There are many reasons you might want to merge photos in Photoshop.
All of us take photos we wish were better. Sometimes it’s not until later, when we are reviewing our pictures, we notice something we’d not seen earlier. People blinking, animals moving, traffic passing in the background.
So let’s learn how to merge photos in Photoshop to avoid all that.
Why Take More Photos Than You Think You’ll Need
I don’t mean you need to set your camera to fire continuously at high speed all the time. Photographing wild amounts in rapid bursts is rarely going to produce stellar results.
Think carefully about what you’re photographing. Once you have your lighting and composition how you want it, take a series of images. This is especially important when there is movement in your composition.
Capturing more photos than you think you will need can help in two ways. You are more likely to get a pleasing image. If you still don’t get a single frame you are happy with, you have more options to combine and merge photos in Photoshop.
How to Merge Two Photos in Photoshop
The photos I am using as examples in this article were made within a few minutes of each other. In one photo more of my subject is visible, but she blinked. In the second photo her eyes are open, but I was standing closer to her. Both were made with an 85mm prime lens set at f2.
Step 1 – Choose Two Photos to Merge
Whatever your reason for merging two photos in Photoshop, some photos will merge more easily than others.
- Choose photos taken with the same focal length lens. For example, don’t try combining one photo made with a 24mm lens and another made with a 50mm lens. The difference in lens perspective will not allow you to merge the photos seamlessly.
- Make sure the lighting in both photos is the same, or very similar. This may not always seem necessary. But different lighting can cause very unnatural looking results.
- Use two photos of the same resolution.
- Pick photographs that are not too complicated.
- If you are choosing two photos made at a different time and location you will need to ensure the white balance in each is as close as possible to the other.
Step Two – Open a Photo
Open the first of your two photos. If your main subject is a different size in each photo, open the image where your subject is smallest. This way you can resize your second photo down, rather than upscaling it. Sizing down will not result in noticeable quality loose whereas scaling up may do.
Click the padlock icon on the right side of the layer in the Layers Menu to unlock the background layer..
Step Three – Open Your Second Photo
Then, from your computer’s filing system, drag and drop the second photo on top of the first.
There will be an overlaid X on the image and a box with transform handles around the edges. This is important if you need to resize your photo, as I do in this example.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
Bringing the second image into Photoshop in this manner includes it as a Smart Object. You can resize this better.
You will not want to enlarge either of the photos you are merging more than about 30 percent larger. If you do the clarity of the enlargement can be noticeably different.
Step Three – Position Your Photos to Match
Set the top image layer blend mode to Overlay so you can see the layer underneath as well. This will allow you to position the subject in the two images to match correctly.
Click Edit> Free Transform from the top menu, (or Ctrl + t on your keyboard.) With the Move tool selected position the top image so the parts of the top layer which you want to retain look good.
You may need to use the resize handles to enlarge, shrink or rotate this layer so the two layers match properly.
In my example I am mostly concerned with the way her eyes will look. I have scaled down my top layer and rotated it slightly so her eyes on both layers are aligned.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
If your camera position or subject move even a little, you may find it impossible to match the two subjects perfectly.
Once you are satisfied you have the top layer positioned well, press Enter.
Change the blend mode of your top layer back to Normal.
Step Four – Create a Mask and Erase
With your top layer selected, click the Add Vector Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. This creates a mask you can use to erase the parts of the top image you do not want to see.
Select the Brush tool and check the colour is set to black and at 100% opacity. Begin painting over the areas you want to eliminate.
If you make a mistake, switch the brush colour to with and painting over the same area will restore the image.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
Start at the parts of the image furthest away from the parts you want to keep and move in towards them. As you get closer you may want to make your brush size smaller and reduce the opacity.
This will mean you are not erasing entirely with each brush stroke you make. Working like this helps create a smoother transition around the area you are erasing.
Step Five – Check Your Accuracy
Switching the layer visibility off and on again in the Layers panel will help you to see if there is more of the image you need to work on.
Create a new layer in between your two existing layers. Fill it with a strong colour which does not appear in the photos you are working with.
This will show any parts of your top layer which are not erased properly.
To ensure both layers have the same tone value you may need to lighten or darken the top layer using the dodge and/or burn tools.
I used the dodge tool slightly around her eyes so the her skin tone matches on both layers.
Step Six – Merge The Two Layers
If you created an intermediary color layer, delete it. Now merge the two layers by choosing Layer> Flatten Image from the top menu.
Now you have a single merged image that looks better than either of the two you started with.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
You can apply this series of steps to any two or more images you wish to merge in Photoshop.
In my example I showed a very common reason for merging images – someone blinked when a photo was taken. This is even more common when photographing more than one person at a time.
In larger group photos you may have any number of people who blink as you press your shutter release button.
Combining images in Photoshop is a common practise among architectural photographers. Being able to light a whole scene evenly and capturing it in one frame can be challenging.
Setting your camera on a tripod and photographing a room or building exterior can be much more effective if you do it with multiple photographs. As you are photographing, plan light portions of the scene well. When you merge them, the whole image will appear to be well lit.
You can even merge two or more completely different photographs to create a surreal image. Your imagination is your only boundary.
Looking for more great Photoshop tutorials? Check our articles on how to swap faces or use the quick selection tool next!
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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