How cool is that? Did you know that you can combine a series of images into a GIF, or video type collection of your photos, using Photoshop Elements? You are essentially creating a stop motion video and you get to choose exactly which frames, which expressions, which grins are included.

Creating a GIF would be great for sports photography and first steps, not to mention blowing out the candles on the birthday cake.

This effect is best when you’ve used a tripod to ensure that the camera stays stable during shots, but it’s not necessary. I didn’t use a tripod for the example above.

You create this GIF by building a PSD file with each photo you want to include duplicated in as a layer. Saving the file as a GIF via Save for Web gives you the animation option. But of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. Below are the steps to create a smooth, nicely-transitioned GIF.

By the way, this tutorial works in Elements as well as full Photoshop. It is one of the few techniques on my website that is easier using full Photoshop. I’ll explain the differences in parentheses.

  1. Start with a series of images taken at the same time. Well, I suppose you could combine unrelated images, but it makes me dizzy to think about.
  2. You want the images to be edited consistently so that each frame matches the photo before and after it. The best way to do this? Batch edit in LR. Elements will work too, although it will take you a lot longer. Make sure to apply the same layers to each and every photo you edit. Here is the before and after edit of one of my before afterIn Lightroom, I toned down the white balance – the candles were making her face too warm and pink.  I also reduced Highlights down to -100. Not as you might imagine, because the candles were blowing out. When you save as a GIF, you drastically reduce the number of colors that can appear in your photo. Any areas that are too bright are going to look awful in the GIF – in this  photo, her face was way to bright where the candles were shining, once I converted to GIF. It’s better to have a slightly dull and muted edit than a cartoonish GIF!
  3. Once you’ve edited your images, you want to combine them all into one file. If you’re using LR+PSE, export the images you want to use in to a special folder. Resize them to no more than 1500 pixels on the widest side. If you are using PSE only, I would save each edited file as a JPG, again into a special folder just for this project. From there, use Elements to open the first photo in the sequence. Go to File>Place to put the 2nd photo on top of it, and repeat the Place command for all photos in the series. You’ll end up with one file that has many layers.
  4. (If you have LR and full Photoshop, combining these photos into one file is easy. Select all the files in LR and right click to select Edit In>Open As Layers in Photoshop. This doesn’t work with LR+PSE.)gift open layers
  5. It’s important that these layers are arranged in chronological order, with the first photo at the bottom of your layer stack and the last photo at the top. If your photos are out of order, click and drag to rearrange. (If you are using full Photoshop, skip now to step 11 for the rest of your tutorial).
  6. If you didn’t use a tripod, look at your layers to see how much movement there is from frame to frame. If it will be distracting, you can relocate some of the layers to make them match each other better. The best way to do this is to turn off all layers except the background layer (alt/option click on background layer eyeball to make this happen). If the Background layer has a lock icon on it in the layers panel, double click the lock to unlock it. Reduce the layer’s opacity to 50%.  Turn on one layer at a time, select the Move tool and move the upper layer until it lines up better with the first layer. Moving the layers will give you empty spots. You can remove them by cropping the image (after you’ve moved all layers) or by filling them in with the Clone Stamp tool – you don’t want to leave any blanks, or areas of transparency, in any layers.
  7. We’re ready to save (finally!). Make sure that the first image is the only one turned on (alt/option click on background layer eyeball if not). Go to File>Save for Web. Select GIF and 256 colors at the top. Put a check mark in the Animate box.gif save web elements

  8. At this point, you might get a message saying that the file is too big for Elements to animate. If that’s the case, hit cancel and then re-enter the Save for Web dialog box. Go straight to the New Size section and make the widest side 600 or 400 pixels. If you’re still not able to animate, you’ll need to delete some layers. I was only able to save 14 separate frames in my GIF using PSE. (I didn’t encounter a limit in full PS).
  9. Look at the Animate section at the bottom of this dialog. You can set the amount of time for each frame to display (I chose 2 tenths of a second) and whether you want the GIF to play only once or continuously. If the colors look funny, play with the drop downs that say Selective and Diffusion in my screenshot above.
  10. When you’re ready, hit Save. You’ll be prompted to choose a location. From there, you can upload this file to an email or your website just like any other photo. Note that GIFs don’t work on Facebook. They do work on Pinterest, however:gif pinterestAnd they work on Instagram too, as long as you download an app that converts them to a video rather than a GIF.
  11. The rest of this tutorial is for full Photoshop only. Elements users, skip down to the Extra Credit section below. After you have your layers in one file, you can align the images – this is helpful if you didn’t use a tripod. Select all layers (control/command click each one) and go to Edit>Auto Align Layers. I use the Auto choice in the resulting dialog box. This option will crop, move and sometimes warp your images to make them fit together nicely. It helps when there is a good straight line in your images, like the edge of the table in this example. After running this function, go back and look at each layer. You don’t want any transparent pixels in your final file, so you will either need to crop the file down or use the clone stamp tool to create new pixels. If a layer is too warped, it might be better to simply delete it and use a different photo.
  12. Now, display the Timeline panel (Window>Timeline). If you see something that looks like a movie editor with scissors and audio controls (see image below), click on the icon that has 3 rectangles.timelineYou should see something like this now:timeline framesSelect all of your layers in the layers panel. Click on the panel options button (upper right corner of Timeline panel, looks like 4 horizotnal lines) and select Make Frames from Layers. (Note that you can also reverse their order here if they are backwards).
  13. Using this panel, you can adjust the length of time that each individual frame plays. In my GIF above, each frame was .2 second, except for the last, which was 2 full seconds. Preview your GIF by pressing the Play button.
  14. When you are ready to Save your file, go to File>Save for Web. gif ps save webYou can see above the settings that worked for me. At a minimum, GIF needs to be selected at the top, and 256 colors just under it. You can play with the Selective and Diffusion settings if your colors don’t look right. When you are ready, click the Save button and save this new file in the location of your choosing.


Extra Credit?

Do you want a “blinkie” graphic or ad for your blog? Use this same exact method. For example, if you wanted to have a lightbulb blinking off and on, you could have one frame with a bulb on it, and nothing on the next frame. Animating these would make the light “blink.” Adding the same logo or text to each layer would make sure the logo or text showed constantly.