Critique the Community Episode 13: Composite Photography

Last week we had the Fstoppers community submit their best composite images for the latest episode of "Critique the Community." There were some awesome composite submissions, including a wide range of genres. We chose a total of 20 pictures for Lee and Patrick to give feedback on. Add your comments and ratings to the pictures below. If we selected your picture, we'd love to hear about how you did it.



























If you missed your chance to submit your images for critique, keep an eye out for future submission opportunities for "Critique the Community."

The Fstoppers Community Rating System

If you have an Fstoppers account, you are able to create your own profile and portfolio directly within the Fstoppers Community. Once you have a portfolio uploaded, you can browse images in the community and rate the photos of your peers. Even though art is usually a fairly subjective matter, we wanted to create a rating system that was as objective and unbiased as possible. This way if one of your images has been rated 50 times and has received an average rating of 2 stars, you could feel confident that maybe that particular image is not up to par. Below is a simple chart explaining the Fstoppers Community Rating System.

1 Star - The Snapshot

1 Star ratings are limited to snapshots only. Snapshots are usually taken to document a time or location but little to no thought has gone into the creation of the image. If an image has been "lit" with external light (besides a direct on camera flash) it is at least a 2 star picture. The majority of 1 star images have had no postproduction work done to them but do often have an "Instagram style" filter added to them. The average person these days snaps 1 star images every single day with their smartphones. Most 1 star images that pop up on sites like ours are images of flowers, pets, landscapes, sunsets, objects around a house, etc. If you read Fstoppers, you should not be sharing 1 star images for any reason.

2 Stars - Needs Work

All images, besides maybe 5 star images, always have room for improvement but 2 star images "need work" before they should be included in your portfolio. As photographers we are snapping thousands of images per year but only a few of those images should ever be shared or put into our portfolio. A photographer who has taken a 2 star image has put some thought into the composition, exposure, and postproduction but for some reason has missed the mark. A 2 star image should not be in the portfolio of a full-time professional photographer, and amateur photographers should strive for something better. Even complete amateurs who don't understand photography at all are capable of taking 2 star images from time to time.

3 Stars - Solid

A 3 star image is an all around good image. The photographer has a solid understanding of the basics: composition, color, focus, subject matter, and postproduction. A 3 star image is "good" but it's not great. Most part-time professional photographers have mostly 3 star images in their portfolios. Usually a level 3 image would have been rated 4 stars if it had been shot in a better location, or with a better model showing a better expressions, or there was better postproduction. A photographer capable of taking a 3 star image is capable of taking 4 and 5 star images if they would simply pay more attention to the details. 

4 Stars - Excellent

4 star images are fantastic. In most cases, 4 star images have a certain style to them that links them directly to their creator. A 4 star image usually requires planning and attention to extreme detail. It's almost impossible to shoot a 4 star image by getting lucky. 4 star images have almost flawless conception, composition, lighting, subject matter, and postproduction. If you have any 4 star images in your portfolio you should be very proud of yourself.

5 Stars - World Class

5 star images are flawless and unforgettable. The amount of time, energy, and talent that goes into the average 5 star image is staggering. In many cases these pictures require a team to produce including a professional retoucher. The concept, lighting, subject, location, and postproduction on these images has to be perfect. In some cases the jump from 4 to 5 stars may be as simple as changing the unknown model in the picture with a celebrity or bringing in a set designer or stylist to make the image slightly better. Although there are always exceptions, most 5 star images take days, if not weeks or months to produce.

Strengthening Your Own Portfolio

Even with our objective rating system, people are going to disagree with what they like because ultimately art is still a matter of opinion. However, we believe once an image has been rated over 25 times it will have a rating that is pretty fair and honest (we hope to deter trolls by giving negative Karma points when a vote is more than 1 star away from the community average). If one of your images in your own portfolio is rated lower than what you personally feel it should be rated, we would urge you to try to look at the image from an unbiased angle. Step back, erase your memory of the photoshoot itself, and try to imagine an art buyer, stock agency, potential client, or local gallery as they decided if they wanted to invest in your services. Would your image make the cut?

David Strauss's picture

David Strauss is a wedding photographer based in Charleston, SC.

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Thanks for the critique Lee and Patrick. I see what you're saying regarding the lighting ... it needs more definite direction and shading. Also that beard and tattoo was added in compositing as you can see from the originals below. A timelapse of the layers being edited is here.

That Levi Arnold is not just a good photographer, but also a fantastic retoucher. The soldier one is the best. Love the laid back dog BTW.

Thank you Jon :) It was a fun personal project.


It is always appreciated to get your opinions.

