Another Kind of Composite

Sometimes you just need to have a little fun with your photography. Or is it just me?


I wrote a recent blog post about photographing jets upon arrival to Los Angeles International Airport on a recent trip. For the most part I was just having fun photographing the jets passing directly overhead, in a spot I had enjoyed quite often when I was much (much!) younger.

747LandingFrames.jpgBefore too long, I started to realize that I was mostly capturing the same photo over and over again, with the only significant difference being that it was a different airplane. Sure, there were a couple arrivals of the huge double-decker Airbus A380, but for the most part it wasn’t exactly exciting or new.

So I started thinking about how else I might interpret the scene in a more interesting or creative way. It struck me that one of the things that was interesting was the actual passing overhead of the plane, and the fast rate at which the perspective changed. In fact, I actually shot a few video clips including some experimental upside-down-to-right-side-up videos.

At this point I thought it might be interesting to capture multiple frames with the camera in a fixed position, so the only thing that changed from frame to frame was the airplane. The only problem was, on this little outing I didn’t have my tripod. It was sitting back at my hotel room, because I was on a “wandering around” walk and wanted to travel light. And I had covered several miles already, so I wasn’t really motivated to walk back just to get my tripod.

Fortunately, I knew Photoshop would be able to align the images for me automatically as long as I did a reasonably good job of holding steady. So as a big Boeing 747 approached I got into position, including the sun in the frame along with some approach lights and trees. I did my best to hold completely still as I captured a series of frames in burst mode.

The images weren’t perfectly aligned, of course, but Photoshop had no trouble at all getting them lined up and loaded into layers. I then added layer masks and blended the images into the final composite shown above.

I don’t pretend that little adventures like this one are going to produce amazing images. But I never feel like the time is wasted. I was having a great deal of fun photographing those planes, and it was also fun assembling the composite image. And I’m sure that at some point in the future I’ll find a subject that lends itself to the technique I used for the airliners on approach to landing, and I’ll feel completely prepared to produce a fun and (hopefully!) interesting image when that happens.

Have you taken the time to explore a creative project that you knew wouldn’t necessarily turn into anything meaningful, but was fulfilling all the same? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

About Tim Grey

Tim Grey is in the business of making photographers smarter and happier. He is the author of more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has written hundreds of magazine articles, and publishes the Ask Tim Grey e-mail newsletter as well as the Pixology digital magazine. He also speaks at a variety of events and leads photography workshops around the world.
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5 Responses to Another Kind of Composite

  1. Ernie says:

    I recently played with fill flash and reflections at the beach. Nothing spectacular but got some nice photos of the kids and a lot of practice as well. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on these “fun photos”

    Ernie & Rebecca
    2Hearts Photo

  2. Melissa says:

    Great blog post! Wondering – have you tried the new Mixel for iPhone app? Awesome way to create fun collages. More info at

  3. Mr Brian Palmer says:

    After photographing an evening outdoor concert, I was walking back to my car and noticed some attractive flowers. It was dusk and I hate using flash so I tried to hold the camera steady for a 1/15 s exposure using the available light from nearby street lamps. Of course that was futile so I then decided that if you can’t beat it, feature it. I lengthened the exposure and try some motion blur by moving the camera. (The flower bed was much to heavy to move!) ;-)
    Happily I got some very interesting shots when I tried rotating the camera during the exposure.

    I think I’ll try this again under more controlled conditions.

    • Tim Grey says:

      Definitely making lemonade out of lemons, and one of my favorite techniques for flowers.

      As for flash, I agree that it is often less than ideal in terms of lighting. But what you might try doing is reducing the strength of the flash by about one stop so that the light isn’t as harsh, and utilize an ambient exposure on the camera to retain a more natural look. This can be very effective!


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