Monday, December 24, 2012

Our Holiday Photo - How I added our dog to our family picture

December is a really busy month for us photographers, since so many of our clients reach out to us for their annual holiday photos. I try my hardest to capture family portraits for any of our friends or family who request them. I also end up editing a whole lot of family photos from this past year's events, as the requests come piling in. With all of this happening, it is sometimes difficult for me to capture my own family portrait. There are times in the past, when we have sent out a photo of our kids (which is much easier for me to shoot), but it is always nice to have the whole family if possible. So...this year, on Thanksgiving Day, while spending an hour capturing family photos for extended family members, I set up my camera and asked one of our relatives to shoot our family portrait.

He did a great job of holding the camera steady, and his framing was pretty good, but after seeing the images, I was a little unhappy with the gaping hole in the middle of our group. If I had been shooting the image, I would probably have asked my son and I to move a little closer to each other, but I was not shooting and couldn't tell until later in the evening and it was too late to re-shoot.

A week went by and I decided to play with the image a little more, and then it hit me! Our new puppy, Cooper, was not with us on Thanksgiving and needed to be added to the image. And that hole in the middle would be a perfect place for him. So I decided to take an OK image and make it better.

Here are the steps I took in order to make this happen...

This is the original RAW file. The first thing I needed to do was to make adjustments to the exposure and contrast.

Step one: Using Adobe Camera RAW, I brightened the image by half a stop and added a little contrast.

Step 2: I needed to shoot photos of Cooper to drop into our family photo. Trying to keep the lighting the same, I took Cooper outside in my backyard to use natural light and a little fill flash (just like we did on Thanksgiving Day). I knew that I needed Coopers front paws to be raised so that it would look natural behind my wife and daughter. I put a wood bench in front of him and my wife kept his attention with some treats. As you can see, I shot plenty of frames to try and get him looking at the camera and with that perfect expression on his face.

Step 3: I found the photo of Cooper that looked best, and, using the lasso tool in Adobe Photoshop CS6, did a rough outline around him and copied that part of the image.

Step 4: I pasted the image of Cooper into a new layer onto our family photo.

I could have dropped in Cooper without resizing him, looking a little like the old cartoon "Clifford The Big Red Dog", but decided that I should make it look a little more realistic. :)

Step 5: Using the Transform feature, I re-sized the layer so that Cooper would not be "Clifford the Big Red Dog" huge.

The size is much better now, but you can see that I still have a ways to go.

Step 6: I create a Layer Mask for Cooper's layer and paint out the background surrounding the dog and make sure that my wife and daughter are not covered by any of Cooper.

This is what the image looked like with Cooper in place, but the image is not complete yet. There were a couple of small distractions in the photo (garden hose, stray leaves, shadows...) that I removed.

Step 7: I ran a Photoshop Plugin called "Portraiture" to smooth our skin a little bit. Some people might think that this is cheating, but hey, I am just using it slightly, and we do look better! :)

Step 8: For the final step, I cropped the image to a 5x7 aspect ration to drop into our holiday card. 

And there you have it. A fairly simple way for you to add your pet into your family portrait. Actually, I think this is probably easier than trying to take the same photo with all five of us. Cooper is still a puppy and not all that obedient or calm. I am not sure that he would have stood still for this shot, and I can almost guarantee that the four of us would not have been as calm if he was in the middle of us all. 

I hope that this helps all of you aspiring photographers to make a better family portrait in the future. 

Happy holidays everyone!


Unknown said...

Very nice Family Photo... and thanks for the step by step procedure/information on using Photoshop.. thanks a lot.. Happy Holidays, sir Jeff. I really like your photography styles..

Unknown said...

Wow.. it's like magic when using Photoshop.. I really liked your photography. Thanks for the added information & step by step procedure.. Happy holidays..

Online Blog Describing Bespoke Printing Techniques said...

Interesting post you have added here, you have done great work the final picture is really looking great after filling the blank space with this i agree with your thoughts that 'Cooper is still a puppy and not all that obedient or calm so obviously you are all would not have been as calm if he was in your middle area. said...

I'm not quite ready for all this hi-tech stuff yet - but will use your info as soon as I am a bit more experienced - so thanks for the 'tutorial' - very interesting ! I have been wondering what you use one as your monitor ? For you to create and view your wonderful photos so accurately and clearly - you must have a great monitor ? Do you have any recommendations you could give me - as I would like to buy one to use to view and improve my photos. It wouldn't be an apple ( which I know are good) as I will be using the monitor with my dell computer - any other makes you know that are excellent for photographers? I am hoping to work towards professional work in the future....and you have been a real inspiration, so I would value your advice as the choice seems bewildering to me ! Thanks Amanda. ps Happy New Year !

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Amanda - I am using the Apple 30" Cinema Display and love it. As you said, this is better suited to Apple users and probably not the best choice for you. I am not too familiar with other monitors for PCs, so I may not be able to help you there. I have used Dell monitors in the past and did not like them. Also, make sure that you get a color calibrator. This is essential.

elainenewell said...

Useful pet photo technique
Thanks for sharing your perspective. It can seem as easy as 1,2,34.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic story! Adding your puppy, Cooper, to the family photo was a brilliant idea. It’s amazing how creativity and photo editing can turn an "okay" image into a cherished memory. Balancing professional and personal lives during the busy holiday season is a real challenge. Your solution to fill the gap in the photo with Cooper made it even more special. Thanks for sharing this heartwarming holiday story!