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Photo Merge: The Secret to Impactful Graphics

If you have ever seen an image that combined just the right balance of elements in a way that was so perfect as to be almost implausible, it’s likely that what you actually saw was a photo merge. These are often the images that garner the most attention and make the greatest impact. In this post we will talk about the advantages of using merged photos. We will end with a brief demonstration of the effects of photo merging.

Why Photo Merge?

Like many things in life, merging photos arose from a need. Very often, particularly in commercial applications, the image that a company needs does not exist. In addition, photo merging can be a more efficient means of articulating the company’s brand, products or current activities than a singular image would be.

I have experienced this phenomena in the case of business development proposals, in which a potential contract covers multiple, seemingly unrelated tasks. For example, I once worked on a proposal that involved the transfer of military equipment in the US to an overseas post to support the war fighters. I created the following image, merging all of the different elements of the contract: a truck, drone and cases representing the transfer of equipment; a compass representing the often-challenging navigational requirements involved; and the grunge background symbolizing the earthy nature of military operations.

Clearly, these elements would be virtually impossible to capture in any single photograph and yet, via photo merging, one image is able to tell a very complex and comprehensive story.

Other Benefits of Photo Merging

The example that we just looked at incorporated several benefits of photo merging in one image. Let’s break them down into several examples, each of which could easily stand alone.

First of all, photo merging enables the user to change elements of the photo, such as the background. In the example photo below, we can see how the photographer or graphic designer has applied a dreamlike background to a young, romantic couple.

This could be just as beneficial in commercial applications though. For example, suppose that your produce farming company needs a promotional photo of the company’s activities for an upcoming advertisement. For whatever reason, you may not be able to photograph the employees in the actual orchards and farmlands that they work - perhaps due to seasonal, weather, or other constraints. Instead, your graphic designer can take one photo of the people standing around a vintage farm truck and merge it with a photo of a glowing sunrise coming up over the rolling hills and orchards in the distance.

Hidden Valley Ranch commercials and advertisements often display this sort of idyllic imagery.

Second, it can be challenging to attain the optimal image when people or animals are involved, particularly when working with multiple people, especially children, or animals. Often, it is virtually impossible to capture, in one photo, everyone’s most radiant smiles, their eyes open, the young kids obediently standing as posed and every pet sitting calmly and gazing at the camera. However, photo merging gives the photo editor the ability to swap out portions of one photo with those of another in order to optimize the shot.

Third, photo merging can be used to superimpose elements that would not otherwise coexist. A classic example of this is from the movie E.T. The scene when Elliott and E.T. bicycle into the sky, across the full moon is the most iconic scene from that movie. And yet, this is a perfect example of the power of photo [or video] merging. This type of scene is clearly unrealistic in real life and yet it may be just the scene that your business needs to make that long-lasting impact.

Finally, here is an example of the merger of a woman, a background and a static object (a perfume bottle). This could easily be all of the above examples combined - the right pose/ facial expression, an unusual/ altered background and an object, none of which would coexist in one photo.

As you can see, in many instances, a merged photo is a better end result than any individual photo would have been.

The Dramatic Difference

Let’s walk through a quick and fairly easy example of a photo merge. We’ll begin with the following four elements: a “grunge” background + a compass + a world map + a U.S.A. passport.

Photo merging is generally done in Adobe Photoshop, a mainstream software. However, that’s not to say that it’s simple, or straight-forward. The differences between a merged photo done by an amateur and that of a professional are usually readily apparent. Good quality photo merging requires skill, not just in knowing which images to merge, but also in [digitally] cutting out and then applying realistic layering effects to each one.

In our example case, we will start with the grunge background (1). I then [digitally] cut out the compass (2), combine the two and apply the layering effects so that they appear to be one image.

Next, I extract the world map from its background. [You can imagine the extensive detail that would go into doing this.] As before, I lay it on top of the background and the compass and add more layering effects.

Lastly, I follow the same process with the passport: cut it out, merge it with the others and add layering effects. Hopefully, you can see that the final product, a subtle merger of four completely different starting images, is now one cohesive and visually appealing image.


Photo merging is a powerful communication tool. It can tell a story more efficiently, in a more aesthetically pleasing manner, often making a greater impact on consumers than a single photo would. This is why advertisers so often employ this capability.

It also opens the door to a world of virtually endless image solutions, one of which is sure to be the most impactful one for your business.

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