You’ve probably seen multiplicity photography before, maybe presented as a funny story-telling composite or in a fine art photograph. I like to disrupt the usual presentation style of exhibitions and photo essays by incorporating multiplicity photographs.
It’s a fun and creative way to mix things up (and entertain your kids in the school holidays!)
Multiplicity photography is also one of the more deceivingly simple Photoshop projects to do. I’ll show you the steps of how to merge photos in Photoshop, how to layer photos in Photoshop, and all the other techniques to create your surreal work of art.
What Is Multiplicity Photography?
Multiplicity photography is the process of merging images in Photoshop to create ‘clones’ of a person or object. Essentially this is a (mostly) painless method of cloning someone and giving them a twin.
The original photographs are made with the multiplicity photographic process in mind, and they tell a clear story or message. Selected photographs are loaded into one Photoshop file, where layer masks are carefully created.
Always wondered how to Photoshop a person into a picture or clone yourself? Read on!
Tools and Gear
You’ll need a tripod and a camera with a timer or remote (if you’re doing self-portraits). If you don’t have a tripod, use a sturdy flat surface such as a table or chair. Experiment with different lenses.
For multiplicity photography, I usually alternate between my trusty 50mm prime lens and a 17mm-40mm wide angle lens. It’s a good idea to brush up on your ACR or Lightroom techniques too, and of course you’ll need Photoshop.
Have a clear idea of the story you want to tell. It doesn’t need to be complex or fancy. The best concepts are often the simplest. I get a lot of my inspiration for multiplicity photos by watching situations and thinking “I wish I could capture that moment unfolding”.
It’s also an easy way to include repeated shapes and patterns in your photography. Not all my ideas work out, but even the failures provide valuable learning opportunities and practice creating Photoshop layers and masks.
How to Make a Multiplicity Photograph
Step 1. The Photoshoot
For this example, I’m going to show three Elises dancing ‘together’ by combining three photos in Photoshop CC 2018 on my Windows computer.
Getting the photos right at the start of the process makes the process seamless. If you want to avoid tearing out your hair in frustration, take the time to plan your photo shoot.
Keep the basics in mind. Avoid strong contrasting light and shadow. Use your settings wisely, shoot in raw, and consider your composition.
For Elise’s dancing, I set the camera up on the tripod and made sure it didn’t budge. Then I asked Elise to move around and pose in different parts of the frame. I used a narrow aperture so that there would be a decent depth of field.
The light was constant throughout the photo shoot. If the sun suddenly emerged from behind the clouds, I would have stopped clicking the shutter – it’s essential for the light and shadow conditions to be consistent for each photograph.
I took about twenty photographs, with the aim of using three or four in my final multiplicity photograph. In an ideal world, I would have done some weeding in the garden first!
Step 2. Preparing the Photographs
Choosing the right photographs for your multiplicity photograph is an important process.
I often load my favourites into the same Photoshop file, then turn each layer on and off (click on the ‘eye’ icon next to each layer) to see how they work together.
Sometimes I do a rough layer mask for each of them, and then discard unwanted files (and sometimes I spend ages carefully painting around an entire shape and still discard it!)
- Open the first raw image in Photoshop. Open the folder with your other Photoshop-ready photos for the project, and drag them onto the main image in Photoshop.
- Rasterize the photos by right-clicking on each of the layers. Double-click on the titles of the photo layers to give them clear names.
- We’re going to ‘cut out’ the first Elise-shape for the photo. I’ve single-clicked on that layer and clicked the ‘eye’ icon on the layer above to hide it.
- Use the Polygonal Lasso tool to ‘click around’ the main shape. This creates a blinking series of dots around the shape that we call ‘marching ants’.
Step 3. How to Create Layer Masks in Photoshop
- Once you’ve joined up the marching ants around the shape using the Polygonal Lasso tool, click Layer – Layer Mask – Reveal Selection. Click CTRL D for PC or CMD D for Mac to remove the ants. You now have a rough cut-out of the first shape. This process has created a layer mask which you can see attached to the layer on the lower right.
