If you haven’t seen Taylor Swift’s video for her hit song, Style, then do yourself a favor and check it out! Not surprisingly it’s a “stylistic” video, and it contains some wonderfully inspiring effects using silhouettes and double exposures.
In this series of tutorials I’m going to deconstruct some of those effects and show how to reproduce them in Adobe Photoshop.
We will start with the high contrast, profile silhouette revealing a beach scene within the profile. This effect requires a very specific type of profile shot, and I decided to shoot my own for it.
1. The Photo Shoot
The heavily backlit profile shot is integral for the overall effect. Instead of attempting to find a stock image to work with, I chose to use my daughter (a fan of Taylor Swift and happy to be involved in the project!) as the model and create the effect myself.
The background needs to be a stark white to mimic the effect seen in the video. This can be accomplished with a white muslin backdrop, or even a white bed sheet can do in a pinch. Be sure to leave room for lighting behind it.
If it’s at all possible, try to use a large, brightly sunlit window for the lighting. The natural light will produce a wonderfully warm glow, and it diffuses nicely when coming through the backdrop. If sunlight isn’t an option, a large, powerful flood light will work too. Here I set mine on a light stand to be about the same height as the model, and positioned it about two to three feet away from the backdrop.
Darken the rest of the room, and the full setup should look something like this.
Convincing the camera to take a good shot in a heavily backlit situation can be somewhat frustrating. The bright background combined with the dark silhouette can be confusing to the camera’s sensors. I found shooting on full Manual to be the best option. The settings I used were:
- F-stop: f/4
- Shutter speed: 1/60 sec
- ISO: 400
Take several test shots to dial in the right settings for your camera to get a shot that is heavily backlit, but without making the model a perfect silhouette—there should be some faint light illuminating her features.
Have the model stand sideways directly in front of the light source for the profile shot. Encourage her to stick her chin out and up. It will feel unnatural and somewhat silly, but really does provide the best profile curves for the project.
I’ve attached the high resolution version of my starter image to this tutorial,. While I fully encourage you to create your own shot to work with, if material or time constraints prevent it, then feel free to use mine to follow along with the rest of this tutorial.
2. Process the Shots
Now that the shot is done, it’s time to work some digital magic. The inspirational effect had a very smooth background and sharp lines around the silhouette. Our profile shot comes close to that, but isn’t quite on the mark just yet. The background is nice and bright, but the cloth has visible wrinkles and folds. To isolate the model from the background, we will use a two-layer technique: one for the smooth facial lines, and the other for the hair selection.
Open the image in Photoshop and perform any needed and obvious retouching such as removing distracting stray hairs or visible skin blemishes with the Spot Healing Brush.
Duplicate the background layer and call it Face Shape. Use the Pen Tool (P) to craft a path around the contours of her face. Don’t bother trying to select the hair edge—just draw the path near the edge. Then go to Layer > Vector Mask > Current Path. This is the best way to get tight, smooth selections of a subject.
Hide the Face Shape layer and make another duplicate of the Background layer. Then use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to select the profile shape, focusing on the hair areas.
Press the Refine Edge button to refine the selection. Set the Radius to 5 px and theFeather to 2.5 px. Then use the Refine Radius Tool (E) to paint along the edge of the hair line. Set the Output to Layer Mask and hit OK.
Select the Background layer and go to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object. Then run a Gaussian Blur filter with a pixel value of 40. This will eliminate the wrinkles and folds in the background cloth, but leaves a strange glow around our model.
Use a medium sized Brush (B) with low hardness and black paint to paint on theSmart Filter Mask. Trace along the contour of the profile to softly paint out the blur effect, thereby removing the dark halo.
Add a New Layer called Vignette. Make sure the foreground color is set to Black. Then use the Gradient (G) tool set to Radial shape, using the Foreground to Transparent preset. Check the Reverse option and draw out a gradient from the center of the canvas to create darkened corners.
Add a Curves Adjustment Layer and adjust the curve points approximately as shown here to increase the contrast of the image and make sure the bright areas are nice and white.
You may have noticed that the blurring of the background could have been done without creating the two layers first. That is correct, but this technique of isolating the subject from a background by using two different masked layers is extremely useful and will work in almost any situation. So I felt it was a valuable technique to show you, as you may need it if you are working with your own photos.
3. Assemble the Second Photo
The shot in Taylor Swift’s video that inspired this project shows a secondary image double exposed onto her profile. The second image features a cave opening that fits remarkably well into her profile, and a haunting shot of her love interest at a beach. In our project we will construct the cave opening from a handful of stock images and add a shot of a family at the beach, instead of a boyfriend. (Yes, I’m a father, what did you expect?)
The following stock resources are used to complete the effect:
Open the first cave image and drop it into the project file. Transform it until it fits roughly along the right side of her face as seen here. It’s easier to line up the transformation by reducing the layer Opacity first. Then once it is in place, restore the full Opacity and use a Layer Mask with a soft brush to restrict the image to appear only inside the profile.
Use the same technique to build in the top and left side of the cave opening by using the second cave image. I used the same image twice, and just rotated it enough to align with the cave edge in the previous image.
Layer in the family image and reduce the Opacity to around 75%. Position it so the family is framed within the cave opening and the horizon falls somewhere between the lips and nose of the profile.
Hide the family layer and use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to create a selection of the cave opening. Then reveal the family layer again and restore the Opacity to a full100%. Use the selection as a Layer Mask.
Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and clip it to the Family layer by going toLayer > Create Clipping Mask (Alt-Control-G). Then select the Red channel in the Hue/Saturation properties panel and reduce the Saturation to -47. This will dampen the distracting orange tint from the sky in the family image.
4. Finish the Effect
With both of the images now fully constructed and positioned, it’s time to finish off the effect and make the whole project very Taylor-esque!
Shift-Select all of the layers comprising the cave opening and family images. Group them into a single group with Layer > Group Layers (Control-G) and change the group’s blending mode to Lighter Color.
Add a Layer Mask to the group and use a Soft Round Brush (B) to gently paint along the edges of the profile to blend the internal image seamlessly into the profile image. Add a Linear Gradient to the bottom of the mask to fade out the lower portion of the image too.
Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer above the group. Set the Saturation to -54and the Lightness to +12. This helps provide the washed-out appearance found in the video.
The whole effect is a bit on the warm side, whereas the video was almost entirely in cool colors. So add a Photo Filter adjustment layer and choose the Cooling Filter (80) filter and reduce the Density to 8%.
You Are Done!
Now we have a gorgeous double exposure image that looks just like the effect in the video. Take this technique and apply it to your own photos. Look for ways images can fit together to create captivating compositions, with style!