Creative photography assignments usually come from “thinking outside the box.”
Not today… Today we’ll teach you how to photograph “inside the box” and keep things fun and creative at the same time. This has been one of the most widely requested tutorials from our Facebook Group members. So have fun with this and come share your results too!
* Disclaimer – the box concept is shown on Pinterest, and we are not aware of the original creator of the concept. There are several unique ways to do it, if you cannot build your own box, such as using large moving boxes.
Creating a “White Box” Composite Photograph
Creating this composite image is done in a series of steps beginning with getting it right in camera, choosing the right lighting, maintaining a consistent look to the image, and compositing in Photoshop. This blog post will take you through the steps needed to create the final image of separate images of family members in the final composite above, including building the White Box.
Getting it Right in Camera and Using the Right Equipment
Creating the composite box series is simple as long as you get it right in camera. You will use Manual settings so you can select an aperture large enough to ensure everyone in the image stays in focus – usually around F9. The shutter speed will need to be below your camera’s sync speed – usually 125-200. One thing to avoid is a high ISO because you want to avoid noise in the image. I suggest a camera setting of F9, ISO 100, 125-200 shutter speed. You can try the different settings once you have the box and lighting set up. Select what works best for you and your setup.
In the image below, you can see the umbrella sits about 12 feet in front of the box, which gives me a good even light and reduces shadows on the back of the box. I have tried other lighting, including 2 speed lights with soft boxes, but the light was not even enough for me. You can only see part of the box because I have a small apartment, so space isn’t really an issue.
My Equipment List
- Camera with Manual Settings (F9, ISO 100, 125-200 SS depending on camera)
- 24-70 lens set at 70 mm
- 400 watt Studio Strobe with 7 foot shoot-through umbrella on full power
- Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom – and Photoshop
- Large White Box (see directions below for building)
Maintaining Consistent Image Capture and Development in LR, ACR, or Photoshop
There are a few things to keep in mind when developing your images in LR, ACR, or Photoshop. First, and most importantly, you need to maintain white balance. If your camera is set to Auto White Balance, the camera can change depending on the colors worn by the subjects or the toys or props in the White Box. Fixing color-casts in Photoshop can be time consuming, so prevention is key here. MCP Bag of Tricks has a wonderful reflect color-cast vanisher that I normally use this for faces to remove color-casts, but it works perfectly to remove color-casts from the White Box. That same Photoshop action set also has a Bleach Pen action that works great with white objects!
Next, the camera should be set on a tripod so every shot is exact. Double-check that your camera is straight on the tripod and not tilted. Having a consistent capture in your camera makes the compositing process easier, with less hassle, and quicker to complete.
Lastly, the lens selection is important because you will need a lens wide enough to shoot a 4×4 foot box, but with little cropping in post-production. I use a 24-70 lens set at 70 mm.
Building the Box
The White Box is a cube that measures 4 feet wide by 4 feet deep by 4 feet tall. It was constructed with ¾ inch plywood and screwed together. The outside of the box, facing the camera is framed with 2” x 2” wood. The paint is a white matte latex paint. You may need more than one coat of paint. After a while, the wood can warp so fixing warping in post processing may need to be done.
The White Box sits on a 2 foot high pedestal to lift the White Box up for ease of people when they hang their legs over the edge. I had a set of wheels put on the bottom of the pedestal for ease of moving it from room to room because it is quite heavy and I have a small apartment. I’ve painted it a few times because of marks made by shoes.
Taking the Images
After setting up the box, lighting, and camera on the tripod, I take several shots to double-check my settings. Then, I begin capturing my subjects in all different poses, faces, and shapes. After the session, I select the ones I want to use. Have fun with it – try different poses, faces and make different shapes with arms and legs, the ideas are limitless…shoot RAW!!!
Compositing the Images
Begin with opening all of the photos you wish to use in the composite in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. You can use 3, 6, 9, or even 12 in one image! For this instruction I have used 4 images. All the edits in ACR can be selected at one time and it will sync. This is helpful if you need to do a contrast/color change because all of the changes can be applied equally to all of your selected images. You don’t want one photo to be darker or lighter the rest. Sometimes because of bright colors of clothing or toys it can cause a color cast inside of the box, you can use MCP Bag of Tricks in Photoshop to remove reflected color casts on faces and the inside of the White Box.
Building the Composite
If the box isn’t completely straight use the perspective warp tool… Add guide lines by dragging a line from the ruler on top and on the side of the photo, line up the guide lines where the edge of the box should be then go to EDIT/PERSPECTIVE WARP and follow the steps to add the perspective points and manipulate perspective. I sometimes still need a small edit using the puppet warp to straighten the sides of the box.
When items are outside of the box (arms or legs) After the edits have been done, make a selection with the pen tool around the box and include legs or arms outside of the box and right click/make selection and feather 5px…press control/command J to make a copy of the selection, then the selection can be moved over to the new composite page. Photos that do not include anything outside the box can be simply cropped to include just the box.
Make a New Page in Photoshop to Build the Composite.
- Make a new page, I start out with a 40″ x 40″ 300DPI- sheet just to make sure I have plenty of space to work with.
- Start dragging each image over to it (add guide lines to keep the images even). With the page being 40×40 inch and dpi of 300 I don’t have to size the photos down to fit the new composite page.
- When you have all 4-6-9 or even 12 images on the new sheet adjust the layers so legs are hanging over the next box and not cut off because they are behind it.
- Line up the images so the frames are overlapping and not just side by side. For example, if you place one White Box next to another White Box and both have a 2’ frame, you now have too large of a frame – so overlap the outside frame a bit.
Layer on new composite page:
- Make the frames for the separation of the boxes
- Use the shape tool (rectangle) to make a thick line the thickness depends on your personal taste of how you want it to look, with the fill color close to the color of the White Box or whatever color you would like to try. I’ve seen it done in different frame colors for different occasions.
- Place each line in between the rows of photos.
- Placing the line in a box where legs are hanging over I turn the line into a mask layer so I can use a soft black brush to paint out the areas arms or legs are hanging over the edge of the box.
- Drop shadow..
- Flatten image and make a background copy.
- With a soft grey low opacity brush lightly brush to the right of legs, arms or any other body part that is hanging over to create a drop shadow for a realistic look.
- If the drop shadow is to dark you can lower the opacity of the background copy to lighten.
And here’s other examples of a family collage.
This composite is a lot of fun and takes the pressure off the problem of posing families. The added bonus is that kids love playing in the White Box!
I am an American photographer based (at the moment) in Helsinki, Finland. I love my camera and the time I spend capturing the beauty of life around me. My husband builds government buildings all over the world so we move to a new country every 12-24 months and I have had the pleasure of seeing the different cultures and not only visiting exciting places but living in them as well.
Photography has been something I could do anywhere and I have a wonderful supportive husband that has gotten used to a camera being attached to me wherever we go. He has built me fun furniture, made me studios and even moved me to a larger apartment so I had extra room to do what I love. Recently I found a new passion in street photography while living in Finland and have joined a group called “Humans Captured” on facebook where we post photos of everyday people all over the world and include a back story about who they are and what their story is.
My website is Zeemanphotography.com and zeemanphotography on Facebook that I am still adding to.