Tips for Creating Portrait Sequences with Photoshop

When it comes to studio lighting, there are numerous options and preferences. Portrait photography alone comes with a wide array of lighting techniques and possibilities, but some of them aren’t always an option, especially if you’re working in a small home studio. With the help of a young model, photographer Gavin Hoey put together this fun, youthful video to show us how to use a translucent shoot-through umbrella to create two very different outcomes and how to turn your photos into a portrait sequence:

The shoot-through umbrella is a pretty versatile tool. It comes in many different sizes and can be either translucent or reflective. In the above video, Hoey shows us how the lighting tool can be used to create darker, moodier headshots or bright, cheerful, evenly colored portraits.

How to Use a Shoot-Through Umbrella for Portraits

Hoey prefers to shoot with translucent umbrellas as opposed to reflective, because he can get them really close to his subjects or back them off for two entirely different looks. If you’re going for dark and moody, then get the translucent shoot-through umbrella as close to your subject as you can without actually getting into the frame.

portrait photography umbrella

Bring the umbrella close in to your subject for moodier portraits.

If you want brighter, evenly colored photos, back the umbrella and light away from your subject. This will make the light that hits your subject much more even and about the same brightness as the background. Hoey uses a Canon 5D Mark II for the comparison, and while both shots are stunning, you can really see the difference the umbrella light makes.

lighting for portrait photography

Pulling the umbrella away from your subject results in more evenly-lit portraits.

How to Create a Portrait Sequence Using Photoshop

As you can see, the darker headshot doesn’t leave much room for a creative and fun portrait sequence, but give a kid a bucket-full of colored balls and the photo party’s just getting started. Hoey’s goal here is to photograph Joel, the young model, as he plays with and throws the balls. After the photo shoot, Hoey will then take his pictures into Photoshop where he’ll turn individual photos into a stunning portrait sequence.

To prepare for the shoot, with post-production in mind, he sets up his equipment with pre-planned settings and makes sure nothing changes during the shoot. With the camera on a tripod, Hoey frames up the image and makes sure the zoom, exposure, and aperture don’t change. He even tries to make sure Joel doesn’t move too much. All of this pre-planning will pay off when it comes time to join the individual images into one large image in Photoshop.

To create your own portrait sequence from individual photos, choose the images you want to use and open them in Photoshop.

One of the downsides to shooting in a small studio is that you don’t have enough room to move the camera back and zoom in or have a wide enough background, so you end up with extra area around the picture that you don’t need. If you find there’s something in the picture, like the wall showing outside your set background, that doesn’t belong, just crop it out.


If you’re shooting in a small space, crop out unwanted parts of your images.

When you’re happy with the pictures you’ve chosen:

  1. Open your first picture that will start the sequence.
  2. Increase the area to make room for the rest of the photos you’ll be adding (either use canvas size or the crop tool to expand the area).
  3. Select and copy the next picture in the sequence and paste it into the first image that has been expanded.
  4. To move the second picture to the spot where you want it to lie and to get the two pictures closer together without cutting into either image, drop the opacity down and place your image. Be sure to turn the opacity back up afterwards.
  5. Use the Layer Mask tool to paint away the parts of the foreground you don’t need and reveal the first picture in the background layer (change the size of the brush to blend nicely and accurately).
  6. Do the same for all of the following pictures you want to add to the sequence.
  7. Crop the final image to tighten up the whole composition.
  8. If there are any areas in your background that don’t blend well, just use the clone tool to fill them in and clean them up.

Consistent camera settings and good planning result in a fun portrait sequence.

Hoey’s final image turned out great. It’s playful, crisp and just all around good times. Why don’t you give it a try with your own sequence idea? Then let us know how it went in the comments section below. We also want to hear any other tips you might have to create amazing and unique portrait sequences.

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