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If you’ve got one dog, taking a great photo is, if not easy, at least possible. Put them sitting where you want, set up your camera, and snap away hoping to get that perfect pose. The problem is, if you’ve got more than one dog, they’re never going to both look good at the same time. While one is channeling their inner-Zoolander, the other will be sniffing their own butt. Anyone who says professional models are difficult to work with is lying.
With Adobe Photoshop, however, you can fake it. All you need is one good photo of each dog, and you’ll be able to combine them together into an awesome portrait. Let’s look at how.
Shooting Your Dogs
First off, you need to shoot your dogs. No, not like that. Pick a location and bring them there. It helps if you have an assistant. I took my brother and my two dogs up a mountain but you can pick easier locations like your front room.
On the camera end of things, you’ll need a tripod. You’re going to create a composite (like with the levitation I showed) where you cut out and combine more than one image — to make that easy, you need to make sure the camera doesn’t move between each shot.
Set up your camera and focus manually on where you want the dogs to sit. Make sure you’re shooting RAW and using your camera in manual mode. Take a background plate then have your assistant position one of the dogs in the frame. It doesn’t matter what the other dog does for now.
Work with the first dog until you get a good exposure and then have your assistant position your second dog and work with it. Don’t worry about your assistant being in the frame, we’ll remove them in Photoshop.
If you’ve got the Photoshop skills, you can even shoot different parts of your dogs separately. I ended up swapping the head from one shot onto the body from another with my dogs. It’s a little easier to get everything perfect in camera but it can prove impossible if your dogs are especially awkward.
1. Importing the Images
Import the images into your Adobe Photoshop Lightroom catalog and go through them. You’re looking for the best shot of each dog, as well as the background plate. When you’ve got them, open them as a layer stack in Photoshop by going to Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop…
I used three photos: one of Simba (the white dog), one of the background, and one of Nala (the black dog). I actually used Nala’s face from the frame of Simba because, for some reason, they were both looking at me at the right time. You can see my images above.
2. Setting Up the Document
Before diving in, it’s worth setting everything up so things run smoothly. Select all the layers and go to Edit > Auto-Align Layers. Photoshop will line up everything and get rid of any small differences between each shot.
Go through and name each layer. You can also cut out the objects you’re using. For example, on the Simba layer, I used the Marquee tool (M) to select him and then pressed Command + J (Control + J on a PC) to duplicate it to a new layer. I then deleted the old layer with all the unimportant data.
At the end of this process I had four layers:
- Nala Body
- Nala Head
You’ll probably have a background plate and one layer for each dog. You can also group each dog into its own folder if you’re using more than one layer.
3. Blending the Dogs In
Start with the first dog and add a layer mask. With a nice soft brush, go around the edge and make sure it blends nicely into the background plate. If the layer is too bright or dark, add a Curves layer as a Clipping Mask (hold down Alt or Option and click on the gap between the two layers) and darken it up a little. That’s what I had to do with my Simba layer.
Next, repeat the process with the second dog layer. Take your time blending the areas between them. Be really careful and go in with the Brush or Pen tool where ever the dogs overlap with your assistant.
Keep adding in dogs until you’re done.
4. Swap the Dog’s Head
By now things should be looking good and this step is entirely optional. For me, I had a great Nala head I wanted to use but the body position was all wrong. If you’re in the same situation, follow along.
Position the new head where you want it and add a black layer mask. With a brush, work slowly paint white to reveal the new head. Take your time working through everything, going back and forth, and naturally blending the transitions. You can see me do it in the video that accompanies this post. It took me about three tries to get something I was happy with so don’t be worried if you don’t get it right first time.
Because dogs have fur, this procedure is a lot easier than doing it with a person. You can get away with a lot of mistakes. Once you’re almost there, zoom out and see how it looks from afar. Remember, things that don’t look perfect at 300% will often look great from a few feet away.
5. Finish Off the Image
Now that the composite is made, it’s time to finish off the image. You should do things like:
- Adjust the brightness, contrast, and colors.
- Color tone your image.
- Clean up any blemishes (I show how in my article on restoring old photos).
- Add a vignette (I show how in this article on creating a vintage Halloween image).
- Crop it so it looks well-composed.
You can see my final result just below. Go in, and make the image yours.
If you’ve gone to the effort of making an awesome photo of your dogs, it’s worth doing something with. Go out, get it printed, and give it to someone as a gift.
If you follow along, please share your results in the comments below.