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  1. Design & Illustration
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How to Create an Endless Picture Within a Picture Illusion in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

A great project for putting your Photoshop skills to the test is to create an optical illusion. An optical illusion creates an experience for the viewer that makes them see something that isn't there or is different than how it appears.

In today's tutorial, you'll learn how to set up a composition to create an endless picture within a picture illusion. Using simple photo manipulation techniques, assets from GraphicRiver, and so much more, you can try out this easy effect for yourself!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used in the production of this tutorial:

1. How to Set Up the Document for an Illusion

Step 1

One of the things I like to do before I start a photo manipulation is to pick a photo I like and assess everything I need to do in order to make the composition work.

Original Redhead Stock Photo from Pixabay
Redhead Stock via Pixabay.

I originally fell in love with this photo of a Redheaded Model, so I'll considerate it the general base for the scene. However, there are a few things that I need to address before I can proceed.

  1. General Body Position: I love this photo because of her strong straight-to-camera gaze. But unfortunately her body is positioned at an angle with her hands facing downward, so I'll need to find a way to correct this.
  2. Hand Positions: To make this work, the model should be holding a picture frame. If you can't find a stock you love where a model is already holding one, then consider building that body language from scratch. To do this, we'll need to research stocks with good hand positions to simulate the look we're going for.
  3. Background: The last thing we need is a better background. The original composition works as a standalone photo, but in order to create this illusion we'll need to center it and create more depth of field for better impact.

To see how this assessment applies to the final illusion, let's take a quick look at a before and after comparison of the original photo and the final manipulation.

Before and After Manipulation Comparison
If you work with great strategy, you can manipulate a model's body to illustrate the position you prefer.

Step 2

Now that we have those things in mind, we can move on to setting up the document. Open your Redhead Model Stock in Photoshop. Double-click the background layer to change it to Layer 0.

Using the Crop Tool (C), pull the right side of the image out so that there's more space on that side. We'll need to do this in order to create a more balanced scene. Then pull the top upward slightly to fit in more room for the background. When we're finished, the dimensions change from 1920 x 1280 pixels to 2226 x 1412 pixels.

Create a Larger Canvas with the Crop Tool

Step 3

Let's fill in the empty spaces. Create a New Layer underneath the original photo and Fill it with black using the Paint Bucket Tool (G). Then select the photo and hit Control-J twice, naming one of the duplicates "Right," for the right side of the composition. Hide the Visibility of the other copy for a later step.

Select the Right Layer and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Make sure that when you look at the Layers panel, this layer is positioned under the original photo layer. Just move it to the right side to fill in the gap.

Create the Right Side of the Background

2. How to Blend the Background Images Together

Step 1

Copy and Paste the Evergreen Stock onto the document on a New Layer above the black background. Resize it to fit the background with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T). Make sure it's positioned so that the top of the bushes from the original photo match the evergreen landscape.

Add the Evergreen Stock to the Background

Step 2

Let's adjust the colors of this stock to match the original photo. Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue and Saturation. Adjust the settings as follows:

  • Hue: -3
  • Saturation: -64
  • Lightness: -15
Adjust the Background Color with Hue and Saturation

We'll need to adjust the colors a little further to make them blend. Create a New Adjustment Layer of Color Balance with the following settings for the Shadows and Mid tones:

Adjust the Background with Color Balance

Then add a New Adjustment Layer of Curves above that to intensify and balance out the lighting. Adjust the curve for the RGB Channel as shown below.

Adjust the Background with Curves

Step 3

Create depth of field by blurring the background slightly. Select the Evergreen Layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Add a Radius of 7.7 before hitting OK.

Blur the Background with Gaussian Blur

Step 4

Now that we have all of our background elements, we need to blend them together to get rid of the edges we're currently seeing. To do this, Add a Layer Mask from the option located at the bottom of the Layers panel to the original photo and both the duplicates.

Add Layer Masks to Your Photos

Use the Brush Tool (B) with a Hardness of 0% to paint black onto each Layer Mask in the areas where you see any clear lines of separation. This will softly hide those areas to create a blended scene non-destructively. You'll notice that the Right Layer covers the evergreen landscape behind it, so just make sure you're painting on the mask for the original photo for further blending.

Hide the Lines with Layer Masks

Here is how the final background should look. 

Final Background After Blending Layers

3. How to Change the Model's Body Position

Step 1

With the background all set, we can concentrate on the model. Remember that hidden layer from earlier? Unhide the Visibility of the layer to reveal the second copy.

Use the Magnetic Lasso Tool (M) to create a selection around the model. Select the Layer Mask, and then Right-click and select Inverse Selection and hit Delete to fill the rest of the layer mask with black in order to hide the background.

Add a Layer Mask to the Second Copy

Step 2

To make it seem as if the model is facing forward, we'll need to make sure both shoulders face the front. Select the Model layer and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal to flip her position.

