Combining Rapid Action Photos

I still think some of the best photos are rapid action shots that are combined into one photo. Not only do they turn heads, but they are stunning works of art that have to be just right. I couldn’t figure out how photographers were combining rapid action photos into one amazing image, but now I’ve figured it out and I want to share the secrets with Roundtable Nation!

Taking the Photos

The obvious first step is to take the photos that you will be combining. There are some essential items you will need to be able to take photos that can be combined into one using Photoshop.

The first piece of gear you need is a tripod (this is a great one). Since you are taking a few photos that will be joined into one, you want the camera to remain still. Your subject will be moving, however, you want everything else in the frame exactly the same. If you have one tiny difference, the combined photo will look off-line.

You will also want to get a cable release. The cable release plugs into the side of the DSLR for a remote shutter. The cable release is another assurance that all of the photos will line up correctly. Using your tripod and cable release together is a great insurance policy against shaky cameras.

For the best results when taking rapid photos, use the continuous shooting option. DSLR cameras with faster frames per second will work the best, but all DSLR cameras are capable of taking rapid continuous shots. Some are just more rapid than others. Hint: continuous shooting works best with auto-focus (I learned that the hard way… now you don’t have to!)

Next, switch your camera to continuous focus. You want to use continuous focus, especially if the subject’s movement is over a large depth within the frame, so that in each photo, the focus will be on your subject. I prefer to use a small aperture so that the focus depth won’t vary too much from photo to photo.

Here are the photos I took…

skate

When you are framing and composing the shot, keep it mind that the less your subject overlaps from frame to frame, the easier the combination shot will be. For example, I framed the skateboarder moving towards me. I wish I would have framed him moving side to side across the frame. But, that’s how we learn!

Editing

The finished product

The finished product

Next up is the editing portion of the combination process. Keep in mind that this is a tedious process, but someone out there is going to be amazed by what you did! First upload the photos to Lightroom and make any edits you want to make to the first photo. Then apply the EXACT same edits to the remaining photos.

Once the edits are applied to each photo, it’s time to upload them to Photoshop. Open all of the photos at once. Once they are all open, select the second photo in the sequence and press command + a to select the entire frame. Next, press command + c to copy the image. Then, click on the first frame and press command + v to paste the second frame to the first frame. Now, repeat that process for every frame you have. Once you have completed the copy and paste process, you can close all of the frames except the first frame (if you aren’t using a mac, substitute control for command).

OK, now all of the frames should be stacked as layers in one photo. Select the second layer and make it and the bottom layer the only two visible layers by clicking the eyeball icon next to the layer. Find the mask tool and press “b” to use the masking brush. brush over the subject of the photo so that every part of it is highlighted. After it’s highlighted, press “q” and then delete. You will see that the second layer is now visible with the first layer. Repeat the same process for each layer.

Next comes the tedious part. Select the second layer and make it and the first layer the only two visible  layers. Select the eraser and start erasing the edges of the mask from the second layer so that the first layer is completely visible behind the second layer. Now you will see why it’s much easier to frame the shots so that the subject does not overlap much. Repeat the same process for every layer.

Once you are done, export the image! You’re finished and have successfully stacked the images! Now you’re a pro at combining rapid action photos!

Are you confused? It’s OK, so was I when I first read about it. That’s why I made you this video so it would be easier to understand!

I hope this tutorial helped you take your photography to the next level! If you want more tutorials, subscribe to my YouTube channel!

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3 Responses to Combining Rapid Action Photos

  1. Elle August 28, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    Nice job – the part you call tedious, I call fun! MUCH better than trying to extract people and add them to a scene! 🙂

  2. Elle August 28, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    But I use masks and its so easy to just change things. 🙂

    • David Johnston August 28, 2014 at 8:48 am #

      Haha I think tedious can be fun! Thanks for the comment!

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