Tutorial: Clone 101

Last week, I posted an old clone picture I did a couple years ago, and people seemed to really like it.

The final image:

Zombie Photography

Why do clone self-portraits? Well, it’s fun! It’s challenging, that’s for sure. It’s a good way to get some practice with posing (so you can direct your future models); it’s an opportunity to practice your photography and lighting skills at your own pace, without your subject getting impatient while you fiddle with the camera and light settings.

When you’re first starting out doing clone photography, it’s much easier to not have your clones “touching” each others. For one, it’s pretty time consuming to alter in Photoshop and do it convincingly. In fact, this was one of my first clone pictures, and as you can see, they aren’t touching. I’ll cover this aspect in a future tutorial. In the meantime…

What you’ll need in addition to your camera:

  • A tripod or a stable surface for your camera
  • Additional light sources if you’re shooting indoor
  • An image editing program that has “masking” ability (Photoshop, Gimp, Lightroom…)
  • A willing, cooperative, patient model

First thing you need to do is plan your final image in your head. Having a rough mental image helps you figure out how to position your camera and lights. With that in mind, set up your camera and lights – and be absolutely sure you like the positioning. Take a few test shots. Once you get started with the shoot, you cannot move anything. I can tell you, it’s hell fixing things in postprocess if you move the camera just a couple inches over. The perspective changes, the light angles changes, ahh it’s just a major pain in the butt.

Unfortunately I don’t have the setup shot of my lights – I’ll be sure to take a few in the future.

After you’re all set up, get your model in place.


Keeping your model remain in roughly the same spot, experiment with different poses and reactions. It’s nice to have a variety to choose from. In this particular shoot, there were a dozen different gestures and poses for each clone. Then I picked the ones that seemed to tell the story the best.

In more complicated clone shoots, it may be helpful to shoot a “blank” – a shot of the scene without any clones. This can be useful when you have a lot of fiddly masking to do.

Tip: When you’re satisfied with the selection of the clones, don’t put away your lights and camera just yet. When you go to the post-processing stage, you might decide that a pose needs to be reshot, or you’re not happy with the results, or…insert reason. 

On to Photoshop! I am using Photoshop CS4; if you have an older or newer version (or are using Lightroom or Gimp) it should all be fairly similar.

For this part, you need to be familiar with the masking feature and layering. Let’s say you have two “layers” – an image on top of another. Masking is a way to “erase” a portion of your top layer without actually erasing it; this allows the bottom layer to be visible.

Open the two clone images you want to use. Select one, copy and paste it into a layer of the other. Save-as and create a new file to work in.

Always make copies of the original files to work in – never ever edit the original, especially if you’re shooting in Jpg. It’s too easy to screw up and save mistakes over the original file.

Because the clones are separate – as in there is no overlapping, this is a simple mask job and it does not matter which image is the top layer.

Highlight (single-click) your top layer, and look for the layer mask icon.

Click on it. Your top layer should now have a white thumbnail box.

Next, select a large brush, and make sure the color is black. Brush over the area where the other clone is.

Note: the red mark is a mask feature that lets you see where your brush has been. It will not show up in the final image. If you’d like to toggle this on or off, Photoshop’s hotkey is \ (the backslash symbol).

If you make a mistake and mask out too much, change the brush color to white (or hit X) and brush over the area.

I’ve finished the masking. If you squint, you’ll see that half of the mask thumbnail box is black – that’s the “erased” portion.

The beauty of masking is if you decide you don’t like the masking job, you can either use a white brush over the whole image or just delete the mask thumbnail, and the layer will be intact. Whereas if you had used the eraser tool, it’d be gone, and you’d have to open the original file image, copy it again, and redo all the work.

At this point, you’re done! (Unless you want to do some more adjustments like converting it to B&W, like I did.)

Please let me know if this tutorial was unclear or if you’ve any questions.

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