Flip the Copy of the Woman

Now use the Brush Tool (B) to paint black on the Layer Mask to hide half of her body. The only parts you really want showing are her right shoulder and the bottom of her sweater. It takes a little creative maneuvering, so just keep in mind that her midsection will be covered by the picture frame. 

Use a Layer Mask to Erase Away the Copy
Here's a step-by-step progress of the original leading up to her body being repositioned. Notice how we can slightly straighten out her body just by using a mirrored image.

Step 3

With the body position set, let's add the picture frame to the composition. It's already an isolated object so you don't need to extract it from anything. Copy and Paste the Picture Frame onto the composition, Resizing and Rotating it with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) since the entire scene is at a landscape orientation.

Create a selection for the inside of the frame with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and Fill it with black using the Paint Bucket Tool (G).

Add a Frame to the Scene

Adjust the color of the frame. Set a New Adjustment Layer of Hue and Saturation as a Clipping Mask to the frame. Adjust the settings as follows:

  • Hue: +42
  • Saturation: -72
  • Lightness: -53
Adjust the Color of the Frame with Hue and Saturation

Step 4

Add a New Layer set to Linear Dodge (Add) above the frame layer. Use the Brush Tool (B) to paint an olive color #68573d onto the frame. Because of the Blend Mode, this will create intense golden highlights, so make sure to create clean edges and a nice shiny finish. Feel free to add more highlights to the scene on this same layer to bring out a few leaves and balance the lighting.

Add Highlights to the Frame

Step 5

We can't have a picture without some hands holding it! First extract one of the hands from the Advertising Model Stock using the Lasso Tool (L) and Paste it onto a New Layer above the frame. Rotate and Resize it into place using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T). Add a Layer Mask to the first hand layer. Paint black onto the mask to hide away any parts of the hand you don't want showing.

Extract and Position a New Hand onto the Frame

Right now the hand is too bright. Add a New Adjustment Layer of Hue and Saturation and set it as a Clipping Mask to the hand layer. Adjust the settings as follows:

  • Hue: 0
  • Saturation: -36
  • Lightness: -12
Adjust the Color of the Hand withe Hue and Saturation

Once you're finished with one hand, Duplicate it to create the second. With the layers for the second hand selected, go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

Don't make it look too perfect! Position the left hand slightly lower to illustrate a change in body weight as the model shifts to a more forward position.

Result with Both Hands Added to the Frame

4. How to Create the Picture Within a Picture Illusion

Step 1

Now for the illusion! The process is pretty simple, but let's add a cool filter to the image first. Add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup with the following settings:

  • 3DLUT File: Fuji F125 Kodak 2395
Add a Color Lookup Adjustment Layer

Step 2

Select the Zoom Tool (Z) and press the Fit Screen option so that the entire image fits into the window perfectly. Now take a screen capture by hitting the Print Screen key on your keyboard.

Open the screen capture into a New Document and paste it onto the document. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select only the illusion composition and Cut and Paste it onto a New Layer in your original document.

Extract the Composition From a Screen Capture

Step 3

Resize the image using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) and position it so it aligns more centered within the frame. If you see any edges that are poking outside of the frame, just use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select those edges and Delete them.

Create the Picture Within a Picture Photographic Illusion
To help you position the picture better, lower the Opacity of the layer temporarily before clipping off the edges.

Now that you have the first picture within a picture effect, repeat this process for that endless look. Simply Duplicate (Control-J) the screen capture layer several times, resizing each one and positioning them inside the frames.

Duplicate the Layer Several Times to Achieve the Illusion

I used four total layers to create this endless effect. If you can still see the black box even in the tiniest frame, make a quick selection with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and delete the black part. That should resolve this issue.

5. How to Finish Editing Your Final Illusion

Step 1

Ready to wrap things up for this killer illusion? We only have a few steps left. First let's color correct and intensify the colors even further. Add a New Adjustment Layer of Levels with the following settings:

Add a New Adjustment Layer of Levels

Then add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Balance with the following settings:

Add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Balance

Here's how the composition looks with these two adjustments:

Final Result After Color Adjustments

Step 2

To finish this look, we'll sharpen the details for more intensity. First create a New Group and put all your layers inside of it. Duplicate the group and Merge all the layers of the second group together.

Select the Merged layer and Control-J to create a copy. Set the Layer Blend Mode of the copy to Overlay and go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Add a Radius of 10 pixels and hit OK. Then lower the Opacity to 29%.

Sharpen the Image with High Pass

And that's it! Check out the final result below.

Awesome Work!

One of my favorite things about photography is that you can take an already beautiful image and make it even more dramatic with a few extra elements.

I really hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section and check out more design resources for your photo manipulations on Envato Market.

Picture Within a Picture Photography Illusion by Melody Nieves
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