Create a Picture in Picture effect with Photoshop

How to Create a Picture in Picture Effect in Photoshop

Learn how to create a picture-in-picture effect in Photoshop from a single photo by adding a smaller, cropped version of your image inside the original! A step-by-step tutorial.

Written by Steve Patterson.

In this tutorial, I show you how to create a fun picture-in-picture effect with Photoshop by taking a single photo and creating the illusion that a smaller, cropped version of the same photo is inside it. We’ll crop and rotate the smaller image around our main subject, add a border and drop shadow to make it stand out, and we’ll convert the original photo behind it to black and white.

For best results, you'll want to be using Photoshop 2021 or later.

Here's an example of what the final picture-in-picture effect will look like when we're done:

A picture-in-picture effect created in Photoshop with a smaller version of the photo placed inside the original photo.
The final effect.

Let's get started!

Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

Step 1: Open your image

Start by opening your image. I’ll use this image from Adobe Stock:

The original photo that will be used in the picture in picture effect.
The original photo.

Step 2: Make a copy of the Background layer

In the Layers panel, the image opens on the Background layer:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the original image on the Background layer.
The Layers panel.

Make a copy of the image by dragging the Background layer down onto the Add New Layer icon:

Dragging the Background layer onto the Add New Layer icon in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Dragging the Background layer onto the Add New Layer icon.

A copy appears above the original:

A Background copy layer appears above the original Background layer.
A Background copy layer appears.

Step 3: Rename the copy Small

The copy will be used to create the smaller photo inside the larger one. So double-click on the name Background copy and rename the layer Small. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard to accept it:

Renaming the layer to Small.
Renaming the layer.

Step 4: Turn the Small layer off

We don’t need the Small layer just yet, so turn the layer off by clicking its visibility icon:

Clicking the Small layer off by clicking its visibility icon.
Clicking the Small layer's visibility icon.

Step 5: Select the Background layer

Before creating the smaller version of the photo, we'll convert the original photo to black and white. Click on the Background layer to select it:

Selecting the Background layer in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Selecting the Background layer.

Step 6: Add a Black & White adjustment layer

Then click the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon.

And choose a Black & White adjustment layer from the list:

Adding a Black and White adjustment layer above the original photo
Choosing Black & White.

The adjustment layer appears between the Background layer and the Small layer. This means it will affect only the Background layer below it, not the Small layer above it:

The Black and White adjustment layer is added above the Background layer.
The adjustment layer is added above the Background layer.

And the image is instantly converted to black and white:

The Black and White adjustment layer converts the image from color to black and white.
The result after adding the Black & White adjustment layer.

Step 7: Click the Auto button

The controls for the Black & White adjustment layer appear in Photoshop’s Properties panel. You could fine-tune the black and white conversion by dragging the individual color sliders (Reds, Yellows, Greens, and so on) to adjust the brightness of different parts of the image based on their original color:

Dragging the color sliders for the Black and White adjustment layer in the Properties panel.
The color sliders in the Properties panel.

But since the effect is really just for the background and most of it will be hidden by the smaller photo, clicking the Auto button should give you a result that’s good enough:

Clicking the Auto button for the Black and White adjustment layer in the Properties panel.
Clicking the Auto button.

Step 8: Select and turn on the Small layer

Now we’ll create the smaller, full color photo inside the original.

Back in the Layers panel, click on the Small layer to select it:

Selecting the Small layer in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Selecting the Small layer.

Then click the layer's visibility icon to turn it back on:

Turning the Small layer on by clicking its visibility icon.
Turning on the Small layer.

The color version of the image reappears:

The result after turning on the Small layer.
The result after turning on the Small layer.

Step 9: Select the Rectangle Tool

In the toolbar, select the Rectangle Tool. Don’t select the Rectangular Marquee Tool near the top since that’s a selection tool. We want the Rectangle Tool which is one of Photoshop’s shape tools:

Selecting the Rectangle Tool from Photoshop's toolbar.
Selecting the Rectangle Tool from the toolbar.

Step 10: Set the Tool Mode to Shape

In the Options Bar, make sure the Tool Mode is set to Shape, not Path or Pixels:

Setting the Tool Mode to Shape in Photoshop's Options Bar
Setting the Tool Mode to Shape.

