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  • Writer's pictureJanice Gill

How to Improve Group Photos with Photoshop

An easy method to replace people in photos.

Five young children sitting on a log seat together.
Cousins together at Llyn Coed Y Dinas. Photo by Janice Gill.

Years ago, creating this photo from two prints would have taken hours of cutting and pasting. It's a technique that would have been used regularly for magazine work, but rarely for personal shots such as this one of five of my grandchildren.

I love this image. It's a pleasing composition and captures the children nicely. I use it as the opening screen on my computer, and it makes me smile every time I see it. And that's what's important. It started out as two separate images and took less than an hour to create. It would have been worth every moment if it had taken all day.

These are the two original shots.

Five young children on log seat with one moving away.
Cousins on log seat 1

Five young children on log seat, one pulling a face.
Cousins on log seat 2

Children are notoriously difficult to photograph as a group, admirably demonstrated by these two snapshots, taken on my phone camera. Trying to take more shots would have made the children upset as they wanted to explore.

Fortunately, Photoshop came to my rescue.

I know Photoshop can be seen as a swear word as it can be used to deceive, but when changes remain faithful to the subject, it is a wonderful tool. In this case, I've left every child, the main subjects, unchanged.

I use Photoshop 2023, which is available on a monthly subscription, so my screenshots show the current version. There may be slight changes if you are using an older version. This process is similar when using most photo-editing programmes.

Base photo as seen in photoshop
Base photo, screenshot in Photoshop.

Choosing Base Photo

The first step is to open all the photos you need in Photoshop. Name each one so you can easily identify it from the list of open images on the third row of the top menu bar.

I have used the photo with the largest area that I want to keep, i.e. the right-hand two-thirds. I usually choose the photo that needs the least changes to be my base photo.

I have made no changes to the base image at this stage.

Selecting the area to change

Next, I'll be making a selection from the second photo to layer over the top of the base image. In this case, I have used the rectangular marquee tool from the left-hand menu.

photo 2 with selection shown by dotted line around rectangle.
Dotted line on second photo shows the selection made with rectangular marquee tool.

The shape marquee tool is the second button down in the left toolbar. Right-click on the button to see the alternative shapes. To select an area, place the cursor at the top left of the area you want to keep, hold the mouse key down and swipe right and down. Your selection will be delineated by a moving dotted line. You can undo a selection by going to edit in the top bar menu and pressing undo selection.

Once you are happy, press CTRL and C together to copy the selection.

Base photo now has selection added over the top.
Imported selection on the base photo. Note the layer pane on the bottom right now shows two layers.

Importing selection into base photo

Next, go back to your base photo and press CTRL and V. The selected image will appear over the top of the photo. To move the selection, go to the move tool at the top of the left-hand toolbar, then click on your selection. Hold the left-hand mouse button down to place your selection wherever you wish. Here, I lined up the bottom swirl on the log.

You may also need to transform the selection as I did here to match the scales of the two photos. To do this, click on Edit in the top menu bar, go down to Transform on the drop-down menu, then choose Scale from the second drop-down box. Your selection will now have a blue border with white toggles on it. Dragging the toggles will change the scale, allowing you to match important points. In my case, I lined up all the rings on the log, ignoring the outer edges. Slight movements and adjustments to scale will allow you to place the selection to match your base photo. Once you are happy, press commit on the grey bar below your transformed selection.

Cropping the Image

The image now needs cropping to remove the parts on the outer edges that don't match. The crop tool is the fifth button down on the left-hand menu bar. Click on it, and the whole image will have toggles at the sides and corners. Drag these to exclude the edges that don't match. Double-click in the centre of the image to accept the changes.

Screenshot in Adobe Photoshop of camera raw filter in use to alter lighting.
Camera Raw Filter showing increase of light temperature.

Matching the Light

My two photos had quite a different light quality. One was much warmer than the other.

To fix this, I altered the temperature of the base photo using the Camera Raw filter.

To do this, highlight the layer you want to adjust in the right-hand layer pane.

Click on Filters and choose camera raw filter from the drop-down menu. The top slider adjusts the temperature. You can make other adjustments here, too, such as exposure and contrast and a long list of other tweaks.

Final Tweaks

The final tweaks are usually done on a flattened image so that the effects apply to the whole image. Flatten your image by going to Layers in the top menu bar and choosing Flatten from the drop-down menu. You can now make any further changes necessary.

Choosing the best starter photos

The best photos to start with are ones taken without moving your camera between shots. This means the background is perfectly aligned, and the light should be the same. In my case, I moved between shots, so I had adjustments to make to the background, which I did with the spot healing brush.

Make more of your back catalogue

Exploring your back catalogue may highlight some group photos of your own that you'd like to improve, especially at celebrations. This is a very simple way of improving them.

If you have trouble following these instructions, let me know in the comments, and I will try to help.

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