Photography • How-To How to Create an Animated Selfie

Bring your self (portrait) to life.

Fun poses and colorful backgrounds make for the perfect ingredients for animated self-portraits. I’ll show you how I mix photos, gradients, and timeline animations in Adobe Photoshop.

Headshot of Lidia Lukianova

Hi, I’m Lidia Lukianova. I’m an artist and designer at Adobe. My favorite projects include illustration, identity, lettering, and animation.

Before You Start

I provided a Photoshop document with two selfie photos if you’d like to use it to practice these steps, or you can take your own selfies and give it a go.

Step 1: Start with a Photo Shoot

You’ll want a series of selfie poses for this project. Ideally, each shot should be from the same distance. Someone else can take the pictures, or you can set your phone on a tripod or solid surface and use the camera's burst mode as you strike multiple poses. Open your two favorites in Photoshop. My document measures 1080x1080 document because a lot of social media sites accept that size.

Click the eye icon on the Layers panel to hide one portrait layer as you focus on the other layer. Then choose the Object Selection tool, drag to select the subject, and add a layer mask to remove the original background. Repeat this process on the second portrait layer.

Girl with red hair looks sideways against a transparent background, Object Selection tool, Layers panel with mask on portrait

Step 2: Refine the Selection

If some details weren't perfectly selected, you can refine the edges of the portrait. Select the Brush tool, set it to a soft tip, click the layer mask thumbnail, and then brush along the edges with the color black to hide, or white to show, details from the original image.

Girl with red hair looks straight ahead & winks, Brush tool set to soft 16-pixel tip, Layer mask highlighted on Layers panel

Step 3: Set a New Tone

Add adjustment layers above your portrait if you’d like to change its color. To convert to black and white, add a Hue/Saturation layer and decrease the Saturation. Then right-click and choose Create Clipping Mask so the adjustment applies only to the portrait on the layer below.

Headshot of girl winking is in Black & White, Hue/Saturation adjustment is clipped to Portrait 2 layer, Saturation is -100

Step 4: Create Some Contrast

A Levels adjustment is a great way to create rich contrast in a black and white photo. I added a Levels adjustment layer with the settings shown below, and then created a new clipping mask.

Black & white photo of winking girl shows Layers panel with a Levels adjustment, settings are 54, 1.13, and 236

Add adjustment layers and clip them to the second portrait layer. If you’re using the same adjustments on each photo, you can copy and paste the adjustment layers and move them above the second portrait before creating the clipping mask.

Black & white photo of winking girl shows Layers panel with a Levels & Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on each Portrait layer

Step 5: Add Colorful Backgrounds

Photoshop has gradient presets that make for colorful portrait backgrounds. Create a new layer and drag it below both portraits. Add a Gradient adjustment and choose one of the gradient styles to fill the new layer. Add three more gradient layers with different color combinations.

 Canvas shows pink & yellow gradient square, Layers panel shows 4 Gradient Fill styles, and Gradient Fill panel shows on right

Step 6: Prepare to Animate

The Timeline in Photoshop lets you create frame animation from layers. Click the eye icon to hide all layers except for one of the gradients. Show the Timeline and click the Create Frame Animation button. Photoshop adds the visible gradient layer. You can change the timing for the frame—I used .2 seconds and set the loop option to Forever.

Portrait of girl on pink & yellow gradient shows portrait on 1st frame in Timeline, and layer is visible in Layers panel

Step 7: Add a Picture to the Frame

Now that everything is in place, we just need the portrait. With the frame still selected in the Timeline, click the eye icon to show one of the portraits in the Layers panel to automatically add it to the first frame.

Portrait of girl on pink & yellow gradient shows portrait on 1st frame in Timeline, and layer is visible in Layers panel

Step 8: Repeat the Cycle

Make sure the first frame is highlighted and click the + icon to duplicate it. With the new frame selected, hide the current portrait and gradient in the Layers panel. Show the second portrait and a new gradient. Repeat this process to alternate portrait layers until you use each gradient style. I created four gradients, so I had four distinct frames. I selected all of the frames and copied and pasted them to double the length of the animation. Some social media sites have a minimum length requirement for animations, but you can copy and paste additional frames, or set the timing for each frame, until your animation is at least the minimum length. Press Play to preview your animation before you share.

Photo of winking girl on green and yellow gradient background, Timeline shows 8 frames with alternating portraits

Step 9: Save it for Social Media

I exported this project as an .mp4 file to upload it to Instagram. You can see my settings in the screenshot below. After you export the animation, you can use a variety of techniques to get it to your phone’s camera roll for sharing to social media. I saved my project to my Creative Cloud Files folder on my computer and then accessed it from the Creative Cloud app on my phone once it synced. You can use your favorite cloud app or even email it to yourself. Then, share it with the world.

File, Export, Render Menu is upper left, portrait on gradient with Render Video dialog set to H.264 format and 1080x1080 size

Set a Goal to Share

Take some selfies, add fun backgrounds, and tag @AdobeCreate so we can revel in your creativity.

Animated GIF shows 2 alternating portraits cycling through 4 different gradient backgrounds

Note: Project files included with this tutorial are for practice purposes only.

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