Thanks so much Lee & Patrick.

The photo is totally composited.

First: it is a panoramic scene of three vertical images.
Second: the lantern photos were photographed separately and then added to the scene.
Finally: the clouds are also composited (the sky photo is a stock image.)

Here is a pic of all the photos used.

Also, I'm happy to share with you a 'Before & After' video of the photo. Here on my Youtube channel:

Hope you like it, and thanks again :) :) :)

Dang it, your composited lanterns just cost me a $50 bet with our production manager David. I really thought those were part of the scene. Hopefully he doesn't read the comments and forgets about this bet.

Hahah sorry for that..

Actually, It means a lot for me that you thought it was real and not composited. Now I have more confident with my compositing skills. Thanks again Patrick. :)

Yeah, this is pretty amazing work Nasser, very well done!

Thanks for your kind words David. It's highly appreciated :)

yep, already forgot about the bet ;)

Hello guys, thank you for the time on my picture :)
Here is the before, direct from the camera so you'll see what was added on post ;)

Stunning Work. loved the makeup and all the effects before and after the editing.

Hey guys, thanks for reviewing my image "The Smart Man". I'm actually very happy how much you two were talking about "the story", as this is my main interest in this type of photography. You didn't see the story for what it is and that's understandable. The title would have probably helped you a little bit, but as it's often said: "an image should stand on its own".

For the past few years, I've been trying to figure out ways to incorporate more and more narrative elements (some of them quite hidden) in the images I do for my personal projects. My goal would be to create a (in my eyes) perfect image, that tells a whole story sequence that unravels in your head the more you look at it. I'm not saying this is what photography should be all about, far from it. But it's what drives me forward.

What I like about "The Smart Man" is that we the viewer can form a timeline of what happened, the broken light bulb, the smoke coming out of the empty socket (past) and the new light bulb being drawn from the box (future). What I would do differently today would probably be the strong vignetting on the table as well as the background. And maybe direct eye contact...

This looks incredible. Amazing lighting!!

Thanks for taking the time to look at my photo, guys. I'll revisit the water sometime in the near future. I appreciate the feedback.

Thanks for the review (Image 7 'Monday Morning') guys. Patrick to answer your query about a 'tag' line this image was my first ever composite of this nature. The idea was to create an image of dread, unease and the feeling of 'nothing is goes right on a Monday morning' scenario. While the lighting is not top notch it was supposed to be a jarring. This was intentional but I do agree unless the story is told the image at face value is not beautiful...but thats was thought through. Thanks for the review really stoked to have been selected.

I just want to thank those, who have shared their photo's story and shown originals in the comments.

Hi guys and thanks for the critique of my photo (#19 - "Barefoot"). Pretty much everything you picked up on is right:
- Yes it was very a much a quick shot with a basic lighting setup. I was experimenting with a new idea and wasn't sure the concept would actually come together until I started putting it together in Photoshop so I didn't put too much effort in to the shooting itself. I've since done some other similar shoots (which I've also uploaded to Fstoppers) where I've put a bit more effort in to the actual shooting process.
- The bedsheet backdrop wasn't the best choice :)
- Despite years of intensive training, I never quite made it as a foot model.
- I have since fired my pedicurist

I might have another go at this concept one day with your points in mind.
Thanks again

Lee & Pat here's the before / after the 63 image panorama that was 27000px wide for the base. She was there, those stumps are freaking massive.

WOW! Man, I never thought the location is real. Incredible work. Love the final edit, the smoke added a lot to the scene. Well Done!

Thanks so much!

Can you please post more videos without Patrick Hall? Sometimes I really doubt why he is the one to critique photographs. Lee (and everybody else who appeared in this series) always has a point when discussing pictures but more often than not Patrick doesn't. Thank you.

Thank you so much for the critique Lee and Patrick! This was my first composite attempt, I'm definitely going to apply your suggestions and re-upload to the community!

Thanks so much again! I'm so pumped!

not sure why I only find out about the contest after the critique is posted. :(

this video makes me feel like Patrick is less artistic. Esp at 37:00

Thanks for the critique on my photo guys. Few things to say:

I can personally say getting the fire, sky and model all exposed well is no easy task and not possible to do with 1 shot in this case. It takes very careful planning of time of day, understanding of body movement and fires movement, working with someone who knows how to perform with it for photos/video, the right location that needs permission/approval, and to boot, how to direct the spinner to move the fire in a way to not overlap. It's a hard shot, and I encourage anyone to try it if they think it's basic. I am always up for someone showing me a better way, so I can improve.

I do understand why you downplayed it as much as you did though, and I still appreciate your insight. Thanks!