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Fixing Group Shots the Easy Way in Photoshop

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Excerpt from The Adobe Photoshop CC Book for Digital Photographers

Group shots are always a challenge because, without a doubt, somebody in the group will be totally hammered (at least, that's been the experience with my family. You know I'm kidding, right?). Okay, the real problem is that in group photos there's always one or more people who blinked at just the wrong time, or forgot to smile, or weren't looking at the camera, etc. Of course, you could just take their expression from another frame and combine it with this one, but that takes a lot of work. Well, at least it did before the Auto-Align Layers feature. This thing rocks!

Step One: Here's a group shot where one of the subjects (the guy in the middle) isn't smiling.

Step Two: Of course, with group shots, you take as many shots as the group will endure, and, luckily, a few frames later, we have one where the guy looks great. But, we can't use this shot, because now the woman on the right is squinting. So, the idea here is to take the guy from this shot and combine him with the first photo to make one single group photo where they're all smiling and have their eyes open.

Step Three: Start by opening both photos in Photo­shop and dragging them into the same document: get the Move tool (V), press-and-hold the Shift key, and click-and-drag the photo where the guy looks good over on top of the other photo, where he's not smiling (it will appear as its own layer in the other document, as you can see in the Layers panel shown here).

Step Four: Usually, just pressing-and-holding the Shift key will help the photos line up pretty well (especially if the shots were taken with your camera on a tripod), but if you hand-held the shots, or if your subjects moved a bit, you'll need Photoshop to line them up precisely for you. You do this by going to the Layers panel, Com­mand-clicking (PC: Ctrl-clicking) on both layers to select them (as shown here), then going under the Edit menu and choosing Auto-Align Layers. When the Auto-Align Layers dialog appears, leave Auto selected at the top, and then click OK to have Photoshop align the two layers for you (and it usually does a pretty darn amazing job, too!).

Step Five: Now that they're aligned, click on the top layer in the Layers panel to make it the active layer. Press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key and click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to hide the top layer (with the guy smiling) behind a black layer mask. Now, get the Brush tool (B), choose a medium-sized, soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker in the Options Bar, and with your Foreground color set to white, paint over the guy's head. As you do, it reveals the good version of him where he's smiling (as shown here). Keep painting until his head, shirt, and basically as much as you need, look natural in the photo. When you're done, get the Crop tool (C) and crop the image down to size.

The final is shown below on the right.

Learn how to do more from The Adobe Photoshop CC Book for Digital Photographers (2014 Release) here: