Photoshop How-To: a simple way to frame a photo

This is a first one for me since I’m not an expert at Photoshop. I mean, I use it, and I get useful stuff out of it, but I usually learn on the fly . . . as I did for this How-To. 

As the title says, it’s about frames. The whole thing started when I saw THIS POST. And then I saw THIS POST. If you happen to click on either of those, you notice that the photo is “framed” by itself. 

After exchanging a few comments with the author, I tried a few things. First, I tried this . . . but I didn’t save the work. 

Then, I took this photo . . . 

. . . played with it a bit to get this . . . 

. . . and then combined the two to get this:

OK, so . . . I wasn’t too unhappy with that result, but I wanted to try my hand at doing a proper job of it, and then I hit on the idea of making a post about how to do this using Photoshop. 

I’m using strictly Photoshop but, really, any photo program that allows you to work with layers would work.  

I began with one photo and generated two versions of it using Lightroom, but you can do all of this in Photoshop if that’s all you got. 

Original file:

File cropped, straightened, adjusted and things like cars and seaweed and other stuff in the water cleaned up . . . 

I then make a copy of the file and I crank up the exposure, lower the saturation and contrast, and basically do whatever strikes me as interesting as long as I end up with a different-looking copy. 

I then open both of them up in Photoshop and the modified layer will be the background for my work. 

Both files are loaded. I could have brought them in as layers of the same file but I wanted to make this as general as possible. 

Note also that I will show some even simple steps and it will seem like a long and time-consuming process . . . but it’s not. 

First, I need to bring the other photo into this file. I go to the other photo and click on the layer and choose duplicate layer. When I do that, I get this dialog box.

Note that on the above screen capture I’ve already clicked on the down arrow for the “Document” option of the menu that pops up and I’ve chosen the other file, the one with the background.

When you go to back to the other file, this layer will be on top of the background layer. We now need to “shrink” the top layer to expose what will be our frame. First, make sure the top layer is active. Then, click on the “Move” tool to turn on the handles for the layer. While holding down both the Shift and Alt keys, drag one of the corner handles to evenly shrink the layer about the center.  

We now have our picture inside and on top of what will be the frame. 

NOTE: because I shrank the top layer, the bridge and horizon no longer match up. Had I picked a different photo to work with, we would go directly to modifying the Style of the layers to make them look like a photo inside a frame. Instead — and because I tend to be fastidious about such things due to my OCD personality — I will “fix” the bottom/background photo to match the top/foreground photo. You don’t have to do this if you’re not as fastidious.  

Turning off the top layer and working with only the bottom layer, I use the cloning tool to “lower” the bridge and horizon so that it maches the top layer. I won’t go through the steps, but here’s the result. 

Notice that on that last screen capture I have the photo already looking like it’s sitting in a frame of sorts. That’s because that screen capture was taken as an afterthought after I had started modifying the style. I wanted an even more pronounced effect.

This is done by modifying the style of the top layer (on the top menu, choose “Layer” and then “Layer Style” and then “Bevel & Emboss” or any of them) to give the impression of it being recessed. Some of this will depend on the photos you use (resolution and content) but these are the settings I used to get that “look” of a photo sitting on a frame. 

Here’s the result of all the above settings.

The photo is already looking like it’s sitting inside a frame. This is mainly accomplished by the shadows (inner and outer glow) and the dark “Stroke” line around the photo. 

We now turn our attention on the background that will become the frame for the photo. 

I copied the style from the top layer to the background layer but added a few things while removing a few others. I added the Contour and the Texture and I removed the outer shadow (it goes outside the visible portion so you can’t see it anyway). The texture I chose is “Gray Concrete”.

Here are all the settings for the background layer:

And here’s the result of the background layer after the above style modification:

Here’s the finished effect with both layers active:

Now, even I have to admit that this is not an attractive frame. 

What if I take this photo . . . 

Play around with it so that it looks like this:

And substitute it in as the background? 

Note, I don’t have to delete the original background; I just bring this in as a new layer and apply the style for the background to get this:

I could do a few more things to soften the corners of the frame, but that’s for another time. 

For now, I could do another version of the shells . . . 

. . . and bring it in as yet another layer I can use as the background/frame. 


I can play with turning different layers on and off and trying various blending options to get different looks . . . 

There are a number of ways you can blend layers and one group is not often used but can produce interesting results. That’s the Difference, Exclusion, Subtract, and Divide blending options. 

This next shot is the Difference blending in action . . . 

I want to thank Ken Bello for giving me the idea to try this method for framing photos. I have a feeling I’ll be using it often, especially once I photograph a few nice pieces of Koa wood and use them as the background to make a wood frame. Although, really, any photo or combination of photos can be used. 

it may seem to some that this is a difficult and involved process, but let me summarize the steps involved; they are rather easy. 

  1. Choose any two or more photos, crop them the same.
  2. Modify, adjust, process them as desired.
  3. Bring them into Photoshop as layers.
  4. Decide which will be the top layer. Shrink that layer as desired.
  5. Play with the Style of the top layer to give it a 3-dimensional look (shadows).
  6. Play with the Style of the background photos to give it a frame look (shadows). 
  7. If more than one background, blend for desired and interesting effects. 

None of those things are inherently difficult and most are things you should be already doing (processing your photos). The only new things are putting layers together and adding styles. Honest, those are pretty basic Photoshop skills. 

There may be faster and easier ways to do this (probably already on YouTube) but I wanted to try my hand at it and especially to try it the way I envisioned it. I always enjoy working things out on my own rather than following directions. 

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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