This composite was created by designing a photo shoot around an Abode Stock image of a city rooftop. To match perspective, we constructed a platform and shot at an upward angle. The image was lit with a three-light setup — two strip lights on each side and a beauty dish in front. We added a blue gel to the stip lights to match the scene as if it were shot during the blue hour. Since we knew the image was being composited on a dark background, we position the subject far from the background and let it fall to black.  A much better solution would be to use a black backdrop and cover the platform with a black cloth. A modification of my sports grit look was applied in Lightroom before the image was extracted in Photoshop and placed on a layer above the Adobe Stock image. A few additional edits were made to the entire image to balance color and tie it all together.

Designing the set

Building a platform

To create a rooftop perspective, elevate the subject by building a platform. This can be as simple as laying a thick sheet of plywood on top of two sawhorses. Anything to raise the subject off the ground, giving you room to shoot at a slightly upward angle. Cover the platform with a black cloth.


Position the subject at least five feet from the background. This will help prevent light spill and keep the background black. When possible, use a material called Duvetyne — it absorbs light. It is commonly used in the motion picture industry for blocking light, curtains, and to control light spill. Many commercial lighting flags are made from Duvetyne.

Lighting setup

When working with multiple lights, I find it easier working with one light at a time. Reference this quick tip article: “Meter one light at a time when working with multiple lights” for more information.

Main lighting

Use a small 28-inch beauty dish without the diffuser to keep the light harsh and directional. Center the light slightly above the subject aiming down. Use a C-stand with an extension arm — a traditional light stand will get in the way of shooting.

Set the power of the light to achieve an exposure of f/8 with a shutter speed of 1/160s at the lowest native ISO, typically ISO 100. Dial these settings into your camera.

An aperture of f/8 will keep the detail in the subject’s outfit and a higher shutter speed will ensure the ambient light in the room will not affect exposure.

Strip lights

Position a strip light slightly behind the subject on each side. Attach a blue gel to the lights to give the illusion the scene was shot during the blue hour. Feather the light so the light outlines the edge of the subject, causing the light to fall behind them. Attach an eggcrate grid on the strip box to control where the light hits the subject. This will also help avoid lens flare.

Strip light setup

Set the power of the light to achieve an exposure of f/11 with a shutter speed of 1/160s at the lowest native ISO set earlier. Setting the power one stop brighter than the main light will create an illusion of bright lights behind the subject.

Create emotion in the scene

To get the model into character, create a story. This will help motivate the model to act out the emotion you’re looking for. For this scene, we created a narrative for our model, Stacey Li.

“Imagine you are an assassin stalking your victim. You’re waiting for the right time to leap into action and accomplish your mission.”

This invokes an action pose with a facial expression of searching for her target. Take a few shots then let the subject relax. A squatting pose like this can be tiring and uncomfortable, which can affect the subject’s facial expression.

Challenges we faced

The main challenge was finding a stock image for the background scene. We looked for alleyways, fire escapes, and rooftops. A search through Adobe Stock gave us a few choices that inspired us to shoot a rooftop scene. We blended the rooftop image with an image of stars to complete the look.

Above all, experiment, learn new tricks and create the shot!

Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

For more shooting ideas like this, check out the How to create series here on Photofocus.

Gear list

This was the gear used to create the shot. Although it’s easier to create this look using the same gear, you can substitute pieces with the gear you already have. Think of gear as the ingredients for a recipe in a cookbook. Usually, you can alter or add different ingredients without changing the recipe too much. However, if you’re making Chicken Cordon Bleu and substitute steak for chicken, the outcome will be totally different.

The same goes for lighting. If a narrow strip box is recommended, using a large 3-foot by 4-foot rectangular softbox won’t work — unless you modify it. Feathering or flagging the light with black fabric can turn the large light source into a narrow strip box. Learn to become a “MacGyver.”

Lighting Gear

Set Accessories

Wardrobe and Props

  • Black Leather top and pants
  • Black Boots
  • Black Bra
  • Gun