This is the third in a series of interviews with established composite artists who exemplify another facet of the retouching industry. We hope you find this series both enlightening and informative.
Brandon Cawood (www.brandoncawood.com), is an internationally recognized and published photographer based in Dalton, Georgia, who is known for his detail-oriented and creative images. He specializes in dramatic/cinematic portraiture and larger than life composites. His recent project, Not All Wear Capes, has been featured in Advanced Photoshop magazine, Yahoo’s The Weekly Flickr, and NBC’s The Meredith Vieira Show, and continues to receive praise and recognition in mainstream media worldwide.
Tell us about yourself. How did you become a digital composite artist?
In some respects, I stumbled into photography by accident, but fell in love with it very quickly. As I grew in my craft, I became a big fan of other photographers like Dave Hill, Joey Lawrence, Joel Grimes, Aaron Nace, and many others.
At first, I dabbled in simple composites with things like band promo images and athletes and then decided to pursue a personal project called, “Not All Wear Capes.” The project features public safety personnel in larger than life, “movie-poster-style” images. The series was well received and eventually developed a worldwide audience. That project was what really propelled my career as a composite photographer/artist to where it is now.
Do you have any formal training in photography, traditional or digital painting?
I have no formal training of any sort. The closest thing to formal training was a two-day workshop I took in Brooklyn with Joey Lawrence. I’m self-taught, with an unofficial degree from the University of Youtube!
What three personal qualities have really helped you to become successful in your craft and business?
- I’m a very determined person. My whole life, I have worked to prove to others as well as myself that with enough drive and commitment, anything is possible.
- I am also a Christian and believe in using the gifts I have been blessed with to help other people. It’s one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done.
- I was once a very shy person, but after meeting my wife, that quickly changed! She’s the type of person who’s never met a stranger. In the beginning of our relationship, I would get so embarrassed when she would start up random conversations with other customers in the grocery store line.
- However, I learned over time to embrace this trait in her and it started to rub off on me. She has pushed me to develop socially and because of that, I am able to approach situations with confidence and grace. She has been my muse and my greatest accomplishment in all parts of my life.
There are many styles of composites from the completely believable to the surreal. What style is your favorite?
My favorite type of composite falls right in the middle. I like to give my composites that polished commercial look but I want them to be believable as well. I love being able to take elements from different images, different places, and different times and bring them together to create a final image. It truly allows me to create what I have in my imagination.
What are the key ingredients in creating a believable composite?
I would say the most important ingredients are perspective and lighting. Your subject’s lighting needs to match the lighting in the environment or else the final image just won’t make sense.
The most difficult part, though, is getting the perspective right. When you are taking photos at different times with different backgrounds, having the wrong perspective can throw off the whole image.
Often, artists make it work to an extent, but the human eye is an amazing thing. We can tell when something appears off, even if we can’t quite figure out what it might be. The angle, focal length, aperture, and many other things always need to be considered when making a composite.
What types of composite work do you do most for your clients and who are they (private individuals or companies)? Do you mind working on something that’s not your favorite style? Do you try to shift your workload into the area that you enjoy the most?
I most often work with companies who are looking for images that WOW their clients. As of right now, most of my clients are in the tactical/law enforcement industry but I also work with athletes and just about anyone or anything else if I can create an image with action and drama.
There will always be jobs that come my way that aren’t fun. I am usually picky about what projects I accept. I turn down a lot of jobs because I know if my heart isn’t in it, I won’t give the client the best final product that I can.
The way I shift my workload is by shooting personal projects. I’ll shoot a project and get it in front of as many people as possible. Doing personal projects and only using images in my portfolio and website that showcase the work I want to be doing helps me create a style and a look that people then expect and will want from me.
When I do the other jobs, I typically don’t post them. So, if you aren’t getting the kind of work you want, do your own thing as personal projects and then show them to help shift your portfolio and, ultimately, your paid assignments in that direction.
How important are personal projects to you? How many do you typically create in a year?
I have fallen in love with personal projects. I love large-scale personal projects that take me months to complete. I plan to do one or two a year. I will always set time aside for personal projects. They are what have gotten me to where I am today.
Do you shoot all of your own digital assets for your composite work? If not, what percent mix come from assets you shoot/create versus what your client provides or what you license from stock?
I almost always shoot all of my own assets. I have purchased a few texture packages but aside from that, I prefer to shoot my own. Most of my clients hire me because they trust my vision and typically allow me to have the majority of creative control. I prefer to avoid stock because that way, my pieces are uniquely mine and no one else can create something with the same assets.
Do you have a fairly typical workflow you follow? Can you share a little about your thought process at each stage from conceptualization to completion?
After getting my assets together, my workflow is typically the same. I like to process my images before I clip them out because I tend to get cleaner masks that way. From there, I clip, add my assets together, and then start working with adjustment layers to get everything to look like it all belongs together. In the end, I usually apply some final touches like grain and sharpening so that everything blends well.
What tends to be the most challenging aspect of creating your digital composites and what would be the one or two enhancements to your favorite software program that would benefit your workflow the most?
Masking is definitely the most complicated part of doing composites, at least for me. I don’t often shoot in a studio environment with a nice white background that would make clipping easier. And although I have used masking software, I personally choose to create my masks by hand. I’m looking forward to using some of Photoshop’s new masking features that just came out, though. Refine edge has also been a great feature to use in masking.
When you were starting out, what were your main sources of clients? Where would you recommend that beginning composite artists advertise or promote their services?
When I started out with composites, I didn’t really have any composite clients. I was shooting portraits and even some weddings. I knew that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing.
The best advice I can give someone is to create something that makes you feel proud of your work. Once you start creating work that looks the way you want it to look, get it out there in front of as many people as possible. Take advice, but stick to your vision.
What advice would you offer to people interested in becoming professional composite artists? What skills and qualities would make it easier for them to succeed? What would be the conditions under which they should stay away from this profession?
My advice: be sure it’s something you want to be doing. Creating composites is hard, or at least it’s hard to do well. You have to pay attention to detail and have patience to work on one image for hours and hours.
If you are looking for plug-ins and software to do composites quickly and easily, then it’s probably not for you. Composites often take days of planning, days of shooting, and days of creating…all for one image. But if you’re willing to put in the time, you can create things that others can only imagine.
Overall interest in and awareness of digital compositing has exploded in recent years; as an artist, where do you see the industry going and are there any specific changes you would like to see happen?
I see a lot more 3D being used. This is good and bad. The good is that you don’t necessarily have to travel around the world to get certain images. The bad is that it may hurt those of us who don’t use it.
As far as the “industry” goes, I’m not super deep in it, honestly. I enjoy working for smaller- to medium-size companies and helping them to develop their brand.
Eventually, I may work with larger brands, but if that day comes, I don’t want to lose what I love about creating my images. The art and craft of it by far outweighs the money side for me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting paid for my work, but I never want it to become all about making a check. I will continue to grow and try to keep up. We’ll see what happens!
Can you please share your favorite art, motivational, or inspirational quote or piece of advice with our audience?
As cliché as it sounds, I have always heard the quote, “Shoot what you love.” I can’t express how true that is. If you aren’t doing what you love, eventually you’ll hate what you do.
What’s the most exciting project you’re working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m working on a really fun project for a tactical clothing company that is revamping their website as well as their promotions. It’s always fun to work with tough people and guns!
I’m also working on a new personal project. You can keep up with it by following me on my different social media pages!
You can see more of this amazing artist’s work and follow him on his: