• Facebook

    500 K / likes

  • Twitter

    1 M / followers

How to Create a Surreal Self-Portrait That Shows You Holding Yourself


Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to create a photograph of you holding yourself up. I hope it will give you a good idea of how I create this type of image so that you can create a similar image yourself! Obviously, this is not the only way to create this type of image, but it is the way I have found most believable, as the connection between the two subjects actually occurs in real life. Enjoy!

For a composite image of one holding oneself, three images are key to the final product. They include (1) the original pose (me pretending like I’m holding myself, for a base to build off of), (2) the pant shadow piece to composite and (3) the hand/arm connection (me being held up by my friend).

The hand/arm connection is the most important part, as, even more than the shadows, it creates the connection between the duplicated subjects. To create the image the way I do, you’ll have to have someone helping you, and it’ll also be helpful to be wearing the same outfit/shirt.

This will make the image easier to manipulate, as parts can be composited from both bodies/sets of clothes.

To start the process, I simply “quick mask” the piece in which I am being held by my friend with a soft brush around the area, (as to contain surrounding area so that it will blend easier into the image) invert the selection, and drag it on to the base image of me posing as though I’m holding myself.

I add a temporary curves adjustment layer so that I can detail-erase the parts of the image I do not want.

I usually leave parts of the body/sky around the back and head, and erase the rest of the cutout right along the curves of the fabric in the body. I use a combination of soft and hard brushes to achieve a more blended look.

From here, I composite the shadow on my pants from the image of me holding my friend up (shadow from the left side, right leg, gets composited to the other leg). I use the transform and warp tools to spread the shadow across my pant legs more realistically.

It also helps to mess around with the opacity of the shadow being composited, because not all shadows are the same – some soft, some hard, and they always dissipate from the area that is closest to the body.

Think of the way a gradient works – it’s the same idea: dark in the middle, and lighter as it moves away from the middle.

At this point, the image of you holding yourself up should look pretty good – aside from some major details that are easy to miss. This seems to be where images like this fail – many people forget that details like pants, arms, feet, hands, and others get masked over, erased out, and blended in while creating heavily-composited images like this.

The solution, of course, is to add these detail back in. Check your image for signs of over-masking and areas erased out, and then, piece by piece, add them back in. This is what will make the image top-notch and believable. Watch out for overlapping shadows or shadows that spill from the body onto the back ground behind the subject – this is a huge thing to watch out for because it’s easy to notice.

Also, look out for the relative lightness and contrast of each composited piece of the body, and make sure they match. For this image, the feet of the subject that was being “held” and it’s surrounding area didn’t match the rest of the road, so I had to use a curves layer to bring up the brightness, and then dodge and burn selectively until I could get it correctly matched.

The rest is up to you – I decided to expand the frame using the Brenizer Method, and composite in some clouds to make the image darker.

This is just a crash course on how I create this type of image. My hope is that PetaPixel’s readers can use it to create an even better image than this one. I can’t wait to see what you guys produce. Happy shooting (and compositing, masking, etc)! ;)

P.S. Special thanks to my bud Justin for helping out with this, and also for everyone else who helped in creating the other ones that unfortunately didn’t work out, including Joey, Sam, Alex, and Brian!

About the author: David Talley is a 19-year-old fine art photographer based in La Verne, California. His surreal self-portraits have been widely published and praised around the web. Visit his website here.