Capturing a decent family portrait can be a major challenge – particularly if it’s a group photo. For starters, you may not be able to fit everyone into the shot, and even if you can, someone will usually have their eyes closed or be pulling a less than flattering face! By shooting an empty sofa, you can extend it by learning how to stitch photos together in Photoshop to fit in as many people as required, without being limited by your lens or location. In our Photoshop tutorial below we’ll show you how to select a sofa’s sections, move them onto separate layers and transform their position to extend the sofa’s width.
You can then shoot your friends and family one by one in the same spot (check out our Free family portrait photography cheat sheet). This helps you to ensure that everyone is looking their best. By capturing each one under the same lighting conditions they will look like they were all sitting together on the digitally extended sofa.
In our example here we used a shot of an empty sofa, which we were able to digitally extend. We’ve also shot some pictures relatives with which we selected, isolated, positioned and overlapped people on separate layers as an example for you to try with your own friends and family to personalise the tutorial. In the process you’ll learn how to overcome challenges such as blending the curved cushions they’re sitting on with the adjacent person as well as fine-tuning the initial selections with the Refine Edge tool.
To complete this Photoshop tutorial you will need Photoshop CS3 or higher, or Elments 9, and about 60 minutes. Below are the original images we used to complete our family portrait composite.
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How to stitch family photos
Step 01: Make some space
To create a document wide enough to contain your extended family portrait, go to File>New. Set the Width and Height drop-down options measurement to Inches. Set Width to 23 and Height to 10. Set Background Contents to White. To enable a high-quality print with lots of detail, make the Resolution 300 pixels per inch. Click OK to create the blank canvas.
Step 02: Scale the sofa
Open your image of the empty sofa. Choose Select>All and then Edit>Copy. Go to your empty white document and choose Edit>Paste to add the sofa to a new layer. Choose Edit>Transform>Scale. In the Options Bar, set the Width and Height to 65%. Hit Return to apply the transformation. Use the Move tool to position the sofa at the bottom left of the frame.
Step 03: Make a selection
Grab the Magnetic Lasso tool. To help it select the sofa’s outline, reduce the Width option to 5 pixels. This stops the selection marquee from straying too far from the edge of the sofa. Drop Contrast to 6%. Click to place an anchor point at the bottom left of the curtains and move the cursor to follow the sofa’s outline. The anchor points will automatically cling to the edge of the sofa.
Step 04: Complete the selection
Draw carefully around the edge and top of the sofa and then make a rough-and-ready selection that includes the objects in the background. Click to place the last anchor point on the very first point to complete the selection. Don’t worry if the selection isn’t perfect at this stage because you can tidy it up in the next step. Now choose Select>Inverse to select the areas outside of the sofa.
Step 05: Turn the selection into a mask
Click the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. The selected background details will vanish, and will be replaced by white. To tidy up the selection, grab the Brush tool, click the Brush Preset Picker and choose a tip. Set Size to 40 pixels and Hardness to 90%. Click Layer 1’s mask. Set the Foreground colour to black. Spray to hide any unwanted bits of the background.
Step 06: Straighten the back
The curved top of the sofa will be tricky to replicate in the extended version, so click to place a brushstroke on the left, just before it begins to rise. Hold down Shift and click to place another brushstroke on the right. This draws a straight line between the two points, enabling you to neatly hide the sofa’s curved top. Spray over any remaining bits of the top of the sofa and background to remove them.
Step 07: Soften the edges
Once you’ve tidied the edges of the sofa, it might look a little too sharp and cut out. Click the Layer Mask and choose Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Set Radius to 1 pixel. Click OK to apply the filter. This softens the black-and-white mask, and makes the sofa’s edges look less sharp and more natural.
Step 08: Duplicate the sofa
Use the Zoom tool to zoom out so that you can see the entire document. Right-click the Layer Mask and choose Apply Layer Mask from the pop-up menu. Drag Layer 1 onto the Create a new layer icon to duplicate it. Grab the Move tool from the Tools Panel, hold down Shift to stop the sofa sliding vertically, and drag the copied layer to the right of the frame.
Step 09: Create a patch
Click Layer 1’s thumbnail to target it. Grab the Rectangular Marquee tool from the Tools Panel. Drag the cursor to draw a rectangular selection of the sofa and the floor. Press Cmd/Ctrl+J to float a copy of the selected area onto a new layer (Layer 2). Drag Layer 2 to the top of the stack in the Layers Panel. We now have a patch that will help us extend the sofa.
