Eclipse Trail Composite


Today’s Question: I am planning to shoot the solar eclipse. One plan is to shoot with a wide angle and create a “trail”. How does one, quickly and easily, blend these images to create the trail?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can blend a series of eclipse photos together in Photoshop by assembling them into a single layered document, moving them into the correct position for alignment, and changing the blend mode for all layers to Screen. Add a black background layer to fill in the blank areas, and that’s about it.

More Detail: Creating a composite image that includes a sequence of images forming a trail representing the progression of a solar eclipse can help emphasize the drama of such an event. With Photoshop it is actually quite easy to create this type of composite.

The first step is to get the individual images into Photoshop as layers. If you’re using Lightroom Classic you can select the full range of images you want to include and then go to the menu and choose Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop. You can also select the images in Adobe Bridge and then from the menu choose Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop Layers.

With the images assembled into a single document in Photoshop as individual layers, you can then change the blend mode for all those layers to Screen. To do so, click the thumbnail for the top-most layer and then hold the Shift key on the keyboard and click the thumbnail for the bottom-most layer. Then change the popup at the top-left of the Layers panel that has a default value of Normal to Screen.

Next, choose the Move tool from the toolbar (or by pressing the “V” key on the keyboard, and select each layer in turn and move it into the appropriate position. As you drag a layer outside the current image area, choose Image > Reveal All from the menu to expand the canvas so you can see all areas of all image layers. You can repeat this command as needed as you continue spreading out the individual layers.

Once you’ve finished getting all the layers into the right position, click on the thumbnail for the bottom-most layer on the Layers panel. Then hold the Ctrl key on Windows or Command key on Macintosh while clicking on the “Create New Layer” button (the plus symbol in a square) at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will add a new layer below the selected layer. Then choose Edit > Fill from the menu, set the Contents popup to Black, make sure the Mode popup is set to Normal, and click the OK button to fill the new layer with black.

With the layers arranged into the right positions and the blend mode for each set to Screen, the images will blend together to form a trail of the stages of the eclipse. You can then apply any additional adjustments, crop the image, or otherwise finalize to your liking.