How I Got the Shot: Ryan Sims

Posted by: on Mar 9, 2020

Nashville-based photographer Ryan Sims is a photographer and digital artists who specializes in Photoshop composites and Cosplay photographer. In addition, Ryan’s portfolio varies from cosplay, seniors, weddings, artists, sports, and modeling. Follow him on social media @ryansimsphotography or visit his website at https://www.ryansimsphotography.com/.

I have always been a big superhero nerd. So I wanted to photograph my all-time favorite superhero, Spider-Man! There was a cool comic book cover of the “Spider-Verse” that I wanted to recreate. I thought it would be awesome to create an image of several different Spider-Men and Women swinging into action!

I used a four-light setup with four Einstein E640 Flash Units. Each Einstein had its own CyberSync Transceiver. I used a Cyber Commander to meter the lights and to flash them. For my main light, I used a 64” Soft Silver PLM™ umbrella with a white front diffusion fabric. My fill light was a beauty dish with white diffusion fabric. The two back lights were placed on each side of the background close to the background stands. I put an orange colored gel on both back lights to give a warm highlight to the subject. That helped to add some realism to the shot when I created a fiery background in Photoshop.

When you are dealing with shots that involve people jumping in the air and doing all kinds of crazy poses, it is extraordinarily helpful being able to instantly see whether you got the shot or not. Shooting tethered makes it so easy to be able to do just that. Plus, it gives the model that instant sense of gratification because they get to see it too.

The biggest challenge for me, especially in a unique concept like this, was posing. Spider-Man is an extremely limber character and can do all kinds of flexible moves that would be considered “unnatural.” The hardest part for me was trying to communicate to the subject how to achieve an unnatural pose and make it look natural. I had to play to the part of director and photographer, but for me, that’s part of the fun! We get to laugh, be silly, and reap the reward of finally nailing the pose after several attempts.

I used Adobe Bridge to quickly narrow down the best images, but the photomanipulation process is entirely done in Adobe Photoshop. It was shot on a grey background. In my experience, I’ve never liked using the Magic Wand tool or any of the “quick” extraction tools to cut out a subject. I want to know exactly what I’m getting each time. To do that, I must zoom in to 1000% (if necessary) and use the pen tool to cut out the subject pixel by pixel. This can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes or more depending on the content of your subject. Once I’ve cut out the subject, I create a mask of that layer. I normally add just a slight blur to the layer mask, by about 1 or 2 px, so the edge doesn’t seem quite so sharp. This gives the subject a tiny bit of depth and doesn’t make it seem quite so much like it’s a cardboard cutout. I bought an Iron Spider toy online to photograph using the same lighting, removing his golden tentacles in Photoshop, and adding them to my Iron Spider subject. Since the lighting and color already matched, minimal Photoshop work was needed to make it look realistic.

At night, my father-in-law and I made a fire in the backyard and I shot some stock images of fire, sparks, and smoke. He threw some sawdust into the fire to create some fire ember effects. These effects would be added as background and foreground images. Because these images were shot at night with a dark, black background, in Photoshop, I was able to simply change the blending mode of the fire ember layers to “Screen.” Once I do that, the darkness disappears, and all that remains are the embers. This effect gives the image a great cinematic quality, color, and depth.

After this, I made the proper color adjustments, did some dodging and burning, and we had our final image.

For more behind-the-scenes photos and educational resources, download our Insight + Inspiration Series: Composite Guide.

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