What's wrong with this picture? (literally)
March 25, 2022 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on some photoshopped art for my son's forthcoming big-boy room. I made this composite picture, but somehow it's just not working, and I lack the art/design knowledge to figure out why. Please tell me everything (lighting, composition, sizing, placement, background?) you would change/fix about this (except the subject matter).

So here are the things I see that might be potential issues, but I can't put my finger on:

1. Messi's colouration didn't match the boy's at all. I change the colouration, just on his face (changing it on the uniform made it look weird). I still don't know if I have it right.

2. Maybe things are not scaled properly or placed at the correct height? Please comment.

3. I have not licensed the background stock image yet. Suggestions for alternatives (either specific images (free or adobe stock) or general principles"a picture with more/ less foreground grass. Also open to alternative Messi images.

4. I can obviously move the numberblocks' soccerballs.

5. I'm reluctant to mirror any of the humans since that would make them left-footed. (otherwise I would totally mirror messi to make the two humans face in toward the centre).

I do have some MILD wiggle room on the ratio of the dimensions. The current dimensions are based on the matte I currently have in the frame, but I could change out the matte if this is the thing holding back greatness.
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would move number 10 back and maybe to the right, which I think would make more sense with the perspective and the fact that he is a little less in focus.

I would maybe remove all the soccer balls except the one your kid using. I might also move him up a little to bring the focus on him.

Maybe throw some more, smaller numberblocks, down field.

It is well on its way, it is going to be so cute!
posted by stormygrey at 11:42 AM on March 25, 2022

Best answer: Honestly, looks pretty good to me - but some ideas to play with:

1. Messi is very flat looking, and I'd try bringing down the brightness on him overall.

2. You could try to darken the edges around all of the figures, just a bit, and give them shadows, as this might help them pop a bit more for the background, and to ground them in it.

3. At the moment everyone is on the same plane, which is maybe making it a bit crowded - could you make the numberblocks smaller, and put them further back - might give more depth overall, and make it feel better.
posted by coffeecat at 11:44 AM on March 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is so cute! I agree with moving Messi (I assume he’s #10?) back, and also maybe get rid of the ball in the center front. With it there, it feels like Messi should be going for it, but his gaze is too far off. Also when he’s moved, it might look like he is looking at the ball your kid is kicking.

Speaking of that ball, it looks a little too big to me? Is he supposed to be about to kick it, or did he just knee it or something (don’t know proper soccer terms here…). I think smaller and a little repositioned might help.
posted by sillysally at 11:51 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not a professional (at all!) but the two big ones that jumped out at me are: shadows, and proportion.

None of the characters have shadows, so that's how our brain knows that they're just pasted on to that field, they're not really standing there. I seem to see a slight shadow under Messi's ball, which indicates the light could be coming from the top right of the photo frame. You could make that the reference, and create all the other shadows to match?

Your son's head seems to be bigger than Messi's, their feet are the same size. Since one is a kid and the other an adult, my brain immediately says, "Uh, no, that's not right!" If Messi was standing a few ft back then maybe that would make sense, but side-by-side, I think your son needs to be "shrunk" a bit.

I do agree with spreading them out across the field, to give some depth perspective and minimize crowding.

Does everyone need their own ball, or should only one character have it - they're the star, they're about to get a goal..?
posted by tinydancer at 11:52 AM on March 25, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Good tips already.

Couple more small points… If you find a pic of Messi where his expression is more “woah, great skills!” rather than “who let this kid in here?” then you should use it.

The background as shown is a little bit zoomed out & distant - so it makes the pitch look exaggeratedly huge, with the figures all in the very near foreground. Maybe a less-distant background could help?

Colours look fine to me though. It’ll be great, I’m sure he’ll love it.
posted by rd45 at 11:52 AM on March 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Another thing to think about is the narrative. It's hard when limited to stock photos of course, but can you try incorporate a story? Is Messi walking up to help your kid practice his soccer moves? How might you signify that? Are the number blocks helping? Creating an interesting story will help make up for any gaps in the realism.
posted by TurnKey at 11:53 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: People have already mentioned cast shadows; definitely add those. Also add a slight gradient shadow on all the characters (so that they're lighter/brighter by their heads than at their feet), add a slight gradient in the other direction on the background (so that the ground looks like it's getting more light than the sky), and add some depth of field to the background. Don't use pure black shadows, but rather dark blue.

