Written By Steve Patterson, Photoshop Essentials.com
In this Adobe Photoshop tutorial, we'll learn how to add excitement to a
photo (not that your photos aren't exciting enough, of course) and bring
more focus and attention to your main subject by creating the illusion of a
smaller, cropped version of the image within itself. We'll be using a vector
shape to create the dimensions of the smaller photo so we can easily
rotate and resize it without any loss of image quality, adding a couple of
layer styles to it, creating a clipping mask, sampling colors from the original
photo, using Adjustment Layers, and adding a fun Radial Blur filter. Lots of
Any recent version of Photoshop will work just fine for this effect. I'll be
using Photoshop CS2 here.
Here's the original image I'll be using for this tutorial:
And here's what we'll be working towards throughout the steps:
Now that we know where we're headed, let's get started.
Step 1: Duplicate The Background Layer
With my original photo open inside Photoshop, I can see in my Layers
palette that I currently have just one layer, the Background layer:
Photoshop tutorial: Photoshop's Layers palette showing the Background layer containing
my original image.
The first thing I need to do is duplicate the Background layer, so I'll use
the quick keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac). I now
have my copy of the Background layer showing in the Layers palette,
which Photoshop automatically names "Layer 1":
Photoshop tutorial: The Layers palette showing the Background layer with the copy of it
above, named 'Layer 1'
To keep things easier to follow as we go along, and as a good habit to get
into, I'm going to rename this layer to something more descriptive. Since
"Layer 1" will eventually become the smaller, cropped version of the photo,
I'm going to double-click on the name of the layer and change its name
from "Layer 1" to "Smaller version":
Photoshop tutorial: Double-click on the name "Layer 1" and change the layer's name to
Step 2: Create A New Layer Below The 'Smaller Version'
The next thing we need to do is create a new layer below the "Smaller
version" layer, so it ends up between the two layers we currently have.
What most people would do here is click on the Background layer to select
it and then create a new layer, since by default, Photoshop always creates
your new layer directly above the layer currently selected in the Layers
Here's a neat trick I prefer to use instead, and if you don't know about it,
once you do know it, you'll use it a lot. Rather than creating a new layer
above the currently selected layer, you can tell Photoshop to create it
below the currently selected layer by holding down the Ctrl key (Win) /
Command key (Mac) while you click the New Layer icon at the bottom of
the Layers palette, as I'll do here:
Photoshop tutorial: Hold down 'Ctrl' (Win) / 'Command' (Mac) as you click the New Layer
icon to create a new layer below the 'Smaller version' layer.
And now, thanks to that little trick, Photoshop has created a new blank
layer for me directly below the "Smaller version" layer:
Photoshop tutorial: The new layer, again named "Layer 1", created below the "Smaller
Since I renamed the previous "Layer 1" to "Smaller version", Photoshop
has gone and named this second new layer "Layer 1" in its place. I'm going
to double-click the layer's name and rename it to "Clipping mask", since
in a moment, we're going to be using this layer to "clip" the layer above it:
Photoshop tutorial: Double-click on the name of the new layer and rename it "Clipping
So far in this tutorial, we started out with our original Background layer,
duplicated it, renamed it "Smaller version", then used a little-known trick to
create a new layer below it and renamed that layer to "Clipping mask". In
this section, we'll be letting that layer live up to its name by using it to "clip"
the layer above it into our smaller, cropped version of the photo. Before we
can do that though, we need to define the shape of our smaller version,
and for that, we'll use a vector shape. Why use a vector shape and not just
drag out a selection with the Rectangular Marquee tool? Simple. By having
our smaller photo drawn as a vector shape, we're free to resize and rotate
it as much as we want without worrying about causing the edges to
become soft or jagged, a definite possibility if we were using a pixel-based
shape which is what the Marquee tools would create.
Step 3: Drag Out The Shape Of The Smaller Photo With
The Rectangle Tool
With the "Clipping mask" layer selected in the Layers palette, select the
Rectangle tool either from Photoshop's Tools palette or by pressing U on
Photoshop tutorial: Select the Rectangle tool.
The Rectangle tool draws rectangular vector-based shapes, and with it
selected, I'm going to drag out the approximate shape and location of my
smaller, cropped photo. I want to bring focus and attention to the subject of
the photo, which in this case is the guy in the kayak, so I'll drag out a
rectangular shape around him:
Photoshop tutorial: Drag out the approximate shape and location of the smaller version
around your subject.
With the vector shape drawn, notice what's happened in the Layers
palette. The "Clipping mask" layer, which was a normal, blank layer a
moment ago, has now become a vector shape layer:
Photoshop tutorial: The "Clipping mask" layer has become a vector shape layer.
In case you're wondering, the layer is still named "Clipping mask", even
though you can no longer see the name. If I was to drag out the width of
the Layers palette, you'd see it.
