The Double Transfer Technique in Composite Productions

By Gary W. Vann Back to


Fine art and commercial photographers generally produce high quality images, but sometimes the intermediate or final product is lacking in viewer appeal or purpose. Creating as much interest as possible in images is becoming more important when presenting concepts to clients and print options to viewers. Often various objects and figures, when added to a scene, provide an extra dimension, making the base image more interesting and plausible. Objects and figures may be added by a staged production, as a cinematographer operates a set on location, or they may be imaged separately and transferred directly by editing in Photoshop.

Creating composite productions has become common practice in commercial photography for many years, but is not generally practiced in fine art photography. However, while editing it is possible to transfer a specific selection of a base image to a secondary image and then back to the original base image.

This double transfer can enhance the value of the final product. Many times the double transfer is used during the work-up process, to identify one of several options available for use in a specific scene. The second image or multiple secondary images may arise from inventory, or more commonly may be produced specifically for the base image. In this way, the final print becomes a composite production of multiple images, which will have greater value for viewers.

(Figure 1) Base image, made in an alley at night showing interesting shadows and architectural details.

I have used as an example of this process a base image (Figure 1), which was captured at night. This image was technically satisfactory but not especially interesting for most viewers. In this case, the windowpanes were selected and transferred into the second image, which was captured nearby (Figures 2 & 3) and then transferred back into the base image. The resulting composite production of a man peering onto a lighted window at night creates an extra element of mystery and interest (final image).

The initial selection of the panes in the base image was made with feather set to 0, and each pane was added to form multiple selections of the window. A second image (Figure 2) was captured of a man peering into a lighted window nearby. Since this image was acquired on site, it has roughly equivalent spatial relationships to the initial image, so no resizing was needed. For other secondary images, resizing may be necessary. If multiple layers remain on this second image, merge them using layer/ merge visible. (The PC shortcut is shift + ctrl + E, and the Mac shortcut is shift + cmd + E). Where multiple layers are involved with the base image, it is necessary to reselect the panes by right clicking on the mask thumbnail in the layer and choosing Add Layer Mask to Selection. With the panes reselected and the background layer active, use the move tool (V) to drag the panes image over to the second image and position it appropriately. If the background is active, the background information will be moved to the second image. If only the panes layer is active, only that layer will be moved. Either will work fine in most cases. (See the first transfer.) After making this transfer, depending upon how it looks, it may be necessary to resize the second image.

(Figure 2) Composed in the same alley with a man peering into a lighted window.

Then reselect the panes by right clicking on the layer mask and choose Select Layer Transparency. Activate the background layer and drag the image back to the base image. The second transfer can be moved, so it will snap into position. To adjust the transfer exactly, it may be necessary to use the magnification tool (Z) and the move tool for exact alignment. Once the second transfer has been made, the resulting image can be further adjusted by double clicking on the layer using the blend modes or by using any of the adjustment layers.

When using filters, it is a good idea to create a new layer. After reselecting the panes by right clicking on the layer mask and Select Layer Transparency, click on Layer/New/Layer via copy. This produces Layer 1 Copy. Reselect the panes again and click on Filter/Distort/Glass. The parameters of this filter were adjusted as: Distortion 6, Smoothness 4, Texture Frosted and Scaling 135. This produces a slightly better visual effect. By using the Double Transfer technique, the final composite production will provide a marked improvement over the initial base image.

Product Resources: Camera: Contax 645, Phase 1 P45 back; Lens: 35mm Carl Zeiss Lens; Tripod: Gitzo 1227 mk2, Arca Swiss B1 monoball, Other: Kapture Group Multishot Long exposure control; Software: Adobe Photoshop.

(Figure 3) Selection of windowpanes, transferred from the base to the second image and adjusted into position. The panes have been reselected for the double transfer.

About the Author

Gary W. Vann
Gary W. Vann has received awards in PX3 & IPA, together with excel- lence and merit awards in B&W magazine. Public collections include the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA; the Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University, Orange, CA; and the Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona, FL. He conducts workshops on digital editing techniques, night photography and the art of bookbinding. He is the author of Hand Made Photo Books - A Complete Instructional Guide.