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How to picture yourself as a sporting legend


To shoot and piece together a set of sporty images to create a dramatic composite

Time: Two hours

Skill level: Intermediate

Kit needed: D-SLR, Tripod, Two light stands, Two flashguns, Silver umbrella, Plain sheet, Photoshop CS5 or above

Ever wanted to make yourself look like a sports star? With a few simple photography and Photoshop skills you can transform yourself into the next Rory McIlroy, Chris Froome or Lionel Messi, and all without the need for those endless hours of practice or drug testing.

Over the next few pages we’ll take an in-depth look at how to shoot and combine a series of images into a composite like this. The aim here isn’t necessarily to make it ultra-realistic. (Where’s the fun in that?) Instead we’ll take a more fantastical approach and enhance the image with a few effects and a lightning bolt or two. After all, if you’ve got the chance to make yourself look like a sporting god, why would you hold back on the lightning bolts?

Some might think an image like this is all about the Photoshop skills, but that’s only the back nine. The shooting stage is just as important. Composites are much easier to put together if the lighting and camera angle stays fairly consistent. So we’ll start off here by explaining how to capture a set of images for a composite, before going on to look at the Photoshop skills you’ll need to pull it off. Along the way we’ll explore key skills like how to use flashguns, how to cut out and combine images in Photoshop with selections and masks, and how to add special effects like lightning and rain. If you prefer to watch, you’ll find a full walkthrough in the accompanying video. 

KEY SKILLS: Outdoor lighting with flashguns


Photoshop may make it easy to combine images, but it can’t perform miracles. When shooting for a composite, consistency is key. Light things from the same angle. Try to keep depth of field consistent across the images by using the same aperture throughout, and set the focus point to a similar distance from the camera.


With two flashguns we can make a simple cross-light setup. You don’t need expensive flashguns for this, as they just have to have manual control and an optical slave, and even the cheapest flashguns will offer that. Our bare flashgun has a wireless trigger attached. 


Our second flashgun is set to optical slave. This means it’ll fire when it detects the other flash going off, as long as there’s a decent line of sight between the two. Directing the flashgun into a silver umbrella softens the light.

STEP BY STEP:  A winning shot


Position one flashgun in front to light the face. We attached a silver umbrella to the frontal light to spread it out, while the rear flash was left bare to give a hard edge light down one side of the body. Set both to manual power, the front one at ½ power, the rear at ¼ power.


Start in Manual mode. Before turning the flashes on, expose for the ambient light, then underexpose slightly by increasing aperture or decreasing ISO. Turn the flashes on and adjust the power until you’re happy with the light on the subject. We used 1/250 sec, f/8, ISO100.


Once you’ve captured the subject, the next step is to shoot a likely backdrop, sky and any other elements you might need. Keep everything consistent: the camera height, focal length of the lens, focus point and lighting. We also captured a golf ball up close to the camera.


Open your portrait in Photoshop (or use our images), then grab the Quick Selection tool and paint to select the subject. Click on Select and Mask (Refine Edge in older versions). Paint over fuzzy areas like the hair to improve the edge. Choose Output: Layer Mask and hit OK.


Zoom in closer, highlight the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers panel, then grab the Brush tool and hit D to set colours to black and white. Paint with black to hide parts of the layer or white to reveal them. Spend some time perfecting the edge of the cutout.


Open the image of the background, then go back to the cutout. Use the Move tool to drag the cutout over to the background. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+T if you need to resize the layer. Once done, make a selection of the sky and Alt-click on the Add Mask icon in the Layers panel to hide it.


Open the sky image and drop it in with the Move tool, then drag that layer to the bottom of the stack. Next, open the rain image and drop it in. Change the blend mode to Overlay. Add a layer mask, then paint with black to hide any parts of the rain that look too strong.


Find an image of lightning online (we used this: Drag it in, change the blend mode to Screen, then mask any unwanted areas. Duplicate the effect around the image to build it up. Cut out and add any other elements you like, such as the ball and mud.


Finally, merge a copy of all the layers with Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E. Apply a few tonal effects to this layer. We like to use Filter>Camera Raw Filter. Boost Clarity, increase Shadows, lower Highlights, reduce Saturation and add a vignette to darken the corners.