Step 4: Use The Vector Shape To Create A Clipping Mask
Now that we have the shape of our smaller, cropped version of the photo
drawn out, we can use this shape as a clipping mask, which will "clip" the
layer above it to the dimensions of the shape. To do that, hold down the
Alt key (Win) / Option key (Mac) and move your mouse cursor directly
between the "Smaller version" and "Clipping mask" layers, until you
see your cursor change into the clipping mask icon (circled in red below):
Photoshop tutorial: Hold down Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and move your mouse directly
between the two layers until your cursor changes to the clipping mask icon
Once your clipping mask icon appears, simply click with your mouse to
create the clipping mask. It won't seem like anything has happened yet in
your image, but in the Layers palette, the "Smaller version" layer will indent
to the right, indicating that it's now being clipped by the vector shape below
Photoshop tutorial: The Layers palette now showing the "Smaller version" layer clipped
by the vector shape layer below it.
Nothing much has happened yet to the image, but we're about to change
that. We're going to create the appearance of our smaller, cropped photo
around the subject by adding a couple of layer styles to the vector shape.
Step 5: Add A White Stroke To The Vector Shape To
Create The Border Of The Smaller Photo
Click on the vector shape layer in the Layers palette to select it, and then
click on the Layer Styles icon at the bottom of the palette:
Photoshop tutorial: Click on the vector shape layer to select it, then click the Layer Styles
icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.
Select Stroke from the list:
Photoshop tutorial: Select "Stroke".
This brings up the rather massive Layer Style dialog box with our Stroke
Photoshop tutorial: The Stroke options in the Layer Style dialog box.
There's three options we want to change here, and I've circled them in red
in the screenshot above. I've set my Stroke Size to 10px to create a
"Polaroid"-size border around my smaller photo. Depending on the size of
the photo you're working with, you may find a different value works better.
Below that, make sure Position is set to Inside. This means our stroke will
appear inside the boundaries of the shape. By default, Position is set to
"Outside", which causes the corners of the stroke to appear rounded. We
want our corners nice and sharp, and "Inside" does that for us. Finally, by
default, Photoshop sets the stroke color to red, which makes absolutely no
sense, and obviously we don't want a red border around our image, so
change the stroke color to white.
Here's what my image looks like so far with the 10px white stroke applied:
Photoshop tutorial: The smaller photo is now visible with the white 10px stroke applied.
Don't click OK yet though. We have one more layer style to apply.
Step 6: Apply A Drop Shadow
With the Layer Style dialog box still open, click on the very first layer style
at the top of the list on the left, Drop Shadow. Make sure you click directly
on the words "Drop Shadow" and don't simply click inside the check box to
the left of them. We want to bring up the options for the drop shadow
effect, and you need to click directly on the words themselves for that.
Photoshop tutorial: Click directly on the words "Drop Shadow" at the top of the list of
layer styles on the left.
This changes the options shown in the Layer Style dialog box from the
Stroke options to the Drop Shadow options:
Photoshop tutorial: The Drop Shadow options in the Layer Style dialog box.
The two options we're most concerned about here are the Angle and
Distance options, circled in red above. Now, we could start guessing at
values and continue entering them in manually until our drop shadow looks
the way we want it, but there's a much better way to go about this. Keeping
the Layer Style dialog box open and set to Drop Shadow, simply click
anywhere inside your image and drag your mouse around. As you
drag the mouse, you'll see the drop shadow moving right along with you,
and the values for "Angle" and "Distance" changing dynamically as you
I've dragged my drop shadow around and ended up with an angle value of
134 degrees and a distance of 9 px, which looks good to me. When you
have your drop shadow placed where you want it, click OK to exit out of
the Layer Style options.
Here's my image now with both the white stroke and the drop shadow
Photoshop tutorial: The smaller photo now has the white stroke and the drop shadow
Step 7: Use 'Free Transform' To Rotate And/Or Resize The
Vector Shape As Needed
If you need to rotate, resize or reposition your vector shape at this point,
make sure the vector shape layer is selected in the Layers palette and
then use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to bring
up the Free Transform box and handles around the smaller photo.
To move the vector shape, click anywhere inside the Free Transform box
and drag the shape to a new location, or use the arrow keys on your
keyboard to nudge it. To resize the shape, click and drag any of the Free
Transform handles. To simply make the shape larger or smaller while
keeping the same proportions for width and height, hold down the Shift
key as you drag any of the corner handles. Holding down Alt (Win) /
Option (Mac) as you drag will cause the shape to resize from the center
rather than from the side or corner opposite from where you're dragging.
Finally, to rotate the shape, click and drag your mouse anywhere outside
of the Free Transform box. Press Enter or Return when you're done to
apply the transformation.
