Multi-Image Portraits; Combining Images For A Unique Look

I had a thought (it happens!) back in the `80s. I was thinking how great it would be to create a portrait piece of someone that combined several images together to show the many facets of that individual. Let's take an example. Suppose you were commissioned to do a portrait of a young man. His interests may include playing football, swimming, sailing, playing guitar, etc.

"Morning Ritual"
The clients own a Coffee company so this brought on the theme. The image is composed of 8 separate photos, one of each client, the cup, the pot, and 2 separate hands. A plain Rembrandt background and several smoke photos were used; the rest was cut and pasted and blended in Photoshop.
© 2007, Craig Kienast, All Rights Reserved

My thinking was to photograph this individual while he was doing these activities, and somehow combine all these images together into one super image with all the individual ones. Great idea, right? Man, I thought, I could get paid a fortune for doing this kind of work! The only problem was, I couldn't figure out how to do it! Make a few small prints and tack them up and copy them? Not quite the elegant image I was going for. Print them on one piece of paper using masking techniques? Possibly, but not an easy task for someone not owning a color lab. Do a "brain shot" like at weddings, where you put the bride's face in the groom's head? Yuck! Oh well, nice idea, but just too complicated and time consuming. Time to move on.

This shows the 2 images to combine for the final result.
© 2007, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

Fast forward to 2006. Film is fast becoming a memory, and anyone with image-editing software is capable of combining images to create spectacular effects. Of course, the key word here is capable, because the old computer axiom of "Garbage In, Garbage Out" is especially true of today's digital photographer. But in the hands of a skilled artist/photographer, wonderful things can happen.

This is the final image from the studio shot and some weeds blended together. (Model: Bridget Brunet.)
© 2007, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

By combining excellent photography with Photoshop or other software skills, today's photographers can create multi-image masterpieces that were unthinkable just a few years ago. The most successful ventures usually involve preplanning with the finished image in mind before any photos are taken. Much like a video production, a "storyboard" is often made that lays out approximate images and image placement before photography begins.

"The Hunter"
This image was preplanned. The first step was to make sure the gun wasn't loaded! The two photos were taken then cut and pasted. Some blending was done in Painter also.
© 2007, Craig Kienast, All Rights Reserved

The head of the rose was photographed separately and brought in as the background.
© 2007, Craig Kienast, All Rights Reserved

Types Of Multi-Image Portraits
To my way of thinking, there are 2 main types of multi-image portraits, those that use several images of the subject and those that combine other random images that are good candidates for adding texture and depth to an image. Those that involve several images of the subject are self-explanatory. Examples of random images to be included with the subject include clouds, flowers, sand, rocks, marble, weeds, grass, etc. With random images, the goal is to enhance the subject or add interest, not compete with the main subject. And remember, with image-editing programs, you can change colors, contrast and opacity at will to find just the look you desire.

(Above) Shows the photos used for a combo. (Below) Final image from the outdoor session and a weed shot. (Model: Darci Morrill.)
© 2007, Steve Bedell, All Rights Reserved

Technical Considerations
My combos were done relatively easy. Once I picked two images I thought would work well together, I made sure they were the same size, such as both at 11x14" at 300dpi. That allowed me to drag one image on top of the other and have it all aligned properly. Before doing that, I ran each image through levels and curves as needed, and even desaturation in both these cases. Once I had the opacity I liked, I simply used the eraser tool at about 14 percent and erased areas I wanted to show through more. Once I had it the way I liked it, which is very subjective, I flattened the image and saved it as a JPEG for printing. I first saved it as a PSD so I could go back to the image in layers and make changes without starting over.