equipment limitations in composite photography

Limitations, and why they’re so Damn Good

When I decided to jump back into photography just over two years ago, I had my Canon 5d Mark-II, about $100 in my bank account, and that’s it. I remember wondering, “How in the world am I going to make portraits with only my camera and no lights or anything else?”

Looking back now, I would not be creating the Composites I am without the Limitations of those early days.

It’s super easy to “think” you need fancy equipment to create Amazing Composite Photography. After all, the Composite Photographers who inspire us are all using expensive camera gear, multiple strobes to light their subjects, have studio space, shoot tethered, work with assistants, and hire fashion experts, makeup artists, and hair stylists to help them create Amazing Composited Images.

I’m here to tell you I had none of that, and you don’t need it either.

The Story of Motley Crue

I am admittedly a “Metal Head”, which clearly shows my Awesome age (47), but there’s so much to be learned from the early days of these 80’s bands, many of which are still head banging today, likely with very sore necks.

Before Motley Crue became one of the worlds biggest bands, they were living behind dumpsters on Sunset Strip in California, and living of the good deeds of many of their female fans. Nikki Sixx stole his first guitar, they would fashion their own wardrobe, and Nikki would go as far as setting himself on fire while on stage.

How does a band with literally NO money, stolen guitars, and clothes from Goodwill become one of the biggest Metal Bands of all time? How do they go from living behind dumpsters with rats, to living in mansions with half naked babes?

Limitions…

Oh, BTW, many of my favorite bands like Metallica, Guns-n-Roses, and Candlebox all began with unbelievable Limitations, only to go on to become some of the biggest bands ever.

Limitations Spark Innovation

With the story of Motley Crue in mind, I remember embracing the fact I had almost NO Compositing skills, NO lighting, NO studio, and NObody to help me along the way. What I did have, however, was creativity, awesome work ethic, and twin boys I knew I could force into being my muses.

The fact is, when you have a GOAL in mind and you want it bad enough, the once perceived Limitations melt away to become Blessings of Innovation.

I believe, all things “creatively” being equal, between two Composite Photographers, one faced with the Limitations of resources and the other with unlimited resources, the photographer with Limitations will excel quicker and further in their Compositing career than the other.

Limitations Provide Opportunity

It’s easy to view Limitations of resources as a problem, telling yourself things like, “I can’t create those types of Composites because I don’t have XYZ, or RKW”, or “When I get JQN, I’ll be able to create great Composites.”

Please hear me when I say, these Limitations aren’t the problem, they are the Opportunity.

Every single Composite I create, probably because most of them use 30+ individual images, comes with several Problems I must Solve. Whether it be various lighting situations, problematic angles, dogs that won’t cooperate, or post-production issues, just to name a few, each Composite gives me the Opportunity to Solve a Problem.

And there’s no fancy cameras, lighting equipment, or expensive software that will provide you with the Opportunity to Solve these kinds of Problems.

The #1 Reason I LOVE being a Composite Photographer, is the challenge of Solving Problems, and I believe it’s the #1 trait that separates the average photographer trying to do some Compositing from the most Amazing Composite Photographers on this planet.

Limitations Create Style

One of the BIGGEST problems you’ll face starting out, and I faced getting started in Composite Photography, is “what” and “how” to find my Unique Style. Strike that, Style, I believe is THE BIGGEST problem I see in Composite Photography.

I don’t care if you have the most expensive camera on the market, lights made by the best manufacturers in the world, and Photoshop skills that would put Aaron Nace from Phlearn to shame, if you don’t have a Unique Voice in Photography, you at best blend in with the millions of other photographers on the planet making average images that will only live 2 to 3 seconds in the digital world of social media before dying off in the endless feed of uninteresting images.

For me, not having lights meant I had to light everything with Natural Lighting, and because I was using so many different images, the lighting had to be flat so I could blend it all together in Photoshop later and create light direction using a combination of techniques I learned online, and through much trial and error.

My “Illustrative” Style was literally developed from my Limitations of lighting.

Limitations Develop Understanding

When I became a Photographer back in the day of that plastic stuff you had to shove in the back of your camera and remove in the dark to process it, the barrier of entry into Photography was quite high. Having a firm understanding of exposure, how the shutter speed and aperture worked together, was critical because that plastic stuff we called film, only had a 2 stop latitude for error. Then throwing in strobes and light meters made “Professional” Photography really damn hard.

Today, with Digital Photography, you can literally be a damn idiot to photography and make some really cool pictures.

Now, I’m not saying you have to know all your shutter speed and aperture rules, however, it is super beneficial, but if you want to create outstanding Composites, you MUST KNOW lighting and how light works.

When you start with only using Natural Light Sources for your Photography, regardless of whether you’re doing Composite Photography or straight up single shot Photography, you build a much better Understanding and Appreciation for how light works.

Once you begin to see how different surfaces reflect different light sources, and how various lighting situations cast a variety of different shadows, you will take your Composite Photography skills to a much higher level.

Yes, beyond the “Next Level” even.

That’s a Wrap

I honestly could say a lot more about this topic of Limitations and the value of embracing your Limitations, but I think you’re getting the point here. Rather than looking at Limitations as a liability, you should be embracing your Limitations as your most prized asset.

You gotta be wondering, “Ok, Mr. Smarty Pants, you may have started out with no lights, no studio, and no photo assistants, but you’ve probably got the whole set up now, don’t you?”

Every Portrait Composite I create today is done with my slightly downgraded Canon 6d (the shutter went out in my 5d), one Alien Bee by Paul C Buff or Natural Light, when I’m photographing dogs I like to use an on camera Canon flash, and I carry every piece of equipment in and out of the location I’m working in myself since I don’t have a studio.

Just recently, in fact, for the Portrait I call “Kitchen Chaos”, I photographed 6 individuals, 5 dogs, 1 cat, and several accessory shots in just under 90 minutes, and that’s including set up and tear down of all my equipment, by myself.

Please, embrace your Limitations and allow them to help you create Amazing Composites that inspire the world.

What Limitations do you currently have, and how can you use them to your Benefit?

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