Adobe Photoshop CS5 : Fixing Group Shots the Easy Way

11/27/2011 9:27:20 AM
Group shots are always a challenge because, without a doubt, somebody in the group will be totally hammered . Okay, the real problem is that in group photos there’s always one or more people who blinked at just the wrong time, or forgot to smile, or weren’t looking at the camera, etc. Of course, you could just take their expression from another frame and combine it with this one, but that takes a lot of work. Well, at least it did before the Auto Blend feature. This thing rocks!

Step One.
Here’s a photo of a cute family. The problem here is the dad isn’t looking very happy and the baby has her head turned.

Step Two.
Of course, with group shots you take as many shots as the group will endure, and luckily in the very next frame there was a great shot of the dad smiling, and the baby looking at the camera, but now the mom has her eyes closed. So, the idea is to take the dad and baby from this shot, and combine them with the previous photo, where the mom has her eyes open.

Step Three.
Start by dragging the two photos into the same document: get the Move tool (V), press-and-hold the Shift key, and click-and-drag one photo over onto the other (it will appear as its own layer in the other document, as you can see in the Layers panel shown here). Now, you’ll need to convert the Background layer into a regular layer, so go to the Layers panel and double-click directly on the Background layer. This brings up the New Layer dialog (shown here), which by default renames your Background layer as Layer 0. Just click OK and it’s now a regular ol’ Photoshop layer.

Step Four.
Usually, the photos line up pretty well if the shots were taken on a tripod, but if you handheld them, or your subjects move a bit, you’ll want to select both layers and choose Auto-Align Layers from the Edit menu first to have Photoshop align the two layers for you. In this case, Auto-Align Layers seemed to squash the top photo a little, so I pressed Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform and just dragged the bottom-center point down to match the bottom layer.

Step Five.
The next two steps couldn’t be easier: First, in the Layers panel, hide Layer 0 from view by clicking on the little Eye icon to the left of the layer. Then click on Layer 1. Now, get the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) and draw a rectangular selection over the parts of this layer that don’t look good (in other words, you’re going to delete everything you don’t want to keep—so put a selection around the mom on the right) and hit the Delete (PC: Backspace) key. This leaves you with just the part of this layer you want to keep. Now, Deselect by pressing Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D).

Step Six.
Hide that top layer from view, and make Layer 0 visible again by clicking once in the first column where the little Eye icon used to be. Click on Layer 0, then do the same thing—erase what you don’t want (in this case, you’re putting a Rectangular Marquee selection around the dad and baby), then press the Delete (PC: Backspace) key, so you have the image you see here. Now you can Deselect. The key thing to remember here is this: make sure these two layers overlap, because Photoshop needs some overlapping area to do its blending (in other words, don’t erase so much that there’s any gap between the two layers—it’s got to overlap. I’d shoot for a 20% overlap if you can, although I didn’t have that much here, because the baby shifted position, moving her head closer to the dad).

Step Seven.
Go to the Layers panel and make both layers visible (as seen here). Now, you have the right poses together, but you also have a very harsh seam moving right through the mom’s face and shirt. It looks “pieced together” big time. Of course, you could add layer masks and try blending the edges yourself with the Brush tool, but that’s what makes this technique so sweet: CS5 will do a brilliant job of all that for you—in just seconds.

Step Eight.
Here’s the last step: select both layers in the Layers panel (click on one layer, press-and-hold the Command [PC: Ctrl] key, then click on the other layer to select it as well), then once both layers are selected, go under the Edit menu, choose Auto-Blend Layers, and click OK in the resulting dialog. That’s it—in just seconds you have a perfectly smooth, seamless blend of the two photos, and Photoshop did all the hard work. Now, you can just grab the Crop tool (C) and crop away any transparent areas left by the alignment. You can see the before/after on the next page. It does leave the layer masks that Auto-Blend Layers creates in place, just in case you want to tweak them, but I haven’t come up with an instance where I needed to yet. Just choose Flatten Image from the Layers panel’s flyout menu, and you’re done.

Before (the dad and baby on the left are in bad poses—one has her head turned, one’s not smiling)

After (the first photo is seamlessly blended with the second photo, replacing the dad and baby on the left with their better poses from a different frame)

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