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Ken Sklute's Guide to Creating an Eclipse Composite

October 09, 2017

Ken Sklute

OK, you survived photographing the magical event of the year, the Total Solar Eclipse. Now what do you do with your images? You can print a single image, but that doesn’t really tell the story of your experience; or you can create a composite of images.

You had the opportunity to capture images of the partial phases as well as the beautiful details of totality. So why not use a composite to tell a visual story of the event. To create a composite you first need to pre-visualize what you are going to create.

The time has come to close your eyes and visualize what you want your composite to look like. Do you see a long horizontal sequence, an arc, rectangle with multiple rows of images and phases? It is totally up to you and your vision. Take a few minutes to cleanse your mind. Gather a few sheets of paper, a pen or pencil, maybe a cool beverage, put on some music and chill. It’s time to open your mind’s eye.

For me, creating composites of multiple images in order to tell a story, beyond what one can illustrate with a single frame, begins in the quiet of my mind. I was first introduced to the concept of pre-visualization through my studies of Ansel Adams. I practice that today as I prepare to go out and create images in the field. I see concepts or compositions in my mind and then in the field I look for elements to illustrate what I was visualizing in my mind.

That same type of thought goes into my initial concepts of creating my composites. Seeing a shape to me is the building block of the composite.

There are many decisions about how the layout will eventually grow and change, but I need a place to start. Once I see a shape and combination that I like, I can go to my library of images to select the files that I would like to incorporate. I was certain to process the RAW images to make sure that all of them will look good together in the composite.

The next step in the process was to import all of the processed images into photo-editing software, in my case from Adobe® Lightroom® into Adobe Photoshop®.

In this case I visualized a rectangle of 3 rows of images. I began with my “hero” image, in this case the sun in totality and its beautiful corona to establish the center of the layout. There would be a central row with three images of the sun during totality, and five images during the partial phases, in both the top and bottom rows.

Guides were brought down from the top and sides (in Photoshop) to establish the center of the frame. I then centered the “hero” sun in the middle. Not every image-editing program works this way, but in Photoshop, if you click in the little area in the upper-left corner where the horizontal and vertical rulers meet, you can drag this anywhere in the frame, and re-define the zero measurement point for the rulers. I placed this zero indication at the center guides I’d just created.

Next I positioned the right-most sun so that it does not overlap the corona of the center sun. I then dragged a guide from the vertical ruler (at the far left) to the center of the right sun. Reading the guide on the right sun on the top ruler told me how far it was from the middle of the center sun, now all I needed to do was position the left sun the same distance from the middle sun.

The next step was to open the subsequent images to add. Then use the Quick Selection tool to select that sun disk, and expand the selection by 2 pixels in order to be sure to grab some of the black of the sky, which helped it blend with the background. I copied the sun and pasted it into the composite image. (Each time you paste an image into a Photoshop document, it automatically creates a new layer.)

With all the suns placed in the composite image, I turned off all those layers except the ones you see below.

Using Nudge, I positioned the top row left and right suns to where I felt the balance of the image was good and used guides to make sure they were at an equal distance from the center. I positioned the top center sun over the “hero” corona image. In order to check the alignment of the top suns, I dragged a guide to the bottom edge of the top left sun and using Nudge I aligned all of the images. Suns 2 and 4 are positioned halfway between the center and outer suns to maintain a balance.

My next step was to position the bottom suns so that they aligned with the top suns, using the guides. When you are working with this many images in a composite, any images that are not aligned will stand out, so take the time to make sure of the alignment. Guides are invaluable here — don’t assume you can just “eyeball” it onscreen and get the alignment perfect.

What you can now see is that the partial phases are balanced with their reciprocal shapes, again, providing balance to the 13 images.

In order to keep these images further balanced, I chose to colorize the center row of suns to create a tonal harmony with the top and bottom suns. I created a blank layer above the center row of suns, selected the brush tool, and chose to sample a color from the top center sun. At this point, I painted that color over the center row of neutral toned suns.

The last step in the process was to change the blend mode to Color and fade the opacity (reduce the opacity percentage number) of that layer until it looked good.

With all that I have shared here in our final chapter, I hope that you have taken away a sense of being creative and seeing your own version of this composite. You are the decision maker in what you like and what you will create. We have just shown you the path, now we look for you to make this your own vision and create a spectacular composite of your very own.

I hope that I have given you a glimpse into the ways to create a unique composite of your Total Solar Eclipse images.

I’d like to thank you all for joining Canon and I as we brought you information about the many facets of safely capturing the 2017 eclipse. We invite you to continue watching for more helpful tips and tricks on the Canon Digital learning Center.

Ken Sklute
Ken Sklute

Ken Sklute of Tempe, AZ., has been working with his passions of photographing people and drag racing for over 42 years.

Ken Sklute

Ken Sklute has been honored as one of Canon's Explorers of Light, a designation shared by several top photographers worldwide. Ken has enjoyed a diverse career photographing people, professional sports, architecture, weddings and landscapes. Ken spends much of his time photographing, teaching and lecturing both nationally and internationally.

Ken Sklute began his photographic career capturing 200 mph race cars in New York at an early age. He soon moved into the wedding and portrait industry, working for a volume wedding studio for three years before moving into working for different independently-owned studios. Ken bought his first studio in 1983 in New York, working at the finer locations throughout the New York metropolitan area. He chose to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996 in order to be out in the landscape of the beautiful desert Southwest and to enjoy the Phoenix wedding market.

During Ken’s 42 year professional photography career, he has accomplished the title of “Photographer of the Year” in 32 out of 38 years in the states of New York, Arizona and California. Ken is a PPA Master of Photography and Photographic Craftman. In addition, Ken has been awarded 14 Kodak Gallery Awards, the Kodak Gallery Elite award, WPPI Grand Award for Weddings and 15 Fuji Masterpiece awards, amongst many other awards.

Some of Ken’s clients have been the National Hot Rod Association, U.S. Army, Sports Illustrated, Oakley, Associated Press, National Dragster, Epson, Kodak, Newsday, as well as most of the photographic industry trade magazines.

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