I've got to get us into their life
November 29, 2012 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Photoshop filter: Yikes, my mother-in-law wants me to combine a photo of our family with one of theirs to make a Christmas photo for printing (4x6). The problem: theirs was taken with an old, 4mp point-and-shoot, whereas ours was taken with a Canon 7D. Is there a way to degrade our image so that the composite doesn't look absurd?

I'm a reasonably competent photographer, and they aren't, so our picture is in better focus, has better lighting, and so on. I know virtually nothing about photoshop, but is there a way to reasonably match the photos? I know you can't easily match the light, but is there something else to do for the overall IQ differences? Or would I be better off getting our old point and shoot and taking a crappy photo of us and using that to match?

Unfortunately, we can't go to the location of their photo or use their camera. Also unfortunately, we can't do something whimsical and/or funny, playing off the fact that the photos don't match. We need this to be as seamless as possible.

I have Photoshop CS4, for what it's worth.

posted by griseus to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
The mismatched lighting is what's really going to make this intractable, no matter how closely you manage to replicate the lower IQ (by which I am going to presume you meant "image quality.") Can you at least reshoot your family with your camera under similar lighting conditions?
posted by contraption at 4:33 PM on November 29, 2012

When you say combine, do you mean like, cutting the people out of one photograph and pasting them into the other so it all looks like you are posing together? Or do you mean just placing the two photos side-by-side in a pleasing composition of images? Because if you mean the first, there's a lot of tricks but it's going to be a pain in the butt and look cheesy no matter what you do. If you can press for it, try making a side by side composition instead.

One thing that might help you a lot, since you're a photoshop novice, is making both images black and white to start with. Would that be okay for your MiL? When you take color out of the equation a lot of the lighting issues are much easier to resolve. Black and white is very appropriate for holiday family photos, I think, but plenty of people (maybe the people who want fake composite group shots) might object to it on account of it not feeling festive.

When you make an image black and white you can more easily match stuff like contrast and skin brightness. You'll want to make liberal use of the curves filter to make the darks in your photo match the darks in their photo, and so-on.

If black and white is totally impossible, it will still be helpful to you to make it black and white while working on it. To do that temporarily, you make an adjustment layer for hue & saturation, and drag the saturation slider down to zero. Then mess with your curves and so-on to match the other photo in further adjustment layers on top. When you think you're in the ballpark, you can click the little eye icon in the layers palette to un-view the saturation layer, which will bring the colors back.

I think your best bet is to reshoot with lighting as similar to the other photo as possible. You'll also want to shoot with as plain a background as you can, and to help you in the masking stage you'll need to make sure stuff like fly-away hair and fuzzy clothes are kept to an absolute minimum.
posted by Mizu at 4:35 PM on November 29, 2012

You can correct/match white balance (if it wasn't adjusted correctly in-camera). Also, adjust highlights (probably overdeveloped if they used a flash) and background fill light. You could even go as far as masking all the people in the photo and applying a slight blur to the background – a shallower depth of field, even if it's faked, could make all the difference. Scale down your image instead of just resizing it if it's a resolution issue in addition to all of the above.
posted by halogen at 4:38 PM on November 29, 2012

When you say combine, do you mean like, cutting the people out of one photograph and pasting them into the other so it all looks like you are posing together? Or do you mean just placing the two photos side-by-side in a pleasing composition of images?

I mean the former, cutting my family out of our photo and sticking us in the other one.

Color is necessary, but it looks like I'm going to have to reshoot to match the lighting more closely.

Thanks for the tips, everyone, please keep them coming if you have anything to add.
posted by griseus at 4:43 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there a way to degrade our image so that the composite doesn't look absurd?

I'm probably stating the obvious, but you do know how to reduce image size in a way that lowers the resolution, right? Some of the options on this menu are what I'm referring to. Would that help with some of your image quality issues?
posted by salvia at 4:59 PM on November 29, 2012

I think you may be drastically overestimating how much 99% of the population cares about whether or not a Christmas card is competently-photoshopped. Even the most inept cut-and-paste job will be greeted with an "Oh, how cute!" by almost every single person who receives it. The bar is extremely low here, just make it happen. Unless you happen to know that your mother-in-law has unreasonable expectations, in which case you might have to steer her in another direction, like suggest that you do some kind of collage theme from lots of pictures, or something else that is fun and related to her original idea but more doable. Don't propose it as "your idea is bad, let's do this instead" but rather as "your idea is great, what if we did this with it?"
posted by Scientist at 6:32 PM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's going to be a lot easier to nicely crop people out of a high-res image than a low-res one. So do the matting with your original, high-res photo.

Old crappy digital cameras tend to have the following problems:
- Low saturation. (ctl-U)
- color noise (Filters -> Noise -> add noise) (Do this after you've sized it down.)
- JPG compression artifacts. (File ->Save for Web ->JPEG will let you play with it a lot.)
- Bad white balance. In this case you're probably better off fixing their white balance than screwing up yours.

But I wouldn't put tons of time into it. As Scientist says, most people won't care.
posted by Ookseer at 7:09 PM on November 29, 2012

I'm just glad your mother in law isn't mine, because this would bug the heck out of me. I'd probably try to get some sort of pleasing layout using both photos rather than trying to combine them. Even if no one else cares, I would.

Could your MIL not at least get a friend with a decent camera to take a picture and email it to you?

Even that will not look completely right: your MIL needs to understand that even great Photoshop isn't going to make these "seamless". The most she can hope for is "clunky" or possible "artsy" if you're a genius with filters/use black and white/etc.

How is this going to be distributed? If a crappy Xerox, then I guess quality really doesn't matter. If an email, it will be on everyone's Facebook. If she wants something suitable for printing/framing, it's gonna look like crap.
posted by emjaybee at 7:47 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, nthing Scientist.

And Ookseer: add noise to the combined images at the end.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 8:34 PM on November 29, 2012

Re-shoot your family holding a large-ish (but not too large obviously) empty picture frame. Maybe it has reindeer antlers sticking out the side of it. Photoshop the low-res picture into the picture frame.
posted by mikepop at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mikepop's idea is genius. Doesn't have to be an empty picture frame either, just take a big picture down off the wall if you have one, you're going to replace the inside anyway.
posted by Scientist at 3:11 PM on November 30, 2012

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