composite photography of family in their front yard

The Problem with Flying Cats in Composites

Here’s what I want you to do…

Tonight, when you’re watching The Ranch on Netflix, which is one of my guilty pleasures, pause the show at any given point. Then look at what everyone’s doing.

If you don’t like The Ranch or don’t have Netflix, do this exercise with any show or movie you’d like.

I bet you wouldn’t see a single character looking at you, would you?

That’s because stories can’t be told when all the characters are looking back at you the viewer.

So, why then do we take portraits of people or families looking back at the camera smiling and call them stories?

Let’s dig into this and break down my latest Composited Portrait called “Launched”.

The Story Behind Launched

This portrait, as does every family portrait I create, first begins with a Discovery Session where I sit with the family and brainstorm ideas for their crazy family portrait.

For Eric and Sara, that meant including the house they were getting ready to move out of, their son Cale working on his BMW, and their cat taking a ride on the front yard swing.

concept sketch for photo composite called launched

The Concept Sketch as you can see is a lot like the storyboard you’d see from your favorite movie, and is used primarily to bring my client into the portrait experience.

Now, here’s the thing…

As photographers, and especially Composite Photographers who tell stories, it’s important we discard the traditional photography ideas of “smiling for the camera”.

composite photography of family in their front yard

No story worth listening to is told with all the characters looking back at you.

Imagine if Freddie Kruger was looking at you through the entire movie, or Luke Skywalker kept staring at you smiling through every episode, or Ricky Bobby never looked anywhere else through the entire movie but at you.

That’d be a little creepy wouldn’t it?

So, why then posing all our family portrait characters smiling at the camera?

The Composite Breakdown

It’s important to know that storytelling, like the Composites you create, is an art form requiring as much time and focus as your photography.

In fact, it may even take more time and focus than your photography.

Now, if you don’t care about telling stories in your Composites and like creating less than compelling images, that’s OK, but if you’re like me and want to create images that are different, you’re in the BEST place ever.

the breakdown of my composite called launched and each individual image used

1. Eric & Sara
2. Eva
3. George
4. Cale
5. Richie the Cat
6. Ranger & Rosie
7. Margot the Cat
8. House
9. Tree #1
10. Tree #2
11. Background Trees
12. Background Trees
13. Granada Theater
14. Sky #1
15. Sky #2

16. Birds #1
17. Birds #2
18. Street Lamp
19. Bird Sitting
20. Tree
21. Swing
22. Windshield Wiper
23. Grass
24. Sidewalk
25. Basketball
26. Hammer
27. Screwdriver
28. Pliers
29. Wrench
30. Crowbar

31. Globe
32. Soccer Ball
33. Stuffed Unicorn
34. Family Photo #1
35. Family Photo #2
36. Knomb
37. Blanket
38. Large Hat
39. SMU Flag
40. Bush #1
41. Bush #2
42. Cross
43. Squirrel
44. Squirrel
45. Tree

Oh, About that Flying Cat

The only problem with a flying cat is that more Composited Portraits could use them.

I’d never done a flying cat in one of my portraits before, but I totally love the way it turned out and how it’s the center point of this family’s story.

Of course, I didn’t just add a flying cat because I thought it would look cool, but rather, I added it because that cat actually likes being swung around on that swing by those kids.

Here are the only 4 images I was able to capture of the flying cat.

flying cat used for composite portrait

My Famous Sneak Peek

As a Composite Photographer, one of the coolest things about Making Awesome Pictures is seeing the transformations from before to after.

So, let’s take a Sneak Peek and enjoy this moment together.

For me, the coolest transformations are frequently of the house and scenes I create.

Create Different Portraits

I know this is going to sound crazy, but humor me for just one image or portrait here to your benefit.

On your next Composite, don’t have any of your characters looking back at the camera.

That’s right, all your characters have to be engaged in the story you’re telling and NOT looking back at you, or me, the viewer.

Now, tell me a story and tell me why you think I always have one of my characters looking back at the camera?

Comments (2)

Hi Jason,

I’m enjoying catching up on your old posts very much. You’re absolutely spot on about the subjects not looking back at the camera. Your images always look uniquely different and I think this strategy is a key ingredient that helps to gel everything together. Oh and… a flying cat in the scene helps too!

Thanks for sharing your stories and igniting a fire of inspiration inside me. Like you, I was a lost photographer, but since I’ve started reading your blog, I’ve felt reignited and inspired to start shooting and compositing unique images again. Your images (and thoughts) are truly inspirational, so please keep them coming!

I’m so happy you’re exploring your passion. I can tell you from experience that it’s super awesome!

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