processes. I asked Lundquist to share his:

It changes all the time. Generally it starts with references; I’ll see something cool whether it’s an effect, angle, shot, scene, or whatever, could be anything and want to emulate or implement it in my own way. Once the general idea is formed I’ll pre-visualize some angles and scenes to shoot for, identifying what’s happening, and what I need to accomplish for said shot regarding props, locations, assets, or how to achieve a given effect. After the concept is solid and solutions are set, I’ll find models and shooting space to shoot for a couple hours, nailing pre-visualized poses and assets set prior. I’ll generally have references or sketches for models to look at so they know what look and feel we’re trying to achieve. I find it tends to help both of us so that very little is left up to interpretation and we’re all on the same page. After the shoot is done and assets are collected, it’s on to the post-process. I’ll first run through images captured and rate my selects, annotating likes and dislikes about each as well as what needs to be combined with what, if anything. No matter how much planning goes into a shot, things change — usually for the better — and I’ll experiment with some placement variations. Once subjects are cut from their backgrounds and the general framing is set, I’ll start shopping the background from gathered stock assets or things I’ve shot from a location. Other than placement, I tend to leave the subject edits for the very last. Once the environment is solid, I can shape and tone the subject based on his/her surroundings. I tend to tweak ad nauseam. A composite could always have more detail and never be truly finished, but needs to have a stopping point. I find myself occasionally editing things no one will ever notice and that’s typically when I choose to ‘call it’ and move to the next project or edit.

As Lundquist stated, the creative process is ever-changing. It grows with you from project to project. You learn things you want to add and realize things you want to do away with.

Never Stop Growing

In any creative field, it's always important to push yourself. You need to challenge yourself and push into new territories. You don't want to grow complacent and stop trying to better your craft. Once you start taking on more and more client work it can become a challenge to find time to work on personal projects. Don't let that become an excuse and cause your personal work to fall by the waste side. Personal work is key in developing your skills and ultimately creating the work you want to be hired for! Lundquist’s personal work is always extremely entertaining. He has mastered the art of mixing humor into crazy epic masterpieces. I asked him if he is working on anything new:

I’ve got a backlog of ideas that I’m slowly working on. Most of the special effects shots I love to do currently happen in my free time which is hard to come by. I’ve got a few photo series I’m about to kick off, some heavy on post-processing and some not. Since moving back to Denver I’ve been working on re-vamping my name so to speak with branding and website update, learning new skills in new programs that will hopefully take my work to the next level, along with the much needed refresh of equipment and adding a few new tools. As a short teaser, I’ve been gearing up for a pretty sweet Star Wars series that I’m really excited about, which we should be shooting here very shortly. That as well as a new portraits series similar to the 'Poorly Posed Portrait' series I did a while ago, but a little more dramatic and awesome.

In Lundquist’s career to date, he's had the opportunity to work on some really awesome projects with some rather large clients. He told me, "After college I had the amazing opportunity to work with Elevendy Inc. based out of Sacramento California for about a year, creating pretty much everything I had aspired to be and working with a kick-ass team of creatives." With Lundquist’s current portfolio and many years ahead of him, I can hardly wait to see the path his journey leads him down. Lundquist’s comments on what the future holds for him were:

In a perfect world I’d love to be shooting and compositing under my own name, specializing in that theatrical genre we all know and love. But that market is tough for a solo-artist, and I don’t know if that means movie posters or more video game covers or working with a team again; The road is long and clouded and I’ve got no clue what the future holds. All I know is that I’m going to keep shooting and doing what I love and see what other opportunities come down the pipe … the pipe of life.

A Word of Advice

I asked Lundquist if he wanted to close with some words of advice for young photographers striving to get into the world of composite photography:

In short, just do it (not meant to be a Nike plug). Other artists have said the same thing and it could not be more true. I’d fallen into a trap recently that I’m working to get out of, and that is I’d find ways to make a shoot happen that was slightly out of reach, mostly financially, and when that would happen I’d find myself setting that project or idea on the sidelines as if that were the only way to do it. The problem then is that although I’ve got all these ideas, nothing is getting done because I’ve tabled it until ‘I can do it right,’ which was what I was telling myself. So I wasn’t producing anything. Which is why I firmly believe that you just need to do it. Find a way to make it happen and do it. Use what resources you have and strive to overcome the challenge. This is something I’ve come to appreciate more and more as I’m pre-visualizing ideas. I want to create these awesome and badass images as often as I can and I’m not going to let anything get in my way and neither should you.

All images by Drew Lundquist and used with permission.

Brandon Cawood's picture

Brandon Cawood is an internationally recognized and published photographer known for his highly detailed composite photography and retouching work. He has a distinctive style that sets his images apart and offers a branding solution to set his clients to distinguishing their identity. He also has a background in video production and editing.

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Awesome work!


amazing work !! do you do a tutorials ?


Wonderful work.

Considering some of the retouching I myself have done on a products and models, I don't think much of what you see in web and print is "photography"...

Don’t see how this is not photography. At the core, it is the photograph that evolves into something more. One still has to capture that photograph, and it actually requires a lot of thinking ahead of how the eventual artwork will look like.

While many take a picture, this certainly is an example of creating a picture, from start to finish.