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Tutorial: Create A Transparent Screen Trick Photo

You’ve all seen these trick photos that make it look like your computer’s screen is transparent. It seems like the photographer took a picture, uploaded it to the computer, set it as the desktop background, positioned the computer (screen) carefully in the scene and photographed it all again. The truth is fortunately much simpler than that and this tutorial shows you just how to easily you can do your own transparent screen trick photo.

Here’s the final picture:

Transparent Screen MacBook Pro - Final Picture

Transparent Screen MacBook Pro - Final Picture



Equipment You’ll Need:

  • Camera
  • Computer screen (laptop, iPad, iPhone, etc.)
  • Tripod (or other flat surface so your camera doesn’t move)
  • Image editing software (PS, PSE or other image editing software). I am using Photoshop Elements (PSE) 8.0 here and assume you know how to use it or your own favorite image editing software.
  • Props

STEP 1: Arrange The Scene And Take A Picture With Your Computer In The Scene.

We are going to take two pictures of the scene: one with your computer in it, and one without. Here, in this first step, we’ll arrange the scene and take a picture of the scene with the computer as part of it.

  • Minimize all windows on your computer’s screen and leave only a few icons (and maybe a small window if you like the ‘floating window’ effect). Change your computer’s screen background to a solid color. The reason is to make it easier to select the screen in the next step.
  • Place your computer, in this case my MacBook Pro (MBP), on the table.
  • Arrange the scene however you want, making sure that some of your props overlap behind the computer so that in the final scene, they will be seen through the transparent screen.
Step 1: Arrange The Scene And Take A Picture With Your Computer In The Scene

Step 1: Arrange The Scene And Take A Picture With Your Computer In The Scene

Here, I’ve placed a box (on the left) and the “Digger” toy (on the right) so that part of each is visible and part is hidden behind the computer’s screen.

  • Place your camera on your tripod
  • Compose and take a picture of your computer in the scene.

As you can see, the screen is definitely not transparent.

STEP 2: Take A Picture Without Your Computer In The Scene.

Next, we want to take a picture of the same scene, but with the computer removed.

  • Now, carefully remove your computer from the scene without disturbing any of the props in the scene.
  • Take a picture of the scene minus your computer.
STEP 2: Take A Picture Without Your Computer In The Scene

STEP 2: Take A Picture Without Your Computer In The Scene

You now have two pictures of the same scene, one with your computer in it, one without.

As far as picture-taking is concerned, that’s it. You’ve got the two photos you need to make the magic happen.

STEP 3: Select The Screen.

The rest of the steps are performed in PSE, so fire your image editing software up!

  • Transfer the pictures to your computer.
  • Open each picture in PSE in its own separate layer.
  • Using the Magic Wand Tool with a Tolerance of 30, I simply click on the blue screen to select it.

The solid color screen you choose as a background color will determine how easy — or frustrating — this step is.

STEP 3: Select The Screen.

STEP 3: Select The Screen.

Make sure your selection is clean:

  • Maximize the screen to 100% and verify that you have straight lines, corners, etc.
  • I’ve got a few stray pixels, so I use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to add and subtract those pixels out for a smooth selection.

If you look carefully at the picture above, you’ll notice that I turned all layers invisible, except the one with the picture I am editing (in this case the scene with the MBP).

STEP 4: Select The Scene.

This is the “magic” portion of the steps. This is where you do a sleight of hand and select the portion of the scene that matches what’s hidden behind your computer screen.

  • Still maintaining the screen selection in Step 3, switch to the scene without the computer in it. [Make the layer visible. Hide the other layer, if necessary.]
STEP 4: Select The Scene.

STEP 4: Select The Scene.

This selected portion of the scene will serve as the transparent screen of your computer.

STEP 5: Copy & Paste The Scene.

Now it’s simply a matter of Copying & Pasting the selected scene onto the screen. The selected scene will be pasted into the screen, giving the impression that your screen is transparent!

  • Copy the selected scene.
  • Switch back to the layer containing the picture with the computer in it, do a Paste Into Selection. The selected scene will be pasted exactly into the screen.

And here is our final picture:

Transparent Screen MacBook Pro - Final Picture

Transparent Screen MacBook Pro - Final Picture

Voilà, the Transparent Magic Screen Trick! Now, go forth and amaze your family and friends.

Additional notes:

  1. Notice how the exposure changed slightly between the two photos (STEP 2). It’s because I used Program shooting mode and Multi-Pattern metering — and the darkness of the screen obviously affected the exposure. If you’re after perfection, use Manual shooting mode to set the exposure the same for both shots.
  2. You may want to brighten the selected scene to further enhance the illusion that your screen is transparent.
  3. Need some inspiration? Here are some Smashing examples.

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