Picture In Picture

“How did you do that?” For some this questions is probably simple to answer. The following explanation is for those of you still scratching your head.

The idea for this shot came to me in the shower yesterday, where I do some of my best thinking. I was inspired by a photo I saw on Flickr a year and a half ago. In that picture two men are holding a large picture frame that appears to make them invisible inside the frame. It is obvious to me now which techniques were used and how, but at the time I was puzzled and impressed.

Many people have remarked that applying the Orton Effect to an image results in a picture that looks like a painting. I figured we could take it a step further. The idea was to shoot two pictures–one with Skye holding a large picture frame and another without Skye and the frame–and combine them. A portion of the second picture would be placed inside the frame of the first to make it look as though it was mounted in the frame when we took the photo. The first thing we had to do was take the two base photos. Skye and I hauled two tripods, a huge white/yellow reflector card, camera gear, and the large picture frame over the snow and ice to a spot far away from the lighthouse.

The Frame

While Skye held the frame I shot a few test shots and adjusted the settings on the camera and the speedlight. I controlled the camera’s shutter with an infrared remote. The tripod mounted Nikon D70s controlled the SB600 speedlight, which was also mounted on a tripod. The flash was positioned at about the height of Skye’s chest and just out of frame left. I held a large yellow card just over Skye’s head on the right. We fought the wind and braved the bitter cold until we were satisfied with the results. (manual mode, manual focus, ISO 200, f/5.6, 25mm, 1/125 sec.)

The Picture

With the hardest part over, all we had to do was have Skye step off the bench and move out of the frame so I could get a couple shots of the unobstructed lighthouse.

Post-processing was the fun part. First, I put both images through Dynamic Photo HDR to make them pop and bring out color and detail. Then I stacked the resulting JPEGs in Photoshop and straightened the horizon. With that bit of housekeeping done I turned my attention to the lighthouse layer: the one that would be placed inside the frame.

First I applied the Orton Effect to give it that surreal dreamy painting look. Then I added a dry brush filter to give it the look of painted brush strokes. Then I added a canvas texture to make it look even more like a painting. Now it was ready to go into the frame.

To get the proper width/height ratio I measured the inside dimensions of the frame with my tape measure: 19.5 x 15.5 inches. Then I selected the Rectangular Marquee Tool in Photoshop and set the style to Fixed Ratio with a width of 19.5 and a height of 15.5. Then I simply dragged a rectangle around over the picture frame Skye was holding at approximately the same size and position. I needed this selection so I could grab the portion of the lighthouse layer I needed. When the selection was positioned where I wanted it, I switched back to the lighthouse layer and created a new layer via copy (Ctrl-J). Then I moved this new layer above the picture of Skye holding the frame.

All that was left to do was to position the painting inside the frame. To do this I used the Transform Distort tool from the Edit menu and zoomed in so I could position the painting precisely. I dragged the handles to the inside corners of the frame and, voila!

Easy as pie. It turned out just the way I imagined (albeit with more gray clouds than I would have liked). If you have any questions please leave a comment.

One Reply to “Picture In Picture”

  1. Nice job, Brent. The careful flash lighting, in particular, is a nice touch – well worth the effort on a grey day like that – and in my opinion really “makes it”.

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