- Repeat the process on the other shapes. For this, I clicked on the top layer, and clicked on the ‘eye’ icon so I could see it again. Before you start cutting out each shape, make sure you’ve single-clicked on the layer you want to work on.
- Leave one photograph intact with its background.
Now it’s time for some fine-tuning or refining. Coffee is usually required for this stage.
- Click on the layer mask you want to work on (click on the little box that you’ve just created with the Polygonal Lasso tool, not just the title of the layer).
- Click on the brush tool. You can experiment with the size and hardness of the brush. For Elise’s photos, I used a softer brush around the hair and a harder, smaller brush for the rest of the shape.
- To help see where I needed to brush, I clicked ‘channels’ then selected the option at the bottom of the stack.
- Use the brush to ‘paint’ around the shape. At the lower left of your screen, switch between the black and white foreground colours to either hide or reveal sections. You’re not permanently deleting anything because you’re working with layers.
- When you’re happy with your photo, save the Photoshop file with its layers. I merged the layers and tweaked Elise’s photo, fixing the concrete and adding some clarity (then saved it as a separate Photoshop file and JPEG).
How to Duplicate in Photoshop
Sometimes you might want to go a bit Andy Warhol with your multiplicity photographs and use the same image repeated. I’ve used one of Elise’s dancing photos to demonstrate how to clone in Photoshop.
- Open the photo in Photoshop. Duplicate, and rename the layers. I’ve called the new one ‘Left Elise’ and the original photo ‘Middle Elise’.
- Create a layer mask on the new duplicate layer. Click on the layer you want to move, and use the Transform Tool (CTRL T for PC or CMD T for Mac) to shift it to the correct spot.
- Refine the edges of this layer mask.
- When you’ve finished refining the new layer, duplicate this copied layer and layer mask (right click, ‘duplicate’). The hard work of refining the edges has already been done which makes things a bit faster.
- Rename the new layer and layer mask. You can see this one is now called ‘Right Elise’. Use the Transform Tool to move this new layer to the correct spot.
- Save the layered Photoshop file. Tweak the individual layers, or merge and adjust the whole photo.
My Paint Brush Is Only Painting Black and White
This means you’ve selected the layer, but not the actual layer mask.
Make sure you’ve clicked on the little box attached to the main layer you’re working on.
I Can’t See the Photograph I’m Working On!
There’s probably another photo layer in the way. Click on the layer you’re working on, and drag it to the top of the layer stack on the lower right.
Alternatively, turn off the layers above it by clicking on the eye icons next to them, and this should reveal the photo you need to see.
I Have Fuzzy Edges.
If the edges aren’t sharp enough when you’re ‘cutting around’ (masking) a shape, it means you need to adjust the ‘hardness’ slider in the brush tool.
Sometimes making the brush smaller can help too.
I’m Getting Confused About What Photo I’m Working On.
This is understandable when you’re working with lots of images. Check if all your photos are clearly labeled.
If you’re still having trouble, turn off all the layers except the one you’re working on.
Multiplicity Photography Examples and Scenarios
Need some ideas and inspiration? I’ve put together ten ideas for you to consider for your next Photoshop project!
- A volleyball, netball, or football team where all the players are the same person in different positions;
- A whole line of you waiting at the bus stop or doing the conga;
- A dog leaping to catch frisbee, with the photo showing different stages of the jump;
- Six of same person eating dinners around the dining table;
- A skateboarder flying through the air at different stages of their trick;
- A child at a playground on all the different equipment;
- You laughing at yourself;
- You pouring yourself a drink;
- Four band members – all the same person;
- A running race with the same person.
Photoshop projects don’t need to be serious. Spend time practicing creating layer masks, and you’ll find multiplicity photography a cinch.
Don’t worry about making mistakes and starting over – it’s the best way to learn. The way you see your world is original, so gather inspiration from your day-to-day life and the people around you.