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  • Writer's pictureBo Jeffrey

How I Beat Covid With PhotoShop

No one in this photo was near each other at any point for this photo. Want to know how?

In late September I was tasked with figuring out how to shoot class photos for a Martial Arts school. The big emphasis that the client had was that they wanted to be able to do full group photos. At the time the city in which the client was located was in stage yellow or something of that nature and had an average of 20 students per class. So if everyone was indoors they would need to be 6 feet apart and the photo would be a mess. The photos were organized to be taken in October so with the way Canadian winter sneaks up we ruled out the potential of shooting outside.

I spent awhile frustrated about how to do this. I was discussing the trouble of executing the shoot to my girlfriend who simply shrugged and said, why don't you just photoshop them.

Easy right?

Well, there are so many factors involved that it could go wrong and look so bad so easily. But I really liked the idea.

So how do you take a photo of 20+ people and make it look like it hasn't been photoshopped together. And how do you decide who is standing, who is sitting and who is kneeling?


Preparation and Shoot

I got the client to get everyone who was planning on attending the class photos to submit their height. We divided the classes up and built possible formations of how the photos might look (10 in front 8 middle 7 back) ect.

We then spent a week measuring and taping the facilities floor to mimic the proposed distance each person would regularly stand apart from each other based on size. Obviously most of this was guess work and I couldn't know for sure if it would be accurate for every individual so I staggered the line marks slightly forward and backwards to keep a level of depth accuracy for photoshop later on.

I also couldn't build the exact size of the class photos because I was confident people would not show up the day of, or random people who said they weren't coming suddenly would. So to solve that variable I decided to put extra marks on each row (a maximum of 10 per row) and just have each individual take a photo on every mark in that row so that I would have the flexibility and continuity later on when editing so if anything was wrong in a photo I could choose a different photo of that individual on a different mark. (I'm extremely glad I did this but it made the editing process insanely time consuming).

On the actual shoot day I set up my camera on a tripod and put it on the measured mark that I had tested for distance a few days prior. The client organized individuals to come into the facility one at a time based on class and height (so what row they were going to be in) this step allowed us to adhere to Covid health protocols. I then had them take a photo on every individual mark and exit the facility. Another student would then enter and have their picture taken. 3 hours 100 kids and 1000+ photos later it was time to edit. (and yes some kids didn't show up and others randomly decided they wanted to make an appearance so I'm glad I made the preparations prior)


The Edit

I batched each kids 10 photos into groups in photoshop as compressed smart files and combed through which photo on which mark best fit them for their height as well as face (younger kids like to close their eyes a lot). I then made extremely dirty masks to see how each person looked standing side by side and in front of one another and made adjustments as needed. After I felt that I liked how the rough group photo looked I would take the preferred selected files of each individual and import the raw into Lightroom and then relink to photoshop. This way it would retain its raw properties.

(This step puts a heavy demand on the computer and really slowed everything down with only 30 raw photos which is why I did all my test builds using compressed lower quality files as I was working with 100s of photos at once during the test faze).

After the selects were relinked into photoshop I would start masking the photos that I had labelled, organized, and stacked on top of one another. I started with the back row because it was always the easiest to actually edit as majority of the masking was only from the neck down. I would then move to the next row and follow the procedure of masking out the entire individual.

I left the ground unmasked so that I could maintain the realism of the shadows cast by each student. I was able to do this because I shot on a tripod so the frame never moves regardless of who is in the photo.

Once all these steps were complete I went in and added curves layers to darken in between the rows to give the illusion of shadow being cast by the rows behind. I cleaned up floor and removed all of the tape marks that were still visible. Blended shadows that overlapped. smoothed and overall blended the lighting.

The final step was to brighten up the overall image, crop and export for the highest quality possible.

Now hopefully when they look back at 2020s class photo they aren't reminded of the separation and regulations of health protocols but rather the unity that martial arts can bring.


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