Missing A Prop? Create A Composite

With rare and expensive props, you may run into a supply problem leaving you without the desired number for your shot. For this shoot, I wanted to show three bowls in the image, but only had two on hand. Here is how I created a composite to solve the problem.

Fine china is one of my favorite props to use. It adds a level of sophistication to an image that works well with many foods. For this shot of a Golden Onion Soup, I wanted to convey a theme of springtime elegance. I found a bowl that had a pale purple pattern that was perfect! The problem was that I could only find two bowls. When using antique props, you will often run into an issue of how many you will have available. If you would like more than you have in your shot, you can create a composite. For this composite, I took two images.


I first took the background layer shot. For the next shot, I took the bowl that was in the bottom left and moved it to the top left side of the shot. I turned the bowl so that the bread would be in a different position.

When doing a shot like this, ensure that you are using a support system that prevents the camera from moving. Also, be careful not to move other items on the set. The less movement you have, the easier it will be to line up the layers in post-production.

In Photoshop, I took the first image and made it my background layer.


I then added the second image on top.


I then masked away the bottom left portion of the layer, allowing the bowl from the background layer to show through. Here is what the image looks like with the two layers combined.


It looks good, but there is too much space between the bottom left bowl and the other two bowls. When shooting your image, I suggest taking pictures of different compositions. Moving objects a few inches can make a huge difference.

Without another image composition to choose from, I was going to have to move the top layer down to bring the bowls together.  Because of my vertically striped background, I was able to move the top layer with out changing the look of the background. If you had a print or other background design, you may not be able to move a layer in post production and still have it line up. Here is what the images look like before and after moving Layer_1.



The bowls are now closer together, but there is a gap of empty space at the top of the image. To fix this and keep the image at its original dimensions, I will have to crop the image. Here is the final cropped image.

Missing_Prop_Composite_Soup_Background_final_cropped copy

Cropping in on the image wasn’t ideal, but it allowed for me to achieve the exact placement that I wanted. The ideal situation would be to shoot several compositions and have options to choose from. If you are shooting on an ornate and complex patterned background, it may be very difficult to move a layer and line up the background in post-production. Next time you are without the desired number of props, plan out a composite that will give you the look you desire.

For more food photography tips, tricks and tutorials, check out the downloadable PDF series, photographing FOOD.

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Wil Fry's picture

Composites can solve many, many problems. The above is a good example. One piece of advice: watch your shadows and lights. Occasionally Object A in Photo 1 will create a shadow, but that shadow won't be there in Photo 2, since you moved Object A to play the part of Object C.

(I've had the shadow issue when creating "clone" photos, for example.)

Composites are also a great way to solve the whole "I bought a long lens but need a wider one" issue. Can't back up far enough to get the shot? Cover the subject with multiple images and stitch them later (surprisingly, one of the best auto-stitchers is freeware, Microsoft ICE).

travisduncan's picture

Great example of how compositing can help in studio problem solving. I've had to use this same techniques many times when shooting food! Thanks for sharing.