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Stupid Photoshop Tricks: Create An Optical Illusion Double Portrait

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Because there’s not enough ways to mess with people’s heads in Photoshop, here’s how to recreate this bizarre double portrait seen around the internet, showing the side and front of a face at the same time.

It was a “how’d they do that” moment when we saw the image. And with a few tries, it was deconstructed, and ready for HTG readers to try. With Photoshop (or GIMP) and a few pictures of yourself or your friends, you can be making weird pictures that make people uncomfortable in no time. Here’s how we did it.

Taking (Or Finding) The Proper Photographs

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A pair of photos like these are fairly ideal, particularly the amazing profile shot on the right. Ideally, you should have good dark shadows on one side of your face in the frontal portrait, but since we don’t, we’ll be fudging it a bit, and explaining how.

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Here’s the image in question. You might have seen it in a few places. It (and many others like it) have been reblogged many times. This one was found on the very excellent collection of nonsense and fun stuff—Super Punch.  And here’s the original, by Malcolm Ainsworth. Let’s see if we can’t recreate what Malcolm has done.

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Select the pen tool (Shortcut key p ) and select “Shape Layers” in the top options panel. Our first step is to create a silhouette of our profile image.

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With “Shape Layers” turned on, you automatically start drawing your silhouette in a new layer. Notice that it will create a filled shape by creating an imaginary line between the first and last points.

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Carefully trace all the shapes of the outside of your profile image. And, if you’re impossibly frustrated with the pen tool at this point, you might want to either stop and read our tips on mastering the pen tool or just give it up and use the paintbrush to create your silhouette. In the end, either works, although the pen tool is probably faster.

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The imaginary line and the fill are not always convenient when you are tracing an image. If your silhouette shape is blocking parts of the image you haven’t traced yet, reduce either the fill or the transparency temporarily. This will allow you to see your details and finalize your silhouette.

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With your details finished, you can do a rough connect of your first and last points. It doesn’t have to be terribly good, and can actually run off of the artboard.

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Notice how the vector shape runs off the actual canvas.

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We add a dramatic gradient to recapture the feeling of the original image. Try blending white to black versus transparent to black, and set your gradient style to “Radial” to match Malcolm’s image.

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Make sure that your new gradient is underneath your silhouette layer, otherwise you might have trouble with these next few steps.

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Paste your “straightforward” portrait image into a new layer. With that layer selected, navigate to Layer > Create Clipping Mask to clip the new portrait layer to the silhouette layer.

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Ctrl t to transform the portrait layer once you have it clipped to your silhouette. Resize it to where the nose, eyes, and mouth roughly align with those in the silhouette image.

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At this point in our example, we’ve cropped down on the parts that aren’t needed. It’s looking pretty good, but let’s add one last step to fake the heavy shadows present in Malcolm’s image.

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Snag the brush tool (Shortcut key b ) and paint shadows into a new layer on top of your portrait.

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If you don’t like the additional shadows, you can remove them, provided you did put them in a new layer. Enjoy the weirdness, and freaking out your friends!


Image credits: Tribute to a Master copyright Malcolm Ainsworth, assumed Fair Use. Profile and Closeup by Ryan Hyde, Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 01/19/12

Comments (5)

  1. Gaby

    Superb, I like your articles, but… I’m too lazy now to try it !
    PS: no PSD file ?! :D

  2. s.periyasamy

    it; Really nice …..! but now i will learn something about my examination …! definitly i will try later it…!

  3. Rob @ Forkoff

    But… but… it doesn’t look very good. Why would you ever want to do this?

  4. berky93

    In the “real” versions of this – that being, the ones that inspired this article, the photos are designed to align perfectly together, and then aspects of both the silhouette and frontal images are used to complete the illusion, instead of one just being a mask for the other.

  5. Manny

    That’s pretty cool stuff, ha? Thanks for the tips! I like it!

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