Initially, Nico wasn't convinced that she wanted to participate in the photo shoot.

Most of the time, I try to get the shot right in the camera. I’ve never thought of myself as a Photoshop artist, although I use Photoshop on a daily basis for minor things like removing blemishes and adjusting color. However, sometimes an idea just calls out for a change to the “normal” policy.

Heidi came to me with the idea of doing some fun and slightly surreal portraits with her family. We would use some Photoshop tricks to make an unusual final image. The key was to convince the talent, her daughter Nico, to go along with the shoot. Nico’s a little bit camera shy. However, with the promise that she could dress up like a princess, and wear a little makeup, a deal was struck. We decided to shoot the photos with a “tea party” theme, to match the princess outfit. The final image was going to be Nico holding a teacup with her parents inside.

Because Nico needed a little bit of encouragement to warm up to the idea of being in front of the camera, we practiced by taking some pictures of Heidi and David. Not only did seeing Mom and Dad in their photos allow Nico to get more comfortable with the studio, but it also gave me the opportunity to practice some of the techniques we’d use to create the final composite image.

Eventually, with the aid of Heidi and David’s skillful persuasive skills, Nico felt comfortable enough to pose for her photo. She did a great job imagining she was holding her parents in the cup, and keeping her pinkie fingers out like a proper lady. Next, we photographed Mom and Dad. I put them against a light colored background so that it would be easier to blend them with Nico’s dress. I had them hold a sheet of cardboard in front of them on the same angle as the edge of the teacup in Nico’s photo, so that it would keep their hands in line and help the pose lookย  more natural.

Finally, we put it all together in Photoshop. I cut Heidi and David out of their background and dropped them into the photo of Nico. I used a layer mask to clip around the fingers as closely as possible. I used Photoshop’s puppet warp feature to adjust David’s arm a little so it looked like he was leaning on the edge of the cup. I duplicated Heidi and David’s layer, clicked on the “preserve transparency” button, and filled it with black. This created a silhouette of them, which I dropped underneath their original image layer. By applying a Gaussian blur and dropping its opacity down to about 20%, it created a shadow. I masked out all of this shadow except the areas around the fingertips. This added a little bit of depth to that transition between them and the cup. I also brought in a little bit of this shadow under David’s elbow, so it looked like he was casting a shadow on the right side of the cup. Next, I created another shadow layer, with even more Gaussian blur, and dropped it behind David and Heidi’s layer onto Nico’s dress. The higher level of blur implies a greater distance, and I found this improved the impression of depth. Finally, I used the blur tool to blur David and Heidi’s fingertips a little bit, so they’d match the slightly out-of-focus appearance of the edge of the cup.

The final image is pretty entertaining, I think, and is definitely not your average family portrait. Thanks to Heidi and David and Nico for helping me to create something a little different.

Bonus images

Here are the two “practice images” we shot to help warm Nico up to the idea.