He did a great job of holding the camera steady, and his framing was pretty good, but after seeing the images, I was a little unhappy with the gaping hole in the middle of our group. If I had been shooting the image, I would probably have asked my son and I to move a little closer to each other, but I was not shooting and couldn't tell until later in the evening and it was too late to re-shoot.
A week went by and I decided to play with the image a little more, and then it hit me! Our new puppy, Cooper, was not with us on Thanksgiving and needed to be added to the image. And that hole in the middle would be a perfect place for him. So I decided to take an OK image and make it better.
Here are the steps I took in order to make this happen...
This is the original RAW file. The first thing I needed to do was to make adjustments to the exposure and contrast.
Step one: Using Adobe Camera RAW, I brightened the image by half a stop and added a little contrast.
Step 2: I needed to shoot photos of Cooper to drop into our family photo. Trying to keep the lighting the same, I took Cooper outside in my backyard to use natural light and a little fill flash (just like we did on Thanksgiving Day). I knew that I needed Coopers front paws to be raised so that it would look natural behind my wife and daughter. I put a wood bench in front of him and my wife kept his attention with some treats. As you can see, I shot plenty of frames to try and get him looking at the camera and with that perfect expression on his face.
Step 3: I found the photo of Cooper that looked best, and, using the lasso tool in Adobe Photoshop CS6, did a rough outline around him and copied that part of the image.
Step 4: I pasted the image of Cooper into a new layer onto our family photo.
I could have dropped in Cooper without resizing him, looking a little like the old cartoon "Clifford The Big Red Dog", but decided that I should make it look a little more realistic. :)
Step 5: Using the Transform feature, I re-sized the layer so that Cooper would not be "Clifford the Big Red Dog" huge.
The size is much better now, but you can see that I still have a ways to go.
Step 6: I create a Layer Mask for Cooper's layer and paint out the background surrounding the dog and make sure that my wife and daughter are not covered by any of Cooper.
This is what the image looked like with Cooper in place, but the image is not complete yet. There were a couple of small distractions in the photo (garden hose, stray leaves, shadows...) that I removed.
Step 7: I ran a Photoshop Plugin called "Portraiture" to smooth our skin a little bit. Some people might think that this is cheating, but hey, I am just using it slightly, and we do look better! :)
Step 8: For the final step, I cropped the image to a 5x7 aspect ration to drop into our holiday card.
And there you have it. A fairly simple way for you to add your pet into your family portrait. Actually, I think this is probably easier than trying to take the same photo with all five of us. Cooper is still a puppy and not all that obedient or calm. I am not sure that he would have stood still for this shot, and I can almost guarantee that the four of us would not have been as calm if he was in the middle of us all.
I hope that this helps all of you aspiring photographers to make a better family portrait in the future.
Happy holidays everyone!