Pro Choice; Tony Arrasmith’s Convincing Composites; Telling The Client’s Story, A Piece At A Time

Tony Arrasmith is a master at creating composite images.

His attention to detail is what draws clients to his Cincinnati studio. A long-time ASMP member, he operates Arrasmith & Associates ( in partnership with Sarah O’Dell, who manages the studio and coordinates projects. The studio has been in business since 1987.

Client: Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation
This was shot for an anti-smoking campaign, based on the agency’s concept, and involved several different themes, each centered on a mythological figure—and each shot as a composite. Tony Arrasmith photographed each figure separately with identical lighting, largely maintaining that lighting setup when it came to the fishtail portion of the mermaid. Shooting with a Hasselblad and a 50-110mm lens for this f/11 exposure (ISO 50), he set up his lights copy-stand fashion, adding the key light (a Breezy) overhead and just to the left and a Halo Mono as fill from front left, plus V-flats (large V-shaped cards here used as an overall fill). Excess shadows were removed in post. The backdrop was a gray seamless paper sweep. The client added the graphics in the corner. (Agency: Northlich.)
All Photos © 2010, Tony Arrasmith, All Rights Reserved

I’ve worked with Arrasmith numerous times, most notably in my Studio Lighting Solutions book (Amphoto), where he once again exhibited his expertise at realizing a client’s vision. His imaginative skills never tire, and his camera technique never fades. A large part of that centers on creating believable composite imagery.

Client: Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park
The client simply provided the name of the play, The History of Invulnerability, as the theme for this shot and Tony Arrasmith’s studio came up with the concept of a virtually impregnable prison camp. Employing the Nikon D300, Arrasmith began by shooting the locations: the railroad tracks, mud and foreground elements, and the sky and hills in the background. The idea was to make it look like a valley. In the studio he returned to his Hasselblad to shoot the barbed wire fence and red cape, then composited the image, adding a somber blue tone. The building structures were CGI elements based on a picture shot by Arrasmith. Lighting for the studio components consisted of a Breezy up high, a parabolic umbrella in the foreground, and several fill cards. (Agency: Sunrise Advertising.)

Composites With Credibility
Arrasmith produces these composites himself. For a shot featuring a mermaid, “we had custom-ordered a latex fishtail from a prop house,” Arrasmith recalls. “But it didn’t look like a real fin. So we went out and bought three mackerel. One we used for the shoot; the others made a delicious dinner.”

When the shot requires 3D or CGI components, he’ll turn to Jeff Meyers ( or Richard Biever ( For example, a recent assignment to promote a play being staged by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park required a computer-generated group of buildings. Arrasmith shot one building as a template and the rest were entirely fabricated to fill the scene. Select elements were then shot in the studio.

Lighting also adds to the credibility factor. One very complex composite that Arrasmith produced for his own portfolio involved shooting a variety of elements—everything from a dog and kids indoors to bugs in the garden. He points out that he shot the background first, prior to the set shot, so that he could use that to establish the lighting for the studio set. Matching the lighting went a long way toward creating a believable composite image.

Client: Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park
In this shot Tony Arrasmith was asked to create a photograph to promote the play Ain’t Misbehavin’. Here he had to shoot multiple exposures to create a final composite, pulling the best sections from each exposure. This complex lighting setup required 11 strobe heads aimed at various parts of the set and accessorized with a variety of light shapers, ranging from a Plume Wafer softbox all the way on the right to a globe diffuser far left, and an overhead Breezy light. In addition to his Profotos, Arrasmith also introduced several Norman heads to illuminate the background. This shot was entirely staged in his studio, with instruments provided by the Playhouse. (Agency: Sunrise Advertising.)

On The Fast Track To Digital
A long-time medium format shooter, Arrasmith responded to client requests to shoot digital back in ’96. Since his standard Hasselblad V-system cameras accepted digital backs, he opted for an 8-megapixel Imacon for starters. Eventually he moved on to the Hasselblad H series and a 16-megapixel digital back, renting higher-res backs when needed.

His untiring quest to find the best camera for the job led Arrasmith to test numerous models, and that soon resulted in his purchase of first a Nikon D300 to shoot elements and then a D3X. But with his Nikons, he soon realized he no longer needed the pricier medium format systems. He has since fully armed himself with an array of Nikkor lenses, including his favorites: a 105mm VR micro and an 85mm PC-E micro.

Arrasmith always shoots with the camera tethered to the computer, using Adobe’s Lightroom for his Raw conversions and Photoshop for retouching and compositing. Color balance is achieved with the portable Macbeth color chart.

Wedding Announcement
The couple wanted a portrait that they could use to announce their upcoming nuptials. All the animals are their own pets, which were brought into the studio, along with the furnishings from their home. There was only one lamp, which was shot separately and duplicated. The back wall, baseboard, and carpet were provided by the studio. This composite involved numerous captures. The lighting began with a Breezy to the left, above the foreground table, and a combination of umbrellas, softboxes, and even a beauty dish off to the far left at the rear. In addition to the Profotos, a Broncolor Mobil A2R head inside a medium softbox was used as fill for the dog occupying center stage.