Borgman can't photograph the subject effectively without first considering the background, of course. That doesn't always mean he'll be shooting it himself.
"In many of my jobs, I use stock," he explains. "I don't always have the budget to fly to China and shoot inside an ancient monastery. So in these situations, I light my subject according to the light in my stock photo. For one fashion editorial, I was shooting models in full evening dresses doing ballet jumps. I had researched sky images online and came across a tornado-chasing photographer. He had some amazing images of all kinds of eerie skies, so I purchased some for the editorial. As I made my background choices, I would study the lighting and map out my lighting placement. It was actually simple—I shot very flat in front and just moved around the accent lights to continue a similar direction as in the background picture."
"On other jobs," Borgman continues, "I shoot everything. When I do, I have more control, but there's more to go wrong, too. I have to match light, perspective and angle. I should—but I don't—get very technical here. I kinda eyeball it. I remember the lens and, more or less, the angle.
I've never tried to do a composite image too perfectly, especially the more complicated ones. I kinda go for a whimsical approach: Get it close, make it look fun, and then let it go. It's a little more like illustration."
Whimsy is all well and good, but Borgman takes his postproduction seriously. The key for a successful composite comes from a seamless blend between subject and background. To that end, he starts with Photoshop's Pen tool for manual selections around all but the trickiest edges.
Says Borgman, "These are the words I live by: The Pen tool is mightier than the sword! The sword is a metaphor for the do-everything plug-in that masks your image with one click or chop. The Pen tool is what I use 90% of the time when I do compositing. There's no other way to get a perfect mask of smooth pixels. Selection tools have trouble creating a smooth mask, and this makes it harder when blending with the background.
"Photoshop CS5 has some pretty nice features for masking," he continues, "but I'd be lying if I said I've perfected them. I always try Mask Pro, Fluid Mask and Primatte along with Photoshop's built-in tools. These plug-ins are swords and almost never give you a perfect cut. I always have to refine my mask." Adds Borgman, "With fuzzy, furry things like hair, drop your Pen. This is where the masking plug-ins can help. There's no way to pen out every blowing hair; for this, the Pen tool is too exact. If you've lit your subject right and used the right color background, plug-ins offer the best masking options for hair and semitransparent objects like bubbles and smoke."