Photoshop How-To: Clone Yourself!

Alex Castle

Adobe's Photoshop is industry-standard software, used by creative professionals all over the world. It's a serious tool, with serious uses. But don't let all that fool you—it's also a ton of fun. That's why we're starting a new series of how-tos, where we'll show you how even photoshop-beginners can use the program to achieve lots of cool and fun effects. To kick it off, we'll show you how to do this:

Yep, you can clone yourself, using just a DSLR camera, a tripod, and Adobe Photoshop.  The steps involved in this tutorial will act as a crash course in manual DSLR shooting, the use of a stable tripod, and the fundamental applications of ‘layers’ in Photoshop.  As with any other creative hobby, learning these basic ideas will serve you well as you journey further down the complex path of photo editing and illustration.

What you'll need

A DSLR Camera
A wide-angle lens
A Tripod
Photoshop CS2 or higher
About 45 minutes

The shoot

I’ll say this up front so the question doesn’t come up later:  This cannot be done without a DSLR camera, do don’t bother screwing your digital point and shoot into a tripod.  A point and shoot camera is convenient and portable.  It’s quick and easy, but it thinks on its own.  It changes its shutter speeds and f-stops without permission or consent, stifling creative freedom by making critical decisions for you.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking to heighten the quality of your images beyond the realm of under-lit and out of focus Facebook group portraits, you’re going to have to make the jump into manual photography.

Many DSLR cameras have an ‘automatic’ mode, which essentially recreates what a point and shoot camera does.  It compensates for available light, automatically makes changes, and fires at the settings it chooses.  Like a typical house cat, it does what it wants, when it wants, with or without your consent.  Manual SLR photography is much more akin to owning a big, loyal, obedient dog.  Sure he’s bigger and heavier, but under the proper guidance he’ll do exactly as he’s told, and pick up and learn new tricks along the way. Dogs rule.

Now, for the shoot!  You’ll have the best luck pulling this off the first time if you keep things as simple as possible.  Pick a wide open space with plenty of room within the frame.  If this is your first time, make sure and shoot during broad daylight, as shifting light is far less noticeable during the day than it is at dawn or dusk.  Shifting light can throw the effect off, so remember, once you plant that camera and take the first shot, move quickly and with purpose.  Also, remember that the goal of this shoot is to take as many separate photos of ‘you’ occupying the same physical space as possible.  In other words, once you’ve planted that camera and taken the first shot, the camera shouldn’t move an inch until the shoot is over.

Think you’ve found a nice spot to begin your shoot?  Hold that thought!  An important distinction:  What you see with your own two eyes is not what your camera sees through its viewfinder.  Fire a couple of test shots to make sure you’re comfortable with the available light.  Tinker with your light meter and ISO settings until your test shots are clear and well lit, with a broad depth of field.  If you’re shooting in daylight, keep your ISO between 200 and 300 in order to maintain a nice, snappy shutter.

Above: A photo that's too dim.

Below: One that'sjust right.

Once you’ve got the proper settings dialed in, low and behold, they’ll STAY that way!  Ah, the joys of owning a manual DSLR camera.

Grab a sturdy tripod (preferably one with a leveler, so you know it’s planted on even ground) and latch your camera into the locking mechanism.  Make SURE the legs are planted sturdily, as even the slightest movement can throw off the whole effect.  Now that you’re comfortable with your test shots and have acquired the peace of mind that your camera won’t radically shift or alter any of your settings, you are ready to shoot!

For this tutorial, we’re going to make an image with six clones.  Set your cameras self timer and position yourself for the first shot.  Positioning is critical to nailing this effect; you must make sure that each of your clones won’t overlap with one another but also that each of your clones stay in frame.  After firing your first picture, head back to your camera and gently (you don't want to move the camera) press the playback button to make sure you're in frame.  If you are, move to another location within frame and keep shooting!  Keep in mind, you’re moving around, but your camera must remain stationary.  After you've got six images of yourself placed in different spots, you’re ready to start cloning!  Here are the six images I shot in about five minutes.

Next up, Photoshop!


So how do we turn six images of the same person into one?  To make things simple, we’ll focus only on two images at first.  Open your first two images in Photoshop.  They will be separated by tabs on the upper left hand corner.

On the second image (the one where you're slightly to the right of your original self) go to 'Edit' and 'Select All' (Ctrl+A).  You’ll know the image is selected when a large square is sketched around the photo.  With the image selected, go to 'Edit' then 'Copy' (Ctrl+C).  Now switch back over to your original image.  Click 'Edit' then 'Paste' (Ctrl+V).  You have now pasted your second image directly on top of your first one.  In other words, you have successfully created two separate layers.

Direct your attention to your ‘layers tab’ located at the bottom right corner of your screen.  You should see both images, one on top of the other.  When photos begin stacking on top of one another, they become layers.  The top layer, in this instance, is the only visible layer.  The layer below is almost identical to the one above it; the only difference is that ‘you’ are standing in a different place.  Keep in mind that all six images you shot have an identical backdrop, because your camera never moved.  Your location in relation to that backdrop is what should change from image to image.  Grab the eraser tool, and make sure your top layer is selected.

Above: The eraser tool

Below: Select the top layer

Begin brushing the eraser along the left side of the image, where ‘you are’ in the picture underneath.  If you forgot where you are in the picture below, simply click the ‘eye’ on the top layer to make it disappear.  Once you see yourself below, click the eye icon again to erase yourself in.

Keep erasing until your new clone is fully visible.  Since the back ground below is exactly the same as it is above, you don't have to worry about erasing too much.

Now it’s time to combine these two layers into one solid picture.  Remember your layers tab?  Right click one of your layers and scroll down to “Merge Visible”.

Congratulations!  You now have two identical versions of ‘you’ in a single photograph!  Repeating the process is simply a matter of copying additional images and ‘erasing’ yourself in again, but just to be on the safe side, we’ll go through bringing in your third clone.

So now, we have a single layered picture, with two clones.

Open another image of yourself in Photoshop.  Once again, you will have two tabs.

Click over to the right tab (or whichever image only has a single person in it) and repeat the prior steps.  Hit Ctrl+A to select the image, then hit Ctrl+C to copy the image.  Click over to your original image and hit Ctrl+V to paste over it.  Now, just like before, you have to ‘erase’ the two copies of yourself back into the photo.

Keep erasing until all three of your clones appear in the image.  Then, just like before, right click on the top layer and click on ‘merge visible’.  You now have a single image populated with three clones.

You can repeat these steps to add as many clones as you’d like, just so long as they don’t overlap with one another.  After adding all six of my clones into the image and added a simple monochrome filter I came away with this:

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