I think I would unify the styles of soccer ball, as it looks distracting to me that the numbers are playing with very different, abstracted soccer balls. Your son is also proportionally too large next to Messi, as mentioned above. Try creating some overlaps between the number characters and the humans, and see if that helps give the piece some dimension.
posted by tautological at 12:35 PM on March 25, 2022

Best answer: 1. Need to add shadows as suggested above. Nothing crazy, just a little dark shading under each figure might be enough, but you might also want to add the gradients like tautological mentioned.

2. Too many balls (if I had a nickel...). I would personally take all of them out except the one in front of your kiddo. We will know they are playing soccer.

3. Everything is on the same plane and on the same horizontal line. I'd start with moving Messi up a bit (maybe so that his feet are even with your kid's upper foot) and shrink him down slightly. If that's not enough, move the number blocks up as well, but not so much.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:00 PM on March 25, 2022

Best answer: I think if you generally raise everyone, it'll look less like they're all standing along the bottom of the picture frame and will also put your son's head at least partly silhouetted against the sky. I think bumping Messi back will also make it more like his eyes are directed at your son.

Those changes might help a lot or might not make a ton of difference…I think it's already pretty well suited to it's purpose, as everything's big and easy to read.
posted by brachiopod at 1:01 PM on March 25, 2022

Best answer: Lots of good suggestions in here. I think the biggest win would be adding some depth with placement and shadows. I would also note, just in case you've overlooked it, that part of #2's leg seems to have disappeared along with its background.
posted by Ryon at 1:26 PM on March 25, 2022

Best answer: 2. Maybe things are not scaled properly or placed at the correct height?

Something like that:

Messi is posed like he is looking at something a bit of a distance in front of him, but the way you have him and your son placed, it looks like your son is next to him. You could fix that by simply:

1. Moving Messi to about where the white line on the field is, and

2. Scaling him down so it looks even more like he's a little further away than your son is.

The block guys on the left and right are fine.

Cute idea! I also wouldn't necessarily worry about getting a license for the stock image unless you're going to try to sell it. I suspect that your'e just doing something for art for your son's room, and it's a private thing; so while it technically still needs a license, it is very very unlikely that a stock photo agency will be spying through your son's window to look for that. (Of course, paying for the license will get the photographer paid, so I would still do it for that reason if this is the only photo you can find.)

However, if you want to look for something you definitely can use, do a search using the Creative Commons database here - there are many artists and photographers who allow use of their work free for personal projects like yours.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:23 PM on March 25, 2022

Best answer: Couple more small points… If you find a pic of Messi where his expression is more “woah, great skills!” rather than “who let this kid in here?” then you should use it.

No no! Messi is looking chagrined because the kid was way too fast for him and stole his ball! You go, kid!

If you gowith this narrative, move Messi back and have just one ball.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:57 PM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I think I literally took some advice from every single person. I've added the new image (scroll down). Since uploading that, I also saturated and darked the grass slightly.

EmpressCallpygos: The stock image is watermarked (and probably also low-res for printing). I keep some adobe stock credits on hand for craft projects like this. I mostly source images from a google image search, but once in a while it's worth it to get a nice image of exactly what I want without having to resort to photoshopping the background before you can even start with getting my own thing done.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:23 PM on March 25, 2022

Excellent work! I would still drop the background a tiny bit so the top of your son’s head and a bit of Messi's shoulder break above the rim of the stadium. It might also be good to make the horizon a bit more horizontal because the tilt might not look right when mounted on the wall.
posted by brachiopod at 10:43 PM on March 25, 2022

Best answer: Small things. The light on almost all the boxes doesn't come from the same direction as the light on the two people.

Should the back of the stadium be in such sharp focus?
posted by tmdonahue at 5:01 AM on March 26, 2022

Response by poster: Brachiopod: I actually tried dropping the background but for some reason no matter what I do the other characters then end up looking like they're floating weirdly above the grass, and I can't figure out how to fix it.

tmdonohue: I will try defocusing the back of the stadium and the grass toward the back. I see what you're saying about the light on the numberblocks, but I don't know how to fix it. I suppose I could reflect them all but the five (the five is asymmetric and my son will notice if the eye and hand are on the wrong side much more than he will notice the light) and then change the composition so they still face centre...I will try it. Thanks.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:51 AM on March 26, 2022

Best answer: Your new version looks much better. I think Messi is still a bit bright. Blur his shadow a bit too. Definitely blur the stadium a bit. Look at the tilt-shift blur - that might work here. It allows you to set a few focus points.
posted by hydra77 at 3:16 PM on March 26, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks all...Final version at same link, just in case you're interested. I blurred all the shadows, evened out the brightness of the grass a little with some gradients (thanks to the person who made me learn gradiants!) and blurred the stadium and grass a little with tilt shift.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:33 PM on March 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

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