Cloned Self Portraits: How I Do It

I have been asked by several online friends how I create the photos of multiple me’s such as this one below, so here is a tutorial. This is my Christmas card 2010.

Multiple self-portrait photo Christmas card (Viveca Koh ARPS)

I set up the tripod in the corner of the room and composed the shot, ensuring that all the places I planned to be were in the frame. Had to take a couple of test shots to be sure of this, followed by the off-camera flash until I got the look I was after (warm, glowing and festive), before settling on ISO 400, 24mm, 0.4s at f5.6. Can’t remember the flash settings and these are not recorded in the EXIF data – sorry! There then followed lots of changing of clothes and backwards and fowardsing as I took the following five shots (that’s my cat Jasper asleep in his little green nest by the radiator – as you can see he was remarkably un-interested in the entire process):






I then opened each of the above images in Photoshop, with #1 as the master, and copied and pasted numbers 2-5 as separate layers over #1.  Using the Lasso Tool I roughly selected myself from one of the other photograph layers, chose Select>Inverse from the top menu followed by the delete on the keyboard to clear the rest of the photo layer so that all was left was the roughly selected me:

After I had applied the same treatment to the other three photographs it looked something like this:

For each layer apart from the background I then selected Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All from the top menu to create a layer mask for each separate ‘me’ layer, and then closed all but one of these layers to make it easier to work.  I selected the Brush Tool set to soft/round 300px (the size of the brush can be quickly adjusted on the keyboard using the square brackets [ ] – a handy tip!), and ensuring that the Foreground Colour was set to black and that I had the Layer Mask Thumbnail selected, I began to ‘paint out’ the areas around each figure which were overlapping and hiding the others, and thus the figure standing behind the sitting one appears like magic:

Where there was a lot of overlap I had to zoom in really close and use a much smaller brush to paint around the edges of the figure in front of the other one.  It’s advisable to use a soft brush as this is much more forgiving and makes it easier to make a subtle blend, and lowering the Opacity from 100% (anything down to 10%) also helps a lot with this.  You will probably have to zoom in even closer than I have shown here for any really intricate bits.  The key is not to have any light or dark haloes where the figures overlap.  It can be fiddly but it’s worth spending the time on it for excellent results.

The great thing about using layer masks instead of the Eraser Tool to remove what’s not needed is that if a mistake is made you can simply change the foreground colour to white and ‘paint’ the relevant area back in.  After I had applied this treatment to all the layers, I added a Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels to boost the contrast slightly, so that it looked like this:

However, the image was still a bit bright and there were too many distracting elements on display in the room, such as my DVD collection and the unavoidable patch of white wall on the right hand side, so I selected from my textures database this one from Jerry Jones (a.k.a. Skeletalmess on Flickr), pasted it in as a new layer above all the others and used Edit>Transform>Scale to stretch it across the entire image.

I then added a Layer Mask to the texture layer and using the soft fat black Brush Tool painted out where I didn’t want to texture to be, as it had made the image look like this:

Finally, on top of all this, I added a Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Brightness/Contrast layer set to +41, as the image was still a tad dark, and the end result was the photograph shown at the top of this post!


October 2011 update:
My on-line friend Mike Victorino has created an excellent cloned self-portrait tutorial for users of Photoshop Elements without layer mask capabilities, so that viewers not using Photoshop can still try this fun technique.  Additional good news was that Mike discovered a free plug-in that enables layer masks in Elements 6, 7 and 8, so what are you waiting for?

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18 Responses to “Cloned Self Portraits: How I Do It”

  1. That’s really helpful but i still have some confusions. I would be really glad if you could email me step by step procedure for the same. I hope i am not asking for too much. I would really appreciate some help here
    my email:
    Owais Ashraf Photography recently posted..THE PRICELESS SMILEMy Profile

  2. […] them into the computer, got them all opened up in my Photoshop Elements and then started reading Viveca’s Post on Cloning.    I was all set to go until I got to the part about layer masking.   I use […]

  3. […] Cloned Self Portraits: How I Do It – this incredible blog post is not new this week, but hit our radar and we thought it was a fabulous tutorial well worth sharing with a wider audience here.  A very complex and tricky method is discussed by Viveca Koh, describing in great detail how to go about creating this very different and interesting style of imagery. […]

  4. Andrew Keane says:

    Nice article, I’ve done similar turning myself into a 4 piece band. Pity I cant play an instrument.

  5. […] Cloned Self Portraits: How I Do It – this incredible blog post is not new this week, but hit our radar and we thought it was a fabulous tutorial well worth sharing with a wider audience here.  A very complex and tricky method is discussed by Viveca Koh, describing in great detail how to go about creating this very different and interesting style of imagery. […]

  6. […] Viveca Koh Photography – Cloned portraits (for some Photoshop fun!) […]

  7. […] Viveca Koh Photography – Cloned portraits (for some Photoshop fun!) […]

  8. […] today, after taking all these photographs for a multiplicity image (for technique, please see my tutorial post), which was slightly tricky in that (a) the wind was quite strong therefore rustling and moving […]

  9. Viveca Koh says:

    Thank you everyone for commenting on this one, and I’m really glad that it has been of some use. I will be making further tutorials in future to show some of my other work flow techniques, so please do watch this space!

  10. andy gimino says:

    Great image Viveca, nice creative process…well done!

  11. Wow, Viveca, that is utterly incredible! I was totally wondering how you did that and now that does make a lot of sense. I really love your work and look forward to future magical images! 🙂

  12. Brett says:

    Nice work on this, I like how you did the overlay. Never thought of applying it to a photo like this. If you know of anyone that is looking for a video tutorial of the same process, I did one on my blog:

  13. d i l i p says:

    Thanks a LOT for sharing this tutorial. And such a wonderful photo too! 🙂

  14. Chris Wray says:

    Love the technique and the results! Thanks very much for sharing your process in this “how-to” blog post.

  15. Thank you for the very detailed how-to. The techniques you used look very useful and surprisingly not too complicated. I look forward to trying this in the future.

    I would not have thought to change clothes for each shot either, so thanks for that tip too!

  16. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Erik Kerstenbeck, VivecaKohPhotog. VivecaKohPhotog said: Cloned Self Portraits: How I Do It #photog #tutorial #clones […]

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