Warning: This post is a bit more technical than my usual posts. Read only what you wish!
People have been asking me how I did my Christmas photo, shown at left. It was a bit of fun taking the photos, and a bit of a challenge to create the finished photo with Photoshop Elements, but I liked the end result. Apparently, so did everyone else. We like to do something different every year, and it gets more technical, and more fun, every year. I always wonder how I will top last year's piece, but it always takes on a life of its own, and works itself out.
First, I took a bunch of photos of our Christmas tree, all decorated with lights on. This part was easy. Then I chose the one I liked best for the background.
Then I had all of us sit for our portrait. I set up my camera, a Canon 60D, on a tripod, with my lens at its widest, at 28mm. I set the camera on automatic, with the flash disabled. I find the built-in flash to be too flashy, too bright, too much light in the wrong way, so I don't use it very often. Plus it slows down the camera, and I needed to be able to take fast photos for this. I held a remote in my hand to trigger the camera. I'm not one to set up a lot of extra gear like flash equipment, not usually even my tripod or remote. So I generally just use the camera as it is.
All of us sat on a bench. Our dog and white cat were all for it, all in the game. Our tabby, however, wasn't so cooperative. He was taking swipes at the dog, and trying to get away! We were both laughing, and looking at him, and this turned out to be the best shot. I uploaded these to have a look at them, and decided to set everyone up for a second sitting, but all the pets went crazy, so this shot was still the best one.
Then it was time for Photoshop Elements. I have version 6.0. There are more recent versions, but I'm sticking with this one. After a couple of years, I am only just getting to know its editing capabilities, and am not interested in the upgrades, yet.
So in Photoshop, I opened both photos in the editor, and then started to use the tools to combine them. In the portrait photo, I first used the clone-stamp tool to erase the dog tag, the remote, and that bit of red under the dog's nose. Then I used the quick selection tool to draw an outline around us, using a separation of 5 megapixels, to blend our edges with the background. Then I used the move tool to move this part of the photo over top the tree photo, choosing the best placement for it. I used an opacity of 100%, so the background photo wouldn't show through. Then I cropped the whole thing, so our side edges looked natural and not chopped up. Then it was an easy matter to print them on my photo printer, and include one inside each of our Christmas cards that we sent out.
Before I did this process, I did not know how to combine two photos in a single layer like this. I had seen it done in magazines, but had not done it myself. Before this, I was only doing basic editing like cropping and contrast correction. I did some reading, and internet searching, to figure it out as I went along. There weren't any clear instructions, so I did some trial and error to get what I wanted. This is how I learn, when I'm pressed into something that I want to work out in the moment.
I'm already thinking of next year's cards. I have a few ideas. I should start now, but probably won't start until December. All the Christmas stuff is put away, the season is over, and my inspiration is gone. I won't forget what I've learned and discovered, though, and will be ready to go when we get that first snow next winter, and start putting up our lights outside!