One creative photo idea that you can have a lot of fun with is called cut out photography. Simply put, it’s a blend of two photographs that cuts out certain pieces to create a puzzle effect.
As intimidating as the result may look, it’s not that difficult to create. Oftentimes, photographers use a chain link fence to create this effect, but you can use anything you want.
When you learn this technique, you’ll get better at planning your shots, editing, and looking at simple objects from a more imaginative perspective.
And if you’re going through an artistic drought and can’t come up with any original photo concepts, the best thing to do is get inspiration from others.
Borrowing various techniques is a great way to enhance your editing skills, try out something completely new, and encourage yourself to get out of your comfort zone.
What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial
- An editing program like Photoshop. Make sure that your program lets you use brushes, layer masks, and blending modes.
- A sturdy tripod
- A remote
- A fence
- A placeholder. (This is necessary for self-portrait photography only. You can use it to figure out what exactly to focus on before you stand in front of the camera. Alternatively, you can ask someone to stand behind the fence while you manually adjust the focus.)
The Photo-Taking Process
1. Find a Safe Location
Taking these photos will require some time and patience, so make sure you find a peaceful location. If your tripod gets moved even slightly, your composition will be ruined.
If you have to hold your camera when a stranger approaches you with a question, you’ll lose the exact position that helped you take the perfect photos.
Another thing to keep in mind is safety. Make sure the fence you’ll be photographing isn’t dangerous in any way. Don’t compromise your model’s safety for the sake of an edgy photo.
If you’re going to take self-portraits, I highly recommend going out with a friend. This will make you feel safer, make the photographing process easier, and give you a chance to get your focus right before you shoot.
This was taken in front of a window in a relatively dark room. The model stood behind the window, where the light was significantly brighter. This gave me a chance to photograph lots of silhouettes for an even more creative cut out effect. (You’ll find out more about these ideas later in the article.)
2. Set Up Your Tripod
Be aware of the ground your tripod is standing on. An uneven path will result in crooked or blurred photos that will ruin your composition.
If you’re going to shoot outdoors, plan your shoot beforehand. Taking photos on a very windy day will result in slightly blurry photos. Ideally, the weather should be pleasantly warm.
3. Lock Your Focus
Autofocus might automatically choose the fence as your subject. To take perfectly sharp portraits, stick to manual focus. Once you’re happy with the focus, lock it and take as many photos as you can.
Make sure your model changes their pose and expression regularly. This will ensure that you’ll have a lot of photos to work with in the editing process.
Even if you take a photo that really stands out, keep shooting. Chances are that you’ll change your mind later on. I recommend taking at least 20-30 photos of your model.
4. Use a Remote
Any slight movements will make it hard for you to edit your photos. Once you’re happy with your composition and focus, don’t touch the camera. Instead, use a remote.
Remotes are also handy for self-portrait photographers who don’t have any assistants to help them out during a shoot.
To use a remote, simply set your timer to 10 seconds (make sure your focus is locked) and press the shutter.
5. Take Photos of the Fence
When you’re happy with your model shots, take a few photos of the fence on its own. The results will help you create a striking cut out effect.
This is the last step in the photographing process. Once you’re done with this, import your photos into your editing program and start making magic!
Extra Tips for Self-Portrait Photographers
If you’re planning to take self-portraits, there are a few more steps you should keep in mind:
- Place an object behind the fence. You can use it as a placeholder for yourself and as a focus point for your camera;
- Don’t use an aperture that’s too wide, like f/1.2. Even when you focus on your placeholder, you won’t get perfect results. An aperture like f/2 or f/2.8 will prevent blurry portraits; and
- Since you’ll be doing this on your own, expect to have a few failed attempts. However, remember that the results will be worth it.
The Editing Process – How To Cut Out an Image in Photoshop
1. Open your two photos in Photoshop. Make sure they’re in the same document and that there are two layers. To do this, go to File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack.
The order of the photos doesn’t matter, even though it will affect how you edit your image. (More on this later.)
2. Click on the top layer and set the opacity to around 30%. This will show you both photos and point out any flaws you need to take care of. If your tripod was a bit shaky (hopefully this isn’t the case), you’ll immediately see the results here.
3. At the bottom of the Layers box, there’s a rectangular symbol with a circle in the middle. This is the layer mask that will help you cut out any part of your image. Click on it.
4. If your first layer is a portrait, you’ll have to add parts of your model to the empty fence image. If your first layer is the fence, you’ll have to remove parts of your model. Either option is fine. In this tutorial, I’ll add parts of the subject to the shot.
5. Using the brush tool (opacity 100%), paint over the parts that you want to add or remove. Make sure you carefully paint inside of the squares. This will create very neat divisions in your photograph. If you make a mistake, press X on your keyboard to enable the erase tool.
6. Once you’re done with the main composition, clean up any edges. To quickly spot mistakes, click twice on the small eye icon on the left of your second layer.
7. You’re done! Now you can colour correct, fix any blemishes on your subject’s face, or leave your masterpiece as it is.
Creative Photography Ideas to Try
The method above isn’t the only way you can create cut out photographs. There are many other ideas that can enhance your results and give your creative mind a boost of inspiration. Consider this next idea an exciting Photoshop project that will improve your editing skills.
The Double Exposure Effect
During the same photoshoot for tutorial above, I took photos of various objects that stood out to me. One of these was an abstract-looking window reflection. On their own, simple photos don’t always look that appealing.
Don’t let their looks fool you, though. In reality, they have the power to completely transform simple portraits.
The benefit of taking your own “stock” photos is that they’ll beautifully complement your favourite images. Unlike online stock photos, they’re guaranteed to match the tones and shapes in your main shots.
This can help you create very natural but striking compositions. Here’s one of the many things you can do with your own resources:
1. Open your main image and stock photo. Make sure they’re in the same document.
2. Slightly lower the opacity of your stock photo.
3. Change the blending mode to Screen.
4. Edit the stock photo’s contrast in Curves. To do this, press Ctrl + M or Command + M on your keyboard.
5. Resize, transform, and warp your stock photo until you’re happy with the results. Let your creativity roam freely during this process.
As you can see, the results are very eye-catching. You can use this technique when working with simple portraits of any kind.
Silhouettes and Angles
When it comes to the cut out effect, you don’t have to take simple portraits. Play around with angles, perspectives, and lighting. Experiment with closeups, wide-angle shots, and panoramas.
These challenges won’t make the editing process any harder, since you’ll be working with similar shapes.
A creative but simple cut out effect can be made with the help of silhouettes. To do this, photograph your model in front of a light source. As you can see in the photo above, the light source should be brighter than the light on your model’s face.
For this tutorial, I used a simple fence. There’s an abundance of other foregrounds you can use. As long as something has patterned holes, it can be used as an effective foreground. Here are a few things you can use instead of a regular fence:
- A sieve (the editing process might be a bit tedious because of all the holes, but the results will be worth it)
- A fence with vertical poles
- A chain link fence (the diamond-shaped patterns will look stunning in your portraits)
- A ladder
Cut out photography is an exciting challenge that will strengthen both your photography and editing skills, regardless of how experienced you are in either area.
This technique is ideal for artists who want to work on new projects, get out of their comfort zones, and teach themselves something new about editing programs. The skills you gain after this experience will make you a better photographer in general.
Even though I’m not an expert at photo manipulation, I’m proud to have a cut out image in my portfolio.
No matter what genre you’re coming from, make sure you expose yourself to new ideas, techniques, and concepts. They’ll change the way you look at the world, yourself, and other people’s work.
Looking for more great creative photography tutorials? We have a great step by step guide on how to transfer photos to wood or magical still lives with smoke.
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