A few years ago, I worked on a project for Keith Watson, aka “Watty”, head coach of the John Carroll Wrestling team (a private high school in Bel Air, MD). Watty, who is sometimes referred to the P.T. Barnum of Harford County wrestling — he is always thinking of ways to market and promote his school and the sport — contacted me with an idea of wanting to create a poster that displays their 2008-2009 wrestling schedule along with a picture of the team on it. His first thought was to assemble the team on someone’s front porch and have some slogan referring to porch, big dogs, etc.
My first reaction was trying to find a large enough porch for a shot like this, but even more challenging would be to find a time when all these guys would be free at the same time (over the summer), to make the shoot. These are high school boys, many who have summer jobs, are on family vacations, or are more interested in hanging with their girlfriends. I offered up a different idea — photograph each wrestler individually with a green screen background, cut them out and create the illusion of a group shot. Using this method, each wrestler would be lit under controlled conditions much easier than trying to setup lights on location. This approach provides a way to now come up with any background image to use for the poster. The other advantage, is weather is a non-factor, so no rain out date would have to be planned.
I went to the school on the last day of the school year, setup and shot each wrestler that Coach Watson wanted to be in the poster, before they all spread like wildfire after finishing the school year. I photographed each wrestler standing straight ahead, angled to the left and finally to the right. This way, back at my computer, I could arrange the wrestlers and in which direction I wanted them to be facing all through Photoshop.
At the top left, is a sample original image of one of the wrestlers shot with the green screen. I use a Photoshop plug-in called Primatte Chromakey for extracting the subject from the background. Once cut out, I processed each image to give it a slight grunge look rather than keeping the image looking like a portrait. The second photo — with white background — shows the edited, cutout image.
The two main keys to getting a good cutout image is to light the background as evenly as possible, and to avoid the green light reflected off the background to spill onto your subject. For this shoot, I used two Canon 580EXs shot into 30″ umbrellas to light the background. The umbrellas were set at a 45-degree angle on each side of the background. The light was not as even as I would have liked, but it was close enough. To keep the spill to a minimum, I made sure my background was 1-stop darker than my exposure on my subject. In addition, I moved the subject 8 feet away from the background. I lit each wrestler with one AB800 with large softbox to camera left and placed a large white reflector just out of frame camera right.
Once I cutout the 16 individual wrestler images, I arranged them to look as though they were all together for the group shot in a casual style. The idea was not to make this look like a high school team photograph. I then added in a photo I took of some ominous clouds and did some creative Photoshop work to give the illusion of lightning.