Rotating the vector shape adds a bit more excitement to the image, as I've
done below. I've also made slight changes to the size and position of my
Photoshop tutorial: Resize, reposition and/or rotate the shape of the smaller photo as
needed using "Free Transform".
Our smaller cropped photo around the subject is now complete. We'll finish
the image off by colorizing and blurring the original image in the
We're almost done. All of the work on creating the illusion of the smaller,
cropped photo inside the main image is complete, and all that's left to do
now is some work on the original image in the background. There's all
sorts of things you could do with it. You could technically leave it alone and
be happy with what you have at this point, but now that we've increased
the focus on the main subject, the idea is to lessen the focus on the rest of
the image that's in the background. You could desaturate it and make it
black and white. You could add a simple Gaussian Blur filter to blur out the
background. You could use Levels or Curves to lighten the background
and give it a "washed out" appearance. There's plenty of options, and you
certainly don't have to do what I'm about to do here, which is to colorize it
and add a Radial Blur effect, but if you do want the same look for your
background, here's how you do it.
Step 8: Use The Eyedropper Tool To Sample A Color From
Inside The Smaller Photo Area
Select the Eyedropper Tool from the Tools palette, or press I on your
keyboard to select it. I'm going to use the Eyedropper to sample a color
from inside the smaller photo area and then use that color to colorize the
original image in the background:
Photoshop tutorial: Select the Eyedropper tool to sample a color from inside the smaller
With the Eyedropper selected, I'm going to click somewhere on the helmet
of the guy to sample that blue color:
Photoshop tutorial: Sampling a color from the helmet.
Notice that my foreground color in the Tools palette has now changed to
that blue color I just sampled:
Photoshop tutorial: The foreground color in the Tools palette has changed to the blue
color sampled from the helmet.
I can now use this color to colorize the original photo in the background,
using a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.
Step 9: Colorize The Background With A Hue/Saturation
Click on the Background layer in the Layers palette to select it. Then click
on the New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the palette and select
Hue/Saturation from the list:
Photoshop tutorial: Click on the "New Adjustment Layer" icon at the bottom of the Layers
palette and select "Hue/Saturation".
This brings up the Hue/Saturation dialog box, which I'm going to use to
colorize my background. No need to start dragging sliders around to select
a color here, I've already sampled my color from the image. All I have to do
is click the Colorize option inside the dialog box (circled in red):
Photoshop tutorial: Select the "Colorize" option in the Hue/Saturation dialog box.
And Photoshop will use that sampled color to colorize my original image in
Photoshop tutorial: The original image in the background is now colorized with the
Click OK to exit out of the Hue/Saturation dialog box.
One last thing to do, and that's apply a Radial Blur to the background.
Step 9: Duplicate The Background Layer Once Again
Before we go applying our Radial Blur, let's duplicate the Background layer
one more time so that we have a separate layer on which to apply the
filter, since we never want to touch our original pixel information of our
image on the Background layer. Select the Background layer in the Layers
palette, press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) to duplicate it, then
double-click on the new layer's name and call it "Radial Blur", as I've done
Photoshop tutorial: Duplicate the Background layer once again and rename it "Radial
Step 10: Apply The Radial Blur Filter To The New Layer
With the new "Radial Blur" layer selected in the Layers palette, go up to the
Filter menu at the top of the screen, select Blur, and then select Radial
Blur, which brings up the Radial Blur dialog box:
Photoshop tutorial: Filter > Blur > Radial Blur to bring up the Radial Blur dialog box.
As circled in red above, I've entered an Amount value of 40. The Amount
value determines how much of blur effect you'll get, and you may want a
different value. For Blur Method select Zoom and set the Quality to Best.
The Blur Center option in the bottom right determines where the blur will
originate from in your image. Try to position the blur center close to where
the subject in your photo is by clicking at that approximate location in the
Blur Center box. It's not the most accurate thing in the world and it make
take you a couple of tries before you get it right, so don't be afraid to undo
the filter with Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac) and try again. I'm happy
with my Radial Blur settings, so I'll click OK to apply the blur to my Radial
Photoshop tutorial: The image with the Radial Blur filter applied.
Step 11: Lower The Opacity Of The Radial Blur Layer
This last step is optional, but I think my radial blur is a bit too intense and I
want to blend it in more with the original image on the Background layer,
and I can do that simply by going up to the Opacity setting in the top right
corner of the Layers palette, clicking directly on the word "Opacity" to turn
my mouse cursor into the "scrubby slider" icon, and then dragging my
mouse to the left to lower the opacity. I'll lower mine to 60%, which I think
Photoshop tutorial: If needed, lower the opacity of the Radial Blur layer to blend the
effect in with the original image on the Background layer below it.
For comparison, here's my original image once again:
And here's my final result:
Photoshop tutorial: The final "Photo Within A Photo" result.