In the last tutorial, we got started with creating our first action sequence photo. We got out our tripod and went on location to shoot five photos continuously. Now we are going to take those pictures and stitch them together to create a sequence. Before you begin, I highly recommend Adobe Photoshop for this tutorial, but any image manipulation software that allows you to work with layers will do the job. Photoshop Elements is a low cost alternative that is perfect for what we want to do here. A free alternative is Gimp, however you will have to learn a little more to use it.
Note: There are plenty of different techniques available to create a sequence photo. I have chosen to explain the 'delete' method because I think it is the easiest to master. My instructions will be for Photoshop, but you can use almost any paint program.
Start with the first photo in the series. This picture will be your background. When you have determined that, find the picture that represents the next step in the sequence. Copy it and paste it over the first picture. If you are using Photoshop, the second picture will be added as a layer on top of the first. Continue to do this, finding the third photo in the progression and pasting it over the first and second photos. Do this until you have stacked all five photos on top of one another in order.
Here’s the beauty of layers. If you erase part of a photo, the layer underneath shows through. To get the sequenced effect, we will be clearing the background away from the subjects of each photo until only the background from the first photo shows through.
Go to your layers panel (Window --> Show Layers) and select the topmost layer. This should be your fifth photo. Once you have selected this layer, get out the rectangular selection tool and draw a rectangle around your subject. Your subject is now selected. But we don’t want to clear away the subject, we want to clear the background of the topmost photo. To start doing this, go to the selection panel and choose “inverse” (Select --> Inverse).
If you did everything correctly, you should see an additional moving dashed line around the perimeter of your entire photo. This means you have selected everything but your subject. Now simply clear away the background by pressing the delete key, or choosing edit and then clear (Edit --> Clear). With the background of the topmost photo cleared away, you should see the subject from the third photo showing through. Use this as a sanity check to be certain you are doing everything correctly.
To finish off the sequence, keep doing more of the same. Move down the stack of photos, clearing the backgrounds around the subjects, until you have cleared the background of the second photo. Remember to keep track of which layer you have selected as you move down the stack. Otherwise, you might end up clearing something you didn’t want to clear.
Sometimes the areas around the subjects don’t blend in well with the background of the first photo. They occasionally look blocky. When this happens, you are usually able to see the outlines of the selections you made earlier with the rectangle tool. If this is the case, you might need to go in with the polygonal selection tool and get as close to your subject as possible. Clear away the parts that don’t blend in with the background.
Be careful not to clear the background of the first photo. This sounds obvious, but I’ve gotten carried away and accidentally done it before. As soon as the background from the second photo is cleared, you are finished. Make sure everything is the way you like it before you save your sequence photo in a jpg format - any format besides a photoshop document doesn't keep the extra layers, and it would be a shame to lose your progress.
And that’s all there is to creating an action sequence photo. I usually stitch photos together before color correcting and sharpening them. You’ll save a lot more time by doing the stitching first and enhancing later. You wouldn’t want to have to color correct and sharpen five times instead of once.
So go ahead and take this technique to the streets. Create some action sequences and send them my way. I’m excited to see what you can do.
Update: Kerry Findlay noticed that I didn't do any final retouching of the shot. The original image does look rather blue and not full of color. With a bit of white balance and color boosting, Kerry has made it look much better! Thanks Kerry!
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