Creepy Pics – Basic Editing and Compositing

By May 10, 2015Note

I did a shoot in mid-April at a cool property that had a glorious cherry tree out front, in full blossom, and a creepy shed in the woods out back. I got a few nice images under the blossoms for the “Bound in Spring” series, but the vibe out back seemed to call for something different.

When someone at the shoot pulled out a creepy mask he’d brought along, and the property owner mentioned “a bunch of rusted old farm tools” that were in the shed, I knew we had to get a couple “damsel in distress” / slasher-film shots. I like how they turned out.

For both images, I made some different kinds of editing and compositing choices than normal, so I thought I’d share a few notes about that process.

Getting the Shots

The main vision I had for these shots was for the girl to be bound to the tree with the “mad man” out of focus and approaching from behind. To prepare for that, I found my angle and then had the masked model stand in the background while I adjusted my aperture until he was sufficiently blurry, but not so blurry that the details of the mask would be lost completely. Then, I tied her up, got into position, and had the masked model approach her from behind a number of times as I snapped her various expressions.

The result was that I had a number of shots where I liked the expression or position of one of them, but not of the other. This meant I’d need to combine some shots to get both of them the way I wanted them.

Image 1: The Approach

This image is a composite of three different shots. I liked her expression in one and his positioning in another, and I needed a third image to get the old-fashioned wheelbarrow in the right spot between them.

The exposure was very close for all three, but I used “Match Total Exposure” in Lightroom to correct any variations before bringing them into Photoshop. Once there, I used layer masks to combine the images with the elements I wanted from each. This is the result:


I brought the composite image back into Lightroom, where I lowered the exposure, pulled down the highlights some, and added some clarity.


From there, I took the image back into Photoshop and followed the color grading process similar to the one described in this post, though obviously, making more drastic choices. I really wanted to wash the background out and give it a late-evening feel, so I lowered the overall exposure and pulled a lot of blues into the shadows. I also used layer masks so that I control the skin tones independently and preserve some of the red from the bush in the background.

Image 2: Still

In this second shot, I wanted to end up with something that looked like a stylized frame from an old slasher movie. The shed screamed “back-country creepy” and that old-fashioned, green wheelbarrow added a wonderful splash of color between the two models. Here’s what I did.

As with the previous shot, I had to combine two images to get the look that I wanted from each model.

After I cloned out the blue tarp on the shed, I ran a similar process of adjusting exposure and clarity, color grading, masking, and adding some vignette. This time, the dominant color was brown, with layer masks to control for skin color and the green of the wheelbarrow. I also did some light burning and dodging to emphasize the path between the masked man and his victim.


Finally, to create the effect of an old film frame, I used a stock image of a film frame and positioned the image inside and behind it. For the finishing touch, I added textures for dirt and grime, as if it had been left in a box in that shed for a while, but I was careful to keep the texture off the model’s face and chest.

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