Compositing Principle #3: Size and Scale
Hello Everyone. It’s been a busy month getting ready for the release of the new Studio Magic II panel. You people are going to love this thing! Some great stuff coming from Layer Cake and Studio Magic. So hang on and fasten your compositing seat belts! Anyway, my apologies for the lag time but here we are again ready to reveal more compositing secrets!
Let’s move on to the next on our list of compositing principles. This one has got to be one of the most obvious ones when overlooked. It can make you look like Godzilla is about to crush the house or reduce you to one of the actors from “Honey, I shrunk the Kids”… and if you’re not careful, it can also make a grizzly bear look more like a teddy bear! Unless that’s what you’re after, perhaps we should consider a few tips.
While this is largely a visual thing and needs to be determined with visual imagination, it first comes from observation. So if you’re not gifted in this area, we can still take mental notes to get us in the ball park by observing. Our first cue is… Identification! Is it a hammer, a surf board or maybe pencil? Once we’ve got that down we have our first layer of information. Armed with that knowledge we can go to step two which is Comparison or scale. This has to do with observing things next to each other (as opposed to in front of or behind each other).
This only works if the object we’re trying to size is not the only thing in the scene. If it is, then we’ll have a scaling dilemma. A person standing out in the middle of the desert with nothing in sight may not tell us how tall he or she is like standing next to a telephone pole would. So, if it’s a hammer, are there any other objects in the scene we’d like to place it next to that we can compare it to? Let’s see… Hey look, there’s a book on a coffee table. Let’s put the hammer there. We know from personal experience that an average book is roughly 10″ long. Hammers are usually longer than that but no a lot longer so we size accordingly. Get it? So we can look around the environment to get our cues for scale and size our hammer properly.
Let’s try another scenario. We’ve got a cup we need to size but this time it needs to be on a table about 8 feet behind your subject. We start by knowing how big the cup would be if in the subject’s hand but this time we have a new layer of information: Distance. The table is not going to be in her hand or next to but behind her. The distance between the viewer/lens and the object affects its size too so when we scale it, we have to take comparison AND distance into consideration. But how quickly do we reduce the size as it goes back in the scene, you ask? Well, every photographed scene leaves a clue… lens Distortion or Compression! Every scene will be different…. read on.
If the scene was shot with a wide angle (17-40mm), things will be more distorted and stretched out i.e. things close to the lens are really big and things towards the back are really small (think of that comical close up portrait where the nose gets really, really big). Same scene through a long lens (70-200) will be the opposite… more “compression” i.e. things closer and farther from the lens have less of a difference in size. In fact, the background might even seem to be right up against the back of your subject though you know it’s way back there. Side Note: Check the photo’s metadata for focal length info. So based on how much distortion or compression your scene has, you can use that as another hint for how drastically the size will change when you resize (move the cup close or farther back in space). Factor this in with the knowledge that the table you’re going to place it on is about 8 feet behind the subject and your chances of making the cup size believable are real good.
If this sounds complex and just not the kind of thing you’re used to thinking about, the best way to make it second nature is to cheat. Huh? Ya, cheat. You know. Like when you looked at the answers at the back of the book that one time… or two? Well the answers are all around you. In photos, in real life. Observation is the key to artistic knowledge and intuition. When my mind’s eye can’t come up with the answer I need, I go research it. I look around and identify, compare and observe what distance and camera optics do to things. Make plenty of mental notes and next time you’re needing to replicate a spacial illusion by sizing an object, your mind will draw from your findings!
Join me next time when we hit compositing principle #4: Color – saturation & temperature. Till next time, happy compositing!