Blended Photos Tell a Bigger Story

special effect of a blended portrait using multiple images of a single subject

Sometimes one image just does not do it. You need a flow – a contrast or counter point – to be really effective. The simplest and most common approach is to just take three images, frame them, then hang them together on the wall.

But there is a more interesting approach that is really simple with the right setup.

Blend your subject several times into the same image.

It works best if you do some pre-planning, but you can also shoot in anticipation of the blend. When you plan for it, here is the setup.

You need a background or setting that will be easy to blend. The obvious is a solid color background, easy to light and easy to blend. Out of focus backgrounds work well too. You will want to stay away from things with clear shapes or hard lines these are harder to transition from one frame to the other. If you are careful, you can make them blend directly into each other, very effective but tricky.

Put your camera on a tripod. Little side tip: turn your stabilizer on the lens off. When it’s on a tripod the stabilization gyros will create camera shake. Orientate your camera for a vertical shot. Position it so you have extra space around your subject. You will need this for the transition part of the blended images. Once you start, you don’t want to change anything. This is why hand-holding your camera will create some problems. Each time your subject gets setup for the next pose, you will shift a little or a lot, affecting perspective, point of view and size. All fixable, but taking time, whereas using the tripod solves it easily.

special effect of a blended portrait using multiple images of a single subject

A very cool but trickier setup is to have several versions of your subject on a complex background where she is blended into it, rather than the background being blended. Like an environmental piece, this time set your camera for horizontal then back off until you see the whole scene you want in the image. Determine the plane your subject will be posing on, focus for that, then turn your lens to manual focus and don’t touch it. Same with the exposure – work it out then put the camera on manual. You don’t want a moving focus point or changing exposure in each frame.

Setup your lights. A soft wrap around light that is even on the background is usually less distracting. Go for a fairly shallow depth of field when you set the power of your lights.

Have your subject do their thing. I have had clients change outfits often for a sports theme, or have done a progressive undressing series. It can be as simple as your subject showing a range of expressions.

Process the same way in Photoshop or your image software. Any software will do if it can handle layers and masks.

Roughly determine the size of image you want. Height is the first consideration. Once that is set, the width is determined by how many images you have and the space between them. You can always change the width with Canvas Size. If you do find you need to change your canvas width, have it expand to the right only, not in all directions.

Copy your images into the layers of your empty image. It will be easier if you organize them in relationship to their position. Start with the left image in your frame, put it on the bottom layer. Stack the next image in the next layer, and so on. Turn off all the layers but the bottom one.

Position your first image at the left. This will set the standard for the ones that follow. Enlarge the subject to the size you want. Position them where you want them in the frame. I usually drag down a few guides to help with placement. One on the head and at the feet, usually a middle one at some reference point. If your subject is the same size in all the images, don’t change sizes until you have all the images in their layers and active. Select all of them then Edit Transform. As you resize the one image, they are all resized perfectly. Turn all but the first image layer off.

Turn on the next layer, which will be the image beside the first one. I temporarily reduce the opacity to about 30% so I can see through that image’s background to the first image, making it easy to place. Once you have your subject positioned, turn on a mask and just erase the background covering the first image. Use a large, very soft edge brush so you have a soft gradual transition.

Repeat for each image you are adding.

With the image placed wherever you want several versions of your subject in the same setting, it’s then easy. Stack your images in layers. Give all but the first layer a mask that is black, blocking out the whole image. With a soft edge brush paint white onto the mask, It will reveal the area, your subject into the base image. The background is consistent so you can be pretty sloppy in your painting. Generally, though, keep it close to your subject.

Once you get going, you will see how simple this is to do. It actually takes longer to explain than to do! Your clients will love them.

special effect of a blended portrait using multiple images of a single subject

2 Comments

  1. Brent Laycock

    Hi Mark! Love this idea! Doesn’t look difficult at all,but how do you charge the client? You’re really artworking 2 or 3 images.

    • Hi Brent. we charge the regular rate in the size they order the overall image size. We then have a flat charge of $100 per additional image or partial image. We have been doing that approach for several years now with a great response

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