Gary Irving: Edgy Composites with Precise Lighting

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Photographer Gary Irving loves to create outlandish, impossible scenes that set the stage for fantastical interpretations of imagined realities. His artistic career has been feathered with all sorts of influences. He’s painted custom designs on motorcycles and cars, made a movie, photographed motocross, and started shooting panoramic landscapes. Then he came across the photography of Joel Grimes and that changed everything.

“I took a lighting class with Joel and learned how he did his work,” Irving explains. “I changed my whole process. With landscapes, I realized that anybody could just go and shoot that landscape. Now, what I’m doing, I’ve turned my photography into art. No one can take that shot.”

For the last four years, Irving has been evolving his photographic composite art and expanding his skills and his repertoire, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. “I had a lot of good response. Once people started seeing my work, they want to be a part of it. I haven’t really hired anybody, most of my subjects are friends I’ve met or people who’ve seen my work and want to be a part of the process. That’s a good response right there – people wanting to be in it,” he laughs.

As he crafts his images, Irving takes care to be sure his final vision will look correct in the final concept. To do that, he has to have precise control over his images and the lighting in every component of the image. He started to play around and refine his tools. Most often he uses a four light set-up – one main, one fill, and two on his backdrops. His favorite tools are the large Photoflex OctoDome and a 3’ beauty dish. “The Photoflex OctoDome is awesome,” he exclaims.

For his part, Irving has found a lot of success in creative fields, but he is most happy using his tools to create composites that are half photographic and half digital image creation. To follow his dream, and create a brand that is sought out and supported by numerous industry companies, Irving has had to be a go-getter and a consummate professional.

His best advice? “Don’t be afraid of the lighting,” he explains. “Which I was, which is why I don’t think I ventured into it until I took that workshop with Joel. He wouldn’t give us the technical part, he would just say ‘Hey, if you don’t like what you see, just move the light.’ That, to me, was the a-ha moment. I don’t need to know ratios. All I need to do, if I don’t like what I’m seeing, is move the light. That allowed me to have fun and play instead of being afraid that I wasn’t getting the lighting right.”

He’s certainly getting the lighting right now. In this video of one of Irving’s sessions, he is planning for several different contingencies in the final image, allowing himself to be free with the final image even as he preconceived the various components. Once the light is set up how he likes it, he can be free with the models and even his own concept to find the best version of his idea. The wrapping light of the OctoDome creates well lit subjects that he can manipulate later in his digital composites, often creating his own shadows, backgrounds, and final images full of imagination.

In collaboration with both Photoflex and Macphun software, Irving is taking us behind the scenes of his process so that we can see exactly what makes him tick and how he crafts his incredible images. Be sure to check out Part 2 of this profile of master compositor Gary Irving on the Macphun Blog.

Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler is an avid photographer, educator, and writer whose entire life revolves around photography. She’s regularly contributes to Photographer’s Forum and the Macphun blog and has worked for Digital Photo Pro, Rangefinder,, and other photographic publications. She has also worked as a commercial and corporate photographer in the past, but is currently focusing her efforts on fine art.

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