Step 10: Reposition the patch
Drag Layer 2 onto the Create a new layer icon to duplicate it (creating Layer 2 copy). Use the Move tool to drag Layer 2 copy left, so that it hides the split between the original sofa cushions. Align the copied layer’s patterns with those on adjacent sides. In the Options Bar, tick the Show Transform Controls box to help you see where the layer’s content is.
Step 11: Extend the sofa
Drag Layer 2 copy onto the Create a new layer icon to duplicate it. Drag the new copy (Layer 2 copy 2) to the right to begin extending the sofa. Keep duplicating and repositioning the patch layer until it joins up with the sofa on the right of the frame. Don’t worry about misaligned cushions because many of these areas will be hidden when we add our family members.
Step 12: Group the sofa layers
Click Layer 1 and then Shift-click the top patch layer to select all the sofa layers. Go to Layer>Group Layers. All the selected layers will be collapsed into a folder called Group 1. You can click the Group folder’s toggle icon to reveal its layers if you need access to them. Rename the group to ‘Sofa’.
Step 13: Add a person
Next you want to add your first person – here we’ve added the man on the far left of the sofa in the final image. Choose Select>All, then Edit>Copy. Go to the extended sofa document and choose Edit>Paste. Set the new layer’s Opacity to 50%. This will help you align the sofa with the empty one in the background. Choose Edit>Transform>Scale. Reduce Width and Height to 65%. Drag inside the layer to position, then hit Return.
Step 14: Make the selection
Use the Magnetic Lasso tool to select the man. Click Refine Edge in the Options Bar. Set View to On Black so that you can spot any unwanted background pixels clinging to his outline. Tick Smart Radius and set Radius to 1.7. For a less sharp selection, set Smooth to 7, Feather to 1.2, and Shift Edge to -10%. Set Output to New Layer with Layer Mask. Click OK. The original layer will be hidden. Delete it.
Step 15: Modify the mask
Set the Brush tool’s tip to 150 and give it a Hardness of 0%. Now click on the new layer’s mask. Set the Foreground colour in the Tools Panel to white, then spray on the mask to reveal the bits of sofa between the man’s legs, his reflection on the floor plus the shadows that he casts on the left of the sofa. This fine-tuning integrates him more effectively with the extended sofa.
Step 16: Add the next person
Now you want to add your second person and repeat Step 13, as we have done to add the girl to the layered document. We dragged her right so that she sits next to the man. Make sure that the base of her sofa is aligned with the extended version. Grab the Quick Selection tool and spray to select her. Refine her edges if necessary. Don’t worry if you select the sofa between her knees. Click the Add Layer mask icon to hide her sofa.
Step 17: Modify the mask
Spray a soft white brush on the girl’s Layer Mask to reveal some of the sofa that she’s sitting on. You can even extend the cushions towards the right so that they blend with the extended sofa in the background. Restore her feet reflections and shadows, too. We’ve temporarily hidden the Sofa group to show you how much of the top layers we’ve revealed using Layer Masks and white brushstrokes.
Step 18: Add another person
Depending on how many family members you wan to include, you can now add yet another person. Depending on your selection technique preference, use the Magnetic Lasso or the Quick Selection tool to select the third person and turn the selection into a Layer Mask to hide most of the sofa. We applied a white brush to the mask to blend bits of the third person’s sofa with sofa cushions from the girl’s layer. Black brushstrokes on the mask will hide any unwanted details.
Step 19: Overlap the characters
We then added the next lady, but scaled her down by 60% as she is sitting on her sofa’s edge and we need her to go back behind the second man’s extended leg. Once you’ve masked out her sofa, hide her layer. Use the Magnetic Lasso tool to select the man’s leg. Click back on the lady’s Layer Mask and Edit>Fill the selection with Black to reveal the man’s overlapping leg.
Step 20: Finish it off
Repeat the scaling, positioning and masking techniques to add the rest of your family to the sofa, as we have done here. We used the Eyedropper tool to sample some of the original pink wall, following Edit>Fill the Background Layer with this foreground colour. Click each Layer Mask in turn and spray a white brush set to an Opacity of 15% around their heads to gently reveal missing hairs.
Free Cheat Sheet
For a closer look at some of the tools and commands used in this Photoshop tutorial, we put together the infographic below, which you can drag and drop on to your desktop to save as a reference. You can find more inforgraphics like this in our free photography cheat sheet series.