This is a fun twist on portraiture that can often tell a bit more of a story about your subject, by allowing them to reveal two or more sides to their personality. It’s an old photography trick used in the days of the darkroom, and now with modern technology can be done in minutes with a few simple steps in Photoshop.
First you are going to need two or more photographs of your subject, so find yourself a victim to experiment on, or try a self portrait. The main trick to this technique is to get things set up well in the shooting stage so everything goes smoothly when you go to edit.
Getting Set Up to Shoot
You’ll need to put your camera on a tripod. Your tripod position, lighting setup, your camera and its settings, all need to remain the same throughout the shooting session. Once you’re set up don’t move or twiddle anything, otherwise things can get a bit wobbly when you go to blend your final images.
It is possible to do this with natural light, but you’ll have to work fast before the light changes too much. If you don’t have studio lighting you can try light painting or some of the other DIY lighting tips from my article Creating Effective Studio Lighting with Household Items
Start with a simple set such as two chairs. To make it a bit more interesting, add something like a small table in between with a prop or two; your subject could be sharing a cup of tea or a glass of wine with themselves.
Positioning your subject
Once you have set your stage and are happy with how it looks through the viewfinder, bring in your subject to test out the lighting on them for both positions. Then you are ready to roll.
Think about how the different versions of your subject will interact with each other. Will they be in conversation, raising a glass congratulating themselves on a portrait sitting job well done perhaps? In such a case it’s important to get their line of site correct to achieve the illusion of the subject looking at themselves.
It is a good idea, when first attempting this, to ensure there is no overlap of the two versions of your subject, such as a stray foot, to save you any extra fiddling about in the editing stage. You can help to keep both versions separate by placing a small marker, such as a tiny bit of tape on the floor in the middle of your setup, so your subject knows where that invisible overlap line is located.
For the shot below I had the female version lean on a rolled up towel to imitate the knee of the male version of herself. This gave a natural lean to her pose and helped create the illusion that she is actually leaning on the male version’s lap.
Take as many shots as you and your portrait subject have the time and patience for. The more versions you have, the better chance of finding a perfect match in the editing stage. Try different facial expressions and poses for each version of your subject.
We are going to be working with layers here, but if that’s new to you don’t panic! It really is easier than you might think. Just follow the few steps below and you’ll be pulling a photographic rabbit out of a Photoshop hat in no time.
- Open your favorite image of each version of your subject in Photoshop.
- Make sure both images are the same size.
- Using the Move Tool, click on the thumbnail of the first image in its Layers Palette, drag over the top of the second image and let go.
- You now have both images on top of each other in the same file, seen as Background and Layer 1 in the Layers Palette (shown below).
- You’ll need to see both versions, so go to the Layers Palette and select the Layer 1 thumbnail.
- Using the Opacity slider just above it, slide it around until you can see both images, about 50% usually works the best.
If you haven’t moved anything about during shooting the images should line up perfectly. In which case, you’ve done the hardest part already, it’s smooth sailing from here.
If your setup got bumped, you can probably still line things up well enough to work. Just use the Move Tool to slide around top image and try and get the best alignment. It helps to zoom in to check accuracy (you can also use Auto-Align Layers” in the edit menu but it may be fooled by the subject – but give it a try).
Now the fun part
- Select Layer 1 in the Layers Palette.
- At the bottom of the Palette is a little square with a circle in it, commonly known as the Add Layer Mask button, or as I like to call it, the Where the Magic Happens button.
- Click on it and a Layer Mask white box will appear next to the image thumbnail.
It’s not sounding very magic so far, but hang in there.
- The Background and Foreground Colour squares at the bottom of your Tools Pallette will need to be black on the top (foreground color).
- Select a brush, set to zero hardness and get ready to make magic happen.
- Set both Layer and Brush Opacity sliders to 100%.
- Make sure that white Layer Mask thumbnail is still selected.
- Start brushing and watch as the second version of your model magically appears, tada!
Don’t worry if you go too far, and erase something more than you intended, if you do, you can just switch those little black and white boxes in the Tools Pallette with the tiny arrows (or press X on your keyboard) so white is on top, then brush back in to reverse the mistake (black conceals, white reveals).
That’s it! All the tricky stuff done and dusted.
Now you simply flatten the image. File> Flatten Image, and all that is left is to edit as you would any other photograph. For this image it was a crop here, a filter and color adjustment there, and erasing the umbrella light reflection in the window.
This technique is something you can really play with, from building sets and getting creative with props, or simply using it to get more of a story from your portrait subject. Either way, it is great fun to try. If you do, please share your results in the comments. Happy experimenting.