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Erik_Almas_Biker_Composite Insights & Thoughts

Are Composite Images Truly Photographs? {And How to Do Them Well}| Erik Almas

By Cherrina Yoon on July 30th 2014

The Vulnerable Artist

What astounds me about Erik Almas, perhaps even more than his already-astounding artwork, is his vulnerability to open up to his audience and fellow photographers about his journey as an image maker. He writes in his blog very personally, letting his readers peek into his thought processes as a growing photographer, and even invites them to join in on conversation and critique of his work.


This same vulnerability translates into his work, and in his latest video. Erik details the process behind crafting this amazing composite image from photographs he took in Namibia and San Francisco.


He also shares his thoughts about the ongoing debate about whether a composite image is a photograph, and whether a composite-maker is truly a photographer.

Deep in my heart, engrained down in here, I am a photographer. I see light, I see shapes, I see things that I capture with my camera. And I have chosen to use the computer as an extension of my vision to fulfill what I see with my eyes afterwards.

Why Composite?

To Erik, the computer allows the image that he sees in his mind’s eye to be made possible, if not more true, to what he sees. Sometimes, what is captured through one camera and its one lens is less accurate than what can be crafted through a computer.

For example, in his trip to Namibia, Erik wanted to capture the awe and majesty of the great landscape, but using a wide angle lens to capture the whole scene distorted the image so that the grand mountains in the background just disappeared. To capture the scene in the way he saw it, he used a longer 85mm lens that compressed the distance so that it would more accurately show what it looked like at the time. He then used the computer to stitch these photos together, and also to add different layers such as rocks, a river, mountains and even a mountain biker, to create the overall image he first envisioned in his mind.

I think Erik Almas is a really humble and down-to-earth guy, especially for someone who is so successful in the advertising industry. He really seems like the kind of person who, if asked, would be down to just sit down and have a genuine conversation with you about photography, life lessons, success, and what not over some Blue Bottle coffee in his quaint SF neighborhood (which he did with our author, Lauri a few months back). And it’s this natural and unpretentious personality of his gives his art a softer tone, and makes me appreciate it more.

Erik indeed shares his knowledge in his 14 hour DVD On Aspects of Image Making, where he gives you a step by step process on finding your photographic voice. Check it out in the SLR Lounge store.

If you want to find out more about Erik Almas, you can look on his website, blog, or YouTube.

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Cherri is an aspiring photojournalist who finds herself scratching paper with pen, reading, playing guitar, eating or napping most of the time. Find her corner of the world wide web here.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jesse Rinka

    Agree with Cherrina in that Erik appears extremely humble and down-to-earth. His work is awesome and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with some bending of reality every now and then. It’s not as if his images are totally unrealistic (considering only those I have seen so far) so I have no problem with what he’s doing. To say someone who composites is not really a photographer seems silly.

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  2. Greg Faulkner

    Yep, what Stan said :)

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  3. Rafael Steffen

    Compositives is a interesting way to try to push your photography to different levels.

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  4. Stan Rogers

    I really can’t believe that the question is still being asked. Sure, there are some genres in which it is ethically verboten, but for much the same reason that you can’t run fiction as hard news (well, that seems to be a slippery thing these days too, but…) — the fiction is no less writing, it’s just not hard journalism.

    In the commercial space, I can get it all right in camera. But getting it all right in camera *at the same time* can be godawful expensive. Been there, done that — scouting the perfect location, trucking in loads of equipment, building facade buildings because the quaint little cabin and outhouse didn’t actually exist on site, doing a little landscaping that just barely escapes the frame, and maybe hanging a thing or two off of cranes. Then either waiting out the monsoon or the three perfectly cloudless skies that nobody in the area has seen in the past twenty-seven years while the hands and the talent are being paid to play euchre in the trailer (or go swimming or whatever).

    Getting it all right in camera in pieces is a whole lot cheaper and less chaotic… and you know, I haven’t seen nearly as many $100K+ shoot budgets lately as there were when I was a kid. (And that would have been early-’90s dollars. I hate to think of what shoots like those would cost these days.) You still have to get all of the camera-bound stuff right, you still have to nail the lighting, but you no longer have to trust to luck — and as a bonus, you wind up with a better picture on a smaller budget.

    And that’s when you are photographing things that are possible in real life. Things that are impossible can be so much more believable that it’s hardly worth comparing to “straight” surrealism. Smoke and mirrors can only do so many tricks. (I mean literal smoke, like from a smoke machine, and actual mirrors, which are often used in the “doorway to another realm” genre.) Good photography and good compositing, together, can tell incredible stories that are difficult to disbelieve. But both good photography — shooting for the final image — and good compositing are needed if you don’t want the image to look like a composite. (And, sorry Mr. Saville, but overlarge moons can be just the ticket if the theme is even slighly lycanthropic.)

    If it helps at all, as long as you’re not using a 360° by 180°+ panoramic camera, you are lying about something every single time you take a picture. Even if you’re using a fixed-lens camera with a “normal” lens, you’re leaving a lot of context out at the very least. And because the camera doesn’t see everything the eye can see, you’re deciding what the important” tones are, and what the viewer should be looking at. Go wider, and you’re showing more than the eye can actually take in at one time. Go longer, and you;re really starting to editorialize reality. There is no such thing as “straight” photography; it’s all a little bit crooked. Admit that you’re a habitual fibber, that even in your most naturalistic work you are creating what your mind saw, not just what your eyes saw. That’s what makes the difference between a snapshot and a photograph in the first place. Then extend that to what your mind sees even when your eyes are closed. Sometimes it takes more than one frame to take *that* picture.

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  5. Amanda Jehle

    Absolutely! Some people (me!) don’t draw or paint, we express the beautiful scenes in our heads via photography. I only have minimal experience with composites, but have tested with newborn photos… hammock or stork sack. (I’ve only done one or two for a very close friend because I’m still working on my technique… I can get them to look pretty good, but its still quite time consuming.) The parents were both amazed & relieved that I had no intention of suspending their newborn. Not one of them yelled “That’s not a real picture! That’s cheating!!”.

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  6. Jim Johnson

    I feel the same way about composites as I feel about CG in movies. If you use it to enhance what you captured in the camera or to better tell the story, go ahead. However, if I notice it— if it distracts me enough to think about how the shot was made— I will hold it against you and you will lose my respect.

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  7. Austin Swenson

    A great composite always shows a small element in the photo that makes it believable as one image, and I think that dirt coming off the tire is what really makes this image look awesome.

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  8. Matthew Saville

    I don’t always approve of photo composites, but when I do, I prefer ones that involve epic mountain bike jumps. Also, I prefer ones that do NOT blatantly enlarge the moon. *cough* Peter Lik *cough*

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    Great article. I always love composites especially to create dreamy effects in photographs ……..

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