How to Make a Multiple Self-Portrait
Am I Seeing Double or Triple?
A multiple self-portrait is a photograph where the same person appears more than once in the same picture. Anybody can put their camera on a tripod, set the timer and stand in front to take a self-portrait. What about one picture with you in several different locations? You may have seen one of these multiple self-portraits before and wondered, "How in the word did they do that?" Well, if you have been wondering how they do it, this is your lucky day because I'll show you how to do it in 1,423 easy steps. Just kidding, it takes a few less steps.
Before We Get Started
This can be a lot of fun but it’s a digital craft, you will need a camera, some minimal photography skills and photo processing software that can handle layers. Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop are good for this but you may find others that can be used. Read on – you can do it!
First Step - Pick Your Location
The first thing you want to do is to pick an interesting location for your self-portraits. Think about what you want in the background, what will be the context of your self- portrait. You may want to interact with the background with some shots sitting, standing, leaning against a tree, etc. Think ahead to imagine what poses will work in the setting you have chosen.
In my example in this article, I picked a scene from the ranch where I grew up. It's the ranch featured in my book, Life at The End of a Dirt Road, and it's full of memories for me. I liked this location at the old corral because it had the weathered scale house and Mount Shasta in the background.
Next, Decide on a Camera Angle
Once you have your location picked, you will want to decide on the composition or camera angle, the point of view for your self-portraits. Think about what background elements you will want to include in the scene and the various locations where you want to pose and be seen in the final picture.
This is important because you are deciding the composition of your final image. You want to control what will be in the background and the angle from which the viewer will see it. Will your camera be at eye level or lower and looking up or looking down from an elevated position? These are things you will want to think about.
Now, Take Your Background Shot
Once you have your camera angle figured out, you will place your camera on a tripod and set it up with the angle and view you want in your final image. Think about the depth of the field when you set up your camera. If you want the foreground and background to be in sharp focus you may need to choose a small aperture to maximize depth of field. Remember the rule, smaller apertures (f stops) increase depth of field and wider apertures decrease depth of field.
Once you are set up, go ahead and take your shot. This will be the background photo on which your self-portraits will rest. Check the shot in your viewfinder to see if it's what you want and the depth of field is good. If it's not what you want, make the adjustments you need and keep trying until you are happy with the background image.
You don't have to do this but I actually took three photos of the background to give myself a high dynamic range background image. I did this because I wanted to be able to capture detail in the foreground as well as the sky and bright snowcapped Mount Shasta in the background. Without HDR or some other compensating process, I would have had to expose for the foreground detail and the detail in the snow-white Mount Shasta would have been lost (blown out).
Now You Are Ready To Place Yourself In The Scene
With the camera unmoved and still on the tripod in place, you will now pose yourself at various locations in the scene. This was a bit awkward for me working alone but you can do it if you use manual focus and focus on the locations where you will be posing in the scene. I used a rock or bush or twig to focus on in each location where I would be posing myself. Once I had the focus set I turned on the 10-second timer and went into the scene and stood on the rock or twig I used as a focus point to pose myself.
Take several shots of yourself in each location so you have something to choose from if you don't like your expression or you blinked or there's something else you don't like in your self-portrait shots. I don't like pictures of myself and took up photography to ensure I was on the right side of the camera when it goes "click." However, for the academic exercise of producing a multiple self-portrait, I bit the bullet and stepped in front of the camera.
Above you see the background image and 3 self-portrait shots ready to go.
At This Point You Have All The Shots You Need For Your Self-Portrait Project
With a good background shot and several shots of yourself posed at different locations in the same scene your are ready to go. All shots have the same lighting and atmospherics so they will go together well when you bring them together in your final single image.
I was glad that I was alone on the ranch when I went through this self-portrait process as it was rather awkward with all the running back and forth, fiddling with the camera, posing in different locations, etc. If I had done this in a populated area it would have likely drawn a small crowd. As it was I made the nearby cattle nervous but manage to avoid a stampede.
It's Time To Take Your Images Into Your Digital Darkroom
Load your background and portrait images into your computer and you are ready to use your software to create the final image of yourself in several locations in a single photo image.
I did my multiple self-portraits in Paint Shop Pro but could have done them in Photoshop. For my illustration images here I used Photoshop. Any photo processing software that can handle layers should allow you to do this.
First, you will want to process your background image so that it's ready. This will be the bottom layer of your layered image. The bottom layer is called the background layer but it will also be the background scene in your final image.
Now take the image of the first self-portrait pose of your choice and use the lasso tool or selection tool of your choice and cut your self-portrait out of the image leaving a good portion of the background inside your selection.
Move or cut and paste this portrait selection onto the background layer as a new layer #1 and align it exactly with the background layer so that you are placed exactly over the spot where you would have been on the background layer.
Above you see my first self portrait image cut from its background and moved onto the background layer as Layer 1.
Place a layer mask on the self-portrait layer #1 and use the paintbrush tool to erase or hide any portions of the background on layer #1 so that you see only your portrait and the background layer below. Here in my example, you see the first self-portrait (layer 1) in position on the background layer and, with a layer mask in place and the paintbrush tool being used to erase everything around the image of me so that you only see the background below layer #1.
Repeat this process with the other self-portrait poses creating layers #2, #3, etc. When you are done, flatten the image into a JPEG and VOILA, you have yourself several times in a single image.
Here's Your Final Product - A Multiple Self-Portrait
Notice that I was even able to include my shadow along with my self-portrait, neither of which were there when I took the background picture.
Another Multiple Self-Portrait
As a final step I used a Topaz plug-in to give my self-portrait images a little extra punch. You don't need to do this as it's a matter of taste or artistic license. Someday they may revoke my artistic license but I love to play with my images and Topaz is one of the tools in my digital darkroom tookbox.
Other Ways You Can Use This Technique
I've shown you how to do a fun multiple self-portrait but you can use this technique in a number of ways. You can use it to make collages or posters or even to do portraits or senior pictures or for some wedding pictures if you are doing that kind of photography. This technique can be a for-fun craft like digital scrapbooking, a way to commemorate a special occasion or person or, with practice, a way to create a work of art. You need to practice to hone your skills at these techniques but the key is your imagination.