Step 11: Set the shape's color to black

Set the shape’s color to black if it’s not set to black already. The color does not really matter, but black is easy to see as we’re drawing the shape.

Click the Fill color swatch:

Clicking the Fill color swatch in Photoshop's Options Bar
Clicking the Fill color swatch in the Options Bar.

Then click the Color Picker icon in the upper right of the dialog box:

Clicking the Color Picker icon to choose a shape color.
Opening the Color Picker.

And choose black from the Color Picker by setting the R, G and B values to 0. Then click OK to close the Color Picker:

Choosing black from Photoshop's Color Picker.
Choosing black from the Color Picker.

Step 12: Turn off the stroke around the shape

By default, Photoshop adds a 1 pixel black stroke around shapes, which we don’t want. So click the Stroke color swatch:

Clicking the Stroke color swatch in Photoshop's Options Bar.
Clicking the Stroke color swatch in the Options Bar.

Then click the No Color icon in the upper left. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to close the dialog box:

Clicking the No Color option for the stroke.
Choosing No Color for the stroke.

Step 13: Draw a shape around your main subject

Drag out a rectangular shape around your main subject(s). The shape will become the smaller version of the image, so make sure to surround everything that should appear inside it.

Click in the upper left of your subject to set a starting point for the shape. Then keep your mouse button held down and drag towards the bottom right. As you drag, only an outline of the shape appears:

Drawing a rectangular shape around the main subjects in the photo.
Drawing a rectangular shape around the main subjects in the photo.

How to reposition the shape

To reposition the shape as you draw it, keep your mouse held down and press and hold the spacebar on your keyboard. Drag the shape to where you need it, and then release your spacebar and continue dragging out the rest of the shape.

How to complete the shape

Release your mouse button when you’re done to complete the shape, at which point Photoshop fills it with black:

Releasing your mouse button completes the shape.
Releasing your mouse button completes the shape.

Step 14: Resize the shape if needed

Since the shape is completely blocking the image behind it, it’s hard to see if it was drawn exactly where we need it. So to see the image through the shape, lower the Opacity of the shape layer in the Layers panel to 50 percent. A quick way is to press the number 5 on your keyboard:

Lowering the shape's opacity to 50 percent in Photoshop's Layers panel
Press 5 to lower the shape's opacity to 50 percent.

Then click and drag any of the handles around the shape to resize it as needed:

Resizing the shape by dragging the handles.
Resizing the shape by dragging the handles.

Resetting the shape’s opacity back to 100 percent

When you're done resizing the shape, reset the shape layer’s opacity in the Layers panel back to 100 percent by pressing the number 0 on your keyboard. The shape will once again block the image from view:

Resetting the shape layer's opacity to 100 percent.
Press 0 to reset the shape's opacity to 100 percent.

Step 15: Drag the Small layer above the shape

Next, we'll place the image on the Small layer into the shape. In the Layers panel, the shape currently sits above the image:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the shape layer above the image.
The shape layer is above the image.

We need the image to be above the shape. So click on the Small layer and drag it above the shape layer. When a blue highlight bar appears above the shape layer:

Dragging the image layer above the shape layer.
Dragging the image above the shape layer.

Release your mouse button to drop the Small layer into place:

The image has been moved above the shape layer.
The image has been moved above the shape.

And in the document, the photo now blocks the shape from view:

The photo is now blocking the shape below it.
The photo is now blocking the shape.

Step 16: Create a clipping mask

To place the image into the shape, click on the Layers panel menu icon:

Clicking the Layers panel menu icon.
Clicking the menu icon.

And choose Create Clipping Mask:

Choosing the Create Clipping Mask command.
Choosing the Create Clipping Mask command.

Photoshop clips the image on the Small layer to the shape layer below it:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the image layer clipped to the small layer.
The Layers panel showing the image layer clipped to the shape layer.

And the full color image now appears only within the boundaries of the shape, while the black and white version on the Background layer reappears around it:

The result after clipping the color image to the shape layer.
The result after clipping the Small layer to the shape layer.

Related: Learn more about Clipping Masks

Step 17: Select the shape layer

To help the smaller image stand out, add a white border and a drop shadow. We'll start with the border.

In the Layers panel, select the shape layer:

Selecting the shape layer in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Selecting the shape layer.

