The Step-by-Step Guide to Put Together a Box Photo Composite

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The Step-by-Step Guide to Put Together a Box Photo Composite

Today I am going to teach you exactly how to put together a box photo composite.

Author in a series of Boxes in a Photo Box Composite

Previously in this series, we gave an overview of box photography; What is it, and how do we do it?  We also talked about building your box for your box photo composite.  Now we get to talk about how to put all of your photos together into one final image that is worth hanging on your wall!

Follow this step-by-step guide, and your image will be hanging before you know it!

Before you get started, there are a couple of things you’ll need.  First, for these steps, you will need Lightroom and Photoshop.  Starting at about $10 per month, you can’t go wrong with Adobe’s Creative Cloud.  You will also need a box!  You can build your own,  or you can use a cardboard box.

Choose a Template for Your Box Photo Composite

Your very first step will be to decide what template you will use for your finished product.  Choosing a template first will help you know how many photos you will need for your final image.  You can create your template in Photoshop by following instructions HERE, or you can purchase a pre-made template.  

Take Photos for Your Box Photo Composite

If you are super organized like the amazing photographers who created these creative box photos, you can plan your poses and your “story” before you begin.  If you are a free-spirited photographer like me, you can take photos as you go and let your subject tell the story.  After you finish shooting, you can see what images work together to make your image the most fun.

There are a couple of things that you should keep in mind when you’re shooting.  Just like any other photo opportunity, don’t be afraid to take more shots than you think you’ll need.  I promise it’s better to have too many than not enough when you get to the part where you’re putting together your box photo composite.

If you’re taking selfies, use an intervalometer.  This little device will allow you to move freely about the box while your camera automatically releases the shutter at pre-determined intervals, according to how you program it.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly eager to climb in and out of that box after every shot to see my results.  Nor do I want to edit out a cord for a remote trigger.  The intervalometer is the perfect solution!

Just for fun, here are a few bloopers that the camera automatically took while I was shifting positions in the box.

Pink background with "Hip Grandma Merch" available on front
Woman twisting in box for box photo composite post
Blooper shot of a woman moving in the box for box photo composite post
Blooper shot of a woman and her cat jumping in the box for box photo composite post

Lightroom Photo Prep for Your Box Photo Composite

First, you will narrow your images to the number of shots you’ll use for your template that you chose in step 1.  I copy my photos into Lightroom and then select them using the “Pick feature.”  I do this by using the “P” button on my keyboard for my favorites.  Once you have chosen your best shots, you’re ready to prep them for the composite.

And a side note…

But first, let’s get real for a minute.  Sometimes no matter how hard I try, my photos are just not exposed correctly.  Anyone who tells you they always get it right just isn’t being honest.  We all have bad days and make errors.  Today I shot this whole series of selfies in the box for this fun “putting together your box photo composite” post, only to realize when I imported them to Lightroom that they were all a bit underexposed.  Oopsie.

But a little darkness isn’t going to slow me down!  I decided to share with you how I dealt with that so you can have a game plan if you need to adjust your exposure.

Honestly, even if you do get your exposure perfect SOOC, you will need to know these steps.  You will need all of your images to have matching exposure for your final product, so even if you don’t underexpose as I did, you may still need to make some adjustments.  Uniformity is the key to making this composite look like one complete photo.  Now, let’s go through the steps of how I did it.

Back to the chore at hand…

First, choose one photo with which to work.  You can see my 13 final images lined up along the bottom of my Lightroom Window.  I am working with the first photo on the left (also enlarged in the center).  You can also see that it’s a wee bit dark.

Dark Photo in Lightroom

You will want to open the BASICS menu (1) and make a few adjustments to the sliders (2) to get the exposure correct.

See what a difference a few small tweaks can make?  Now is the time to play with those sliders and see what they do, especially if you’re new in Lightroom.

Author in the photo box with a fake head in her hands

Your next step is to duplicate these adjustments to all of the photos you’ve selected.

SPECIAL NOTE!  This process works best when all of the photos you are working with are at a similar starting point.  When your photos have various degrees of exposure, then you will be better off adjusting each shot separately.

If you shot them all in a controlled light setting, like in a studio as I was here, then they will all likely be very much the same.  Natural light presents another scenario and they could all be exposed just a touch differently due to changing light conditions.

Next, you are going to select all of the final images.

How to Select All in Lightroom

Hold the cursor over the photos at the bottom of your LR screen.  Click CTRL-A (PC) or CMD-A (Mac) to select all of them.

Lightroom Screenshot with filmstrip at bottom of screen circled

Now it’s time to sync the settings from your first image to all of those selected.

First, right-click on the image.  A menu will pop up.  Click on Settings (1) and then Sync Settings (2).  You will see all the images at the bottom of the screen quickly adjust.  If your computer is super fast, you may not see it happen, but trust me – it will!

Lightroom Screenshot showing how to sync settings

Now all of your images should be matching in exposure!  See how easy that was?

You can use the Sync Settings tool in any photography.  For example, if you take a series of sunset photos and need to adjust exposure on all of them, try Syncing the Settings.  It’s a beautiful little Lightroom trick to speed up your editing process!

Make Your Images Square Using Transform

Now that your exposure is correct, you will want to fix up your images, so your square box is a “square,” and give them a little crop to eliminate extra pixels when you move them to Photoshop.

This image has been exposure-corrected but still needs to be transformed.  Can you see how the photo box is not perfectly square?  I promise the image was square to the camera before I began, but it appears that climbing into the box shifted it just a wee smidge, so now it’s not 100% perfect.  No worries.  As we’ve covered – I’m not 100% perfect most of the time, so now I’m going to show you how to fix that!

Lightroom Screenshot showing before how to "square" a box photo image

Under the Transform menu (1), Find the “Full” box (2).  Click, and you will see your box magically transform into a perfect square.

