There are lots of reasons why you could need to learn to combine images in Photoshop. Perhaps you took a family photo with one person missing, and you need to merge photos to include everyone. 

Or maybe you simply wanted to improve one image by combining it with a second one with some higher-quality elements. Layering photos is one way to achieve the result you want.

With Adobe Photoshop, you can use layers to combine elements of more than one image to make sure that your photo has everyone you want.

In this article, we will look at a couple of methods to layer photos in Adobe Photoshop. 

silhouette of tree in pink sunset

Method 1: Using Adobe Photoshop

You can use Photoshop to put images together using the following steps. 

Step 1: Pick the Two Images You Want to Merge

There are a few important things to note when choosing photos to combine in Photoshop.

  • The two photos should have the same camera settings, including the same focal length.
  • The lighting should be the same in both images.
  • The two photos should have the same resolution.
  • Try to pick simple images because complicated ones with detailed edges may make your work in Photoshop more challenging.
  • The white balance should match as closely as possible. This factor can be especially crucial if the photos are from different times and places.
Merging Images in Photoshop

Step 2: Open the First Image

Open the first image. Typically, you want to start with the smallest subject. It’s easier to resize the second photo down than up because it will not result in a loss of quality. 

Select the padlock icon on the image layer’s right in the Layers menu to unlock the background layer.

Step 3: Open Your Second Image

Next, drag the second image from the file system to place it on top of the first. An X will appear around the edges to help with resizing. This method of combining two images makes the second photo a Smart Object. When you work with smart objects, it is easier to resize layers. 

Drag Second Image Onto First

Step 3: Position Your Images to Match

Set the blend mode of the top layer to Overlay so you can see the bottom layer and top layer combined. When you take this step, you can position the two images together and match them correctly. 

Press Ctr+t to enable Free Transform. Then, you can use the Move tool to position the top image. When you are satisfied with the positioning, you press Enter. Once the layers get sized correctly, you switch back to Normal mode. 

Use blending mode to help merge images

Step 4: Add a Layer Mask and Erase

Select the top layer and select ‘Add Layer Mask’ in the Layers Panel to add a layer mask. Once you’ve added a layer mask, you can select the Brush tool and set the color to black at 100% opacity in your layer mask with this tool. 

After adding a new layer mask and finished this step, you can paint over the areas you would like to erase. If you make a mistake, switch the brush tool color back to white and paint over the area of the layer mask you would like to restore.

Add a layer mask and paint with a black brush

Step 5: Make Sure Everything Aligns

Switch the layer visibility off and on in the Layers Panel to see if you should work on more. 

Next, you can create a layer between the two original layers and fill it with a color that doesn’t appear in either of the photos. This step is vital because it will show you any parts in the top layer that you haven’t erased correctly. 

You can use the burn and dodge tools to darken or lighten the top layer so that the two layers have the same tonal value.

Use a third, colored layer between to check

Step 6: Flatten Images to Merge

You will need to delete the intermediate layer you created in the previous step. After doing this, you can use Flatten Image to combine the two pictures into one. 

You will now have merged layers that include the selected elements from both images. 

Flatten image to finish

Adobe Photoshop has Different Methods for Combining Images

There are different ways to start the combining process. 

Method 1: Merge Images via Adobe Photoshop CC

  • Choose the photo that you want to merge with the original one. You will need to hold your mouse button after you select it.
  • Next, move the cursor up into the tab containing the file where you want to copy the image. Keep holding the mouse button down through this step. 
  • With the mouse button still pressed, move the cursor over the top of the new image and hold down the Shift key, which will center the copied image.
  • You can finally release the mouse button. Both photographs are on the image now, each in a different layer. 

Method 2: Use Floating Windows 

  • On a Windows computer, you need to select the Window menu. On a Mac, however, you will choose the Application Frame.
  • In Windows, follow the instruction path Window > Arrange > Float All.  
  • In iOS, you can take this step without following the instruction path above. Once the Application Frame is off, the windows will be floating, and you will be able to click and drag an image from one window to another. Dragging and dropping will automatically combine the two photos into one image, and you can start your editing steps.
Float windows

Method 3: Try Tiled Windows 

  • Go to Window and choose the ‘Arrange’ option. It would help if you changed the setting to something that allows you to see the two files side by side, such as Two-Up Vertical.
  • For the next step, you need to drag one file to the other one. You can center the image by holding the Shift key. The two layers should automatically combine, and you can start your editing process. 

Other Details about Combining Images in Photoshop That You Should Know

In addition to the necessary steps, you need to understand some other aspects of image merging in Adobe Photoshop, including on the mobile app Photoshop Mix.

mountain range next to sea

How to Create a Quick Composite in Adobe Photoshop

A composite is when you combine multiple (more than two) images in Photoshop to make one new image.

  • Start with two images and combine them using any method.
  • You first press Ctrl+t to bring up the Free Transform tool. If any of the photos are too large for you to see its handles, you need to press Ctrl+0 to zoom out until you can see everything.
  • Once you have the handles, hold down the Shift key and drag a corner out till the images are the same size.  
  • Choose the Quick Select Tool and select the whole area with the tool.
  • Next, you need to choose Inverse Selection or press Ctrl+Shift+I

Matching Layer Colors

If your colors do not match despite your best efforts, you can correct them in each of the layers. 

  • Choose the background you want to change. Then head over to Image Adjustments and go to Match Color.
  • Choose the source that you want to match, which is one of the images in your pair.
  • After you choose the source, the color from that layer gets applied to the other layer.

Add Color to All Layers Together 

You can also merge images in another way by adding color to all layers.

  • You can start this process by going to the Add Adjustment Layer button. You then go to Solid Color and choose a color that you want.
  • Change the color to Blend mode.
  • Next, pull the opacity as low as you can without making it fully transparent. The color will get dripped down onto the other layers and tie them all together.  

Replacing or Adding a Background

Adding or changing a background layer is one of the most common reasons for merging photos. This type of merging works like the ones discussed above, though there are a few things to consider. 

For example, if you’re working with fur or hair, pick backgrounds whose dark and light areas match with the original context.

Adjusting Animal Heads

Animals aren’t as good at cooperating for a photo as humans. You can control animal poses by swapping out the heads. When you take this step, you need to consider shadows and position and flow of the fur. 

Swap Animal Heads

Editing Human Heads

You may want to swap human heads too. This process can be simple in Photoshop, but you need to make sure the lighting and settings are the same. Also, you will usually merge the new head with the rest of the person’s body at their neck. It needs to be perfectly aligned to look natural. 

Quick Tip: Make Sure to Take More Photos Than You Think You’ll Need

You can easily combine them in Photoshop if you take multiple images using the layer manipulation techniques we discussed. However, you should not take 100 photos of the same thing.

Instead, take pictures with the same lighting, lens focal length, and white balance settings. With the right settings, combining photos in Photoshop (and adding your rights reserved sticker)  is much more straightforward.