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Behind the Scenes of Erik Johansson’s ‘Daybreaker’ Composite

Erik Johansson is known around the world for his surreal photographic composites. He recently invited Create to share his process for creating Daybreaker, an image he says he’s had in his mind for several years.

“I don’t remember exactly where the idea came from,” he says. “It’s the idea that day and night are not just happening, but that there’s actually someone controlling the change from one to the other. The reason I haven’t done it sooner is that I hadn’t found a location I liked, and I hadn’t been able to make up my mind about the composition and perspective.” (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

In order to make the result look as realistic as possible, Johansson knew that he wanted to shoot as much as possible of the scene on location with lights and props. “The hardest part was to balance the night part and the day part while keeping the image fairly realistic,” he says. “I wanted the dark part of the image to have a magical night feel—dark enough to contrast well with the day part but not so dark that the details disappeared.”

The photographs were taken in the early fall of 2018, with a model and props in a field. Johansson says, “I wanted to capture the light hitting the model in a realistic way, so I used one flash as the sun (a Profoto Pro-7b 1200Ws with TeleZoom Reflector, ¼ CTO) and another light as the moon, hitting the model and the prop from behind with a colder light (a Profoto B1X with a white umbrella, ½ CTB). I used a large piece of black fabric to obscure “the sun” so it would hit the only the model’s legs and parts of the prop. The camera used was a Hasselblad H6D-50c @ 50mm, 1/60s, f8, iso200. The cat and various parts of the background were photographed separately and added into the scene in post.”

But although he shot most of the scene on location, Adobe Photoshop CC played a very important part in balancing night and day.

“I used a lot of adjustment layers in this image,” says Johansson, “to bring out the warm parts of the day side of the image and the magical coldness of the dark side. I also used the Pen tool to separate the model from the background, so I could more easily control his lighting and color in contrast to the background.”

Watch the video below for a deeper look into the image’s creation.

Music by Ryan Davis.