Step 18: Add a white stroke around the shape

Then click the layer effects icon (the “fx” icon) at the bottom:

Clicking the layer effects icon in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Clicking the layer effects icon.

And choose Stroke from the list:

Adding a Stroke layer effect to the shape.
Adding a Stroke layer effect.

The stroke color

In the Layer Style dialog box, change the stroke color by clicking the color swatch:

Clicking the Stroke color swatch in Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box.
Clicking the color swatch.

And in the Color Picker, choose white by setting the R, G and B values to 255. Then click OK to close the Color Picker:

Setting the stroke color to white in Photoshop's Color Picker.
Choosing white from the Color Picker.

The stroke position

Back in the Layer Style dialog box, make sure the stroke's Position is set to Inside to keep the corners of the border nice and sharp:

Setting the Position of the stroke to Inside.
Setting the Position to Inside.

The stroke size

Then drag the Size slider to set the width of the border. The size you need will depend on your image. I’ll set mine to 40 pixels:

The stroke Size option in Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box.
Use the Size slider to set the border size.

And here’s the effect with the border around the smaller photo:

The picture in picture effect with a white border around the smaller photo.
The effect with the border added.

Step 19: Add a drop shadow

To add a shadow behind the photo, click on the Drop Shadow option in the effects column along the left of the Layer Style dialog box:

Selecting the Drop Shadow effect in Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box.
Selecting the Drop Shadow effect.

The shadow's angle and distance

Then click and drag inside the image to set the shadow’s Angle and Distance. Here I’m dragging down and to the right so the light source for the shadow appears to be coming from the upper left:

Dragging the drop shadow down and to the right of the photo.
Dragging the shadow down and to the right.

Or you can enter specific Angle and Distance values in the dialog box. I’ll set the Angle to 135 degrees and the Distance to 50 pixels. You may need a smaller or larger Distance value depending on your image:

Setting the Angle and Distance of the drop shadow in Photoshop's Layer Style dialog box
Entering specific Angle and Distance values.

The shadow size

The Size value controls the softness or feathering of the shadow edges. I'll set it to 15 pixels:

Softening the shadow edges by increasing the Size value.
Softening the shadow edges by increasing the size.

The shadow opacity

And you can adjust the intensity of the shadow (how light or dark it appears) by dragging the Opacity slider. But I’ll leave it at the default value of 35 percent:

Leaving the shadow opacity at the default value.
Leaving the Opacity at the default value.

Click OK when you’re done to close the Layer Style dialog box. And here’s the effect with the border and shadow added to the smaller photo. Only one more thing left to do:

The picture in picture effect with a border and drop shadow added to the smaller photo.
The effect with the border and drop shadow added.

Step 20: Rotate the shape

Finally, you can add more excitement to the effect by rotating the shape around your subject.

In the Layers panel, make sure the shape layer is active:

Selecting the shape layer in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Selecting the shape layer in the Layers panel.

And with the Rectangle Tool still active in the toolbar, hover your mouse cursor just outside one of the shape’s handles. The cursor will change into a Rotate icon (a curved line with an arrow on both ends):

Hovering the mouse cursor outside a handle to switch to the Rotate icon.
Hover near a handle to get the Rotate icon.

Then click and drag to rotate the shape. The image inside the shape will remain fixed in place. Only the shape itself, along with its border and drop shadow, will rotate, making it look like the photo was taken on an angle:

Rotating the small photo around the main subjects.
Rotating the smaller photo around the main subjects.

Step 21: Make any final adjustments to the shape's size

Check to make sure that the rotated shape is not cutting off parts of your subject, and resize the shape again if needed by dragging the handles.

When you're done, hide the outline and handles around the shape by pressing Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard.

And here, after extending the bottom of the shape to avoid cutting off part of the woman's thumb, is my final picture-in-picture effect:

A picture-in-picture effect created in Photoshop with a smaller photo placed inside the larger photo.
The final effect.

Where to go next...

And there we have it! That's how easy it is to create a picture-in-picture effect with Photoshop!

For similar effects, check out my step-by-step tutorials on how to turn a single photo in a collage, how to create a polaroid collage, or how to add a classic photo border to your images.

And don't forget, all of my tutorials are available to download as PDFs!