Adobe Photoshop – Behind the Scenes of a “Fake” History Photo

James and Dolley Madison Fake Photo

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Adobe Photoshop – Behind the Scenes of a “Fake” History Photo

“Lost Photographs of History” is a series of blog posts at Digital Yarbs that feature “fake” photos from history using life masks. Life masks were used before the age of photography to capture the exact likeness of an individual. Using reconstructed life masks, I attempt to show how these famous individuals from history might have appeared had they been photographed.

These photos are composites. Composites are made with elements from other images.

Unlike the reconstruction of the life mask itself, a composite photo is quite simple to make, well I should say some are. The composite in this post is my 3rd attempt at using 1/6 scale action figures in period dress costume for the compositions. Action figures are more challenging than real-life figures. Making them appear life-like is the difficulty, but in another sense, they are easier to use as one can adjust the pose and the lighting during the photo shoot.

I decided to redo one of my first compositions in my “Lost Photographs of History” series, James and Dolley Madison. This redo features James Madison with an action figure body rather than a real-life body.

Dolley and Anne

The photo I chose to use is a Daguerreotype of Dolley Madison and her niece Anne Payne. I debated on whether or not to keep Anne and add James or delete Anne and add James. I chose the latter though I do have an unpublished rough of this image with all three.


In this second photo, Anne is no longer in the picture, and the image is cleaner. Photoshop’s Clone tool makes all this possible.

Adding Lou, I mean James

A 1/6 scale Vampire Lou figure is now James Madison’s body. I chose this figure as it was one of the few I could find with realistic period dress clothing.

Now we know that this is not the type of attire Mr. Madison would wear. Mr. Madison was not known for flashy colors. He dressed in black most of the time. This is okay as the image will be de-saturated into black and white.

The third photo below shows the action figure body pasted into the picture with Dolley.

Using Photoshop’s Desaturate, the action figure is now black and white. The problem now is that the figure has too much contrast and is standing in front of Dolley.

To give the appearance of standing behind Dolley, I removed parts of the action figure body that blocked the view of Dolley.

The contrast is now changed to match more closely to that of Dolley. Also, I added some highlights to the shoulders of the figure. The James Madison head that I will be adding shows the light source is coming from above, so I tried to make the shoulders match. Now, pay attention to the hand on the action figure. It doesn’t look real; it still looks like that of an action figure.

Since the hand does not look real, I chopped it off (ouch!), and replaced it with a more realistic hand. I also had to clone some of the clothing back in the area of the missing hand. I added an extra button to his sleeve, probably shouldn’t go there, but I liked it.

A hand is added to the image, a real hand this time.

The hand has now been placed on the body and blended. By the way, the hand is mine; sadly, it looks old enough to fit on 70 plus year-old James Madison.

Adding James Madison

Here is James Madison’s reconstructed life mask. The reconstructed Madison head will replace Lou’s head on the action figure body.

James Madison Life Mask
Photoshop Reconstruction of the Life Mask of James Madison


James Madison’s head and a cravat has now been pasted into the image and desaturated to black and white.

The cravat has too much contrast. The cravat is separated from Madison’s head so that the change in contrast can be applied to the cravat only.

Mr. Madison’s head is placed on the body, the levels of contrast are changed, and the edges are cleaned. He is now looking to his left instead of directly into the camera.

The final image, lightened, sepia toned and frame added.

James and Dolley Madison Daguerreotype
Photoshop reconstruction of the 1825 life mask of 4th U.S. President James Madison by John Henri Browere and Daguerreotype of Dolley Payne Todd Madison.

Final Thoughts

James Madison was a little fellow at 5′ 4″ and 115 lbs. Dolley was slightly taller, some sources say 5′ 7″.  Hopefully,  I have James’ height correct in the image. Since Dolley is seated I had to imagine her standing and how she might look standing beside him.

Archival Quality Prints of James and Dolley Madison Available

See the video of the creation of the “The Lost Daguerreotype of James and Dolley Madison”

Sources & References:
1John Henri Isaac Browere. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 May 2020,
2Charles Henry Hart. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Browere’s Life Masks of Great Americans” Doubleday & McClure Co., 1899 (Public Domain)


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