Lightroom screenshot showing step 2 in making an image square

This magic button makes some subtle twists and tilts to your image to render it nicely squared off.  Can you see the difference in the before and after below?

slightly skewed image of a woman in a box
Slightly askew
non-skewed image of a woman in a box
Corrected – not askew

It is subtle, but look closely, and you can see how the box makes a shift into that perfect square!

Crop Your Images

The next step is to crop your images.  When you put together your box photo composite in Photoshop, the final file will be a big one, so you want to eliminate as many unnecessary pixels as possible before moving them over.

Start by selecting the Cropping Tool (1).

Lightroom Screenshot showing the cropping tool

Click on the Aspect drop-down menu entitled “as-shot” (1) and then choose 1 x 1 (2).

Lightroom Screenshot showing Aspect drop-down menu

Adjust the crop to include a minimal area around the outside of the box.  Be sure to include any limbs or items that are showing outside of the box in this step.  You will need those details later!

Lightroom screenshot showing where to crop your initial box photo image

Click “done.”

Lightroom Screenshot showing "done" button

Now repeat this series of steps for all of your photos.  When all of these steps are complete, you can import them into layers in Photoshop.

Move Your Images into Photoshop

We have completed the Lightroom portion of your box photo composite.  Now we’re ready to move over to Photoshop .  Use CTRL-A over all of the filmstrip photos at the bottom (just as you did before when syncing settings).  If you need a quick refresher, return to “HOW TO SELECT ALL IN LIGHTROOM” above.

Once you’ve selected all, right-click on any of the images on the bottom of your screen.  Select Edit In (1) and then Open as Layers in Photoshop (2).  If you have Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Photoshop will open on its own with all of your images as layers in one document.

Lightroom Screenshot showing how to select all images

When Photoshop opens, you will see something like this – your images will be in one document with multiple layers to the right.

Photoshop Screenshot showing image layers

Open Your Photo Box Template in Photoshop

Before you begin editing the individual photos, open your template document.  I have written step-by-step instructions for how to create your template.  Of course, you can use a purchased template as well if that works better for you.  Either way, you will need to combine the template document with the document showing your box photos.

Begin by clicking file (1), then Open (2)

Photoshop screenshot showing how to open file

Choose the file that you created or saved (1) and click Open (2).

Photoshop screenshot showing how to select file to open

In the Window Menu (1), click Arrange (2), and then click 2-Up Vertical (3).

Photoshop screenshot showing how to align open documents

Using this tool will place both of your documents side-by-side in your workspace.  Your screen will look like this:

Photoshop Screenshot of two open documents side-by-side

Now you will move the layers from the box photos over to the template document.  Follow these steps for that action:

Make sure you have the photo document selected.  You will see the tab at the top highlighted (1), and the layers to the right of the screen should show all of your photos (2).

Photoshop screenshot showing how to select all layers

Hold down the shit key and click on each layer (2) to select all of the layers at once.  When they are all selected, drag them over to the template document.  You will want your individual photos placed between the black background layer and the white template.

Photoshop screenshot showing layers with top template layer
Photoshop screenshot showing layers with black bottom layer

The images will be in front of the black background and behind the white template.

Photoshop screenshot of box photos between top and bottom layers

Move Your Photos into Position

Now you can begin moving each photo layer into the position where you would like it in the final box photo composite.  You will do this by individually selecting each photo layer (1) and dragging it around the document to the correct position.  When you need to resize the photos, click CTRL-T (PC) or CMD-T (Mac) to “Transform” the photo size.  You will see white squares appear at the corners of the image (2).  Grab and drag the squares to resize your image.  When it is the size you like, click on the checkmark (3) to complete the transformation.  Repeat this for each of your images until they are all placed where you want them.

Photoshop screenshot showing how to select a photo layer

Re-Arrange and Label Layers

Once you’ve moved everything to its approximate location, you will want to re-arrange your layers in an order that makes sense to you.  I put them in order from left to right, top to bottom.  You will then want to rename each layer to something that makes sense to you.

If you are using multiple subjects, the subjects’ names work.  In this case, I named the layers in number order and approximate location.  To change each layer’s name, double-click on the layer (1) and retype the name.  When you have finished typing the new name, click enter and drag the layer to the right location between the top template and the bottom background.

Side note:  As you are moving layers around, it helps to lock the top template layer.  You can do that by choosing the layer (1), then clicking on the tiny padlock (2).  Confirm that the layer is locked by noting the little lock to the layer’s right (3).  Locking this layer will prevent you from accidentally moving the template while shifting all of your photos.

Photoshop Screenshot showing how to lock layer

Here’s what the rough draft will look like:

Photoshop Screenshot of rough draft of box photo composite

Final Details for Your Box Photo Composite

At this point, you have your image just about complete.  Now is the time for you to work on the fine details.  Beginning with the top left photo, make sure that the box lines up just right in your template opening.  Remember to use CTL-T (PC) or CMD-T (Mac)to make adjustments to your photo size.

If your photo shows up in the next opening, you can use a mask to hide it.  Adobe has this simple tutorial for how to use a layer mask if you need guidance.

You can also use a layer mask on the template layer where a foot, arm, or something else is hanging out of the box.  You can see a sample of how this works in The Anatomy of a Box Photo.  Using a layer mask was the perfect technique for the area where I played tug-o-war with myself on the bottom left of my image.

Congratulations! You’ve Completed Your Box Photo Composite

Great job!  You are now ready to create any box photo composite that you can imagine!  If you have any questions, please reach out to me!  You can find me on Facebook or Pinterest!  As always, thank you so much for reading!

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PIN image with woman repeated in a box for How To Put Together a Box Photo Composite

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