The Crucible of Transmutationanecdotes about the creative process

The Red-Nosed Reindog

A dog that looks like Rudolph the red nosed reindeer with pretty elf

Behold the Red-Nosed Reindog, a rare creature from a remote mountain region near the North Pole! Okay, what you're actually looking at is a surreal photorealistic composite that I created for the amusement of friends and family as this year's Christmas card. I thought it would be fun to portray my daughter as an elf and her dog as the iconic Rudolph. Being fairly adept at Photoshop magic, I combined a number of photographs to illustrate this imaginary scene.

I started the process by photographing the dog, as she was the focal point and novelty of the image. In reality, she stands barely 18 inches high, so to simulate her appearance as a bigger animal, I used a wide-angle lens and positioned the camera height just above her eye level. I intentionally chose backlit lighting for the artistic effect, using fill flash to control the shadows. After choosing the best shot of the dog, all other photos used for the composite needed to match its lighting direction, contrast quality, perspective, and lens angle as much as possible for the most convincing results. With that in mind, I proceeded with the photo session of my daughter in an elf costume. Once I had photos of the main subjects, my next concern was an appropriate winter backdrop.

Cute Bichon Frise dog
Girl dressed like an elf

Finding a snowy background in sunny Los Angeles was a challenge, so I decided to license some stock images from to help complete the project. After carefully searching for photos that fit my vision and had the right lighting, I chose a stunning mountain background, another mountain scene for the foreground, and one with trampled snow. I also found a photo of an elk with appropriate horns, although the lighting was completely wrong. However, I knew I could fix this by painting in the backlighting.

Once I had all the elements I needed, I carefully pieced them together in Photoshop. I cut out all the parts "by hand" because this gave me better results than the automated solutions. Using multiple layers, I adjusted the white balance and contrast, fine-tuned and refined the edges, and painted in additional details. It was a lot of work, but a really fun and challenging project. I hope it brings a smile to anyone who sees the Red-Nosed Reindog!

Addendum: More examples of my composite Christmas photos!

Christmas tree ornaments with portrait pictures
Christmas tree ornaments with portrait pictures
Winter scene with girl and dog in front of a gingerbread house
Pretty angel woman and angel dog fly over a village
ANGELS, 2012
Beautiful woman and a dog made of snow in the mountains
Pretty girl rides a sleigh pulled by flying bichon frise dogs
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