Monthly Archives: September 2014

Tutorial on Juxtaposing Historical & Modern Images

Encouraged and inspired by my colleague Diana Montaño and Clayton Kauzlaric’s “Then & Again” project, I tried my hand at juxtaposing vintage, historical images onto modern ones. This approach, which visualizes physical changes over time, creates a powerful connection between the past and present of a particular place. In this tutorial, I will introduce the basic methodology for creating such an image using free, nearly universally-available tools. However, keep in mind that I am very much a novice at image retouching and editing, and feedback is much appreciated as I continue to improve this process and its end products.

Tools used:

Google Maps, Gimp 2.8, Microsoft Office Picture Manager, Microsoft Paint (seriously)


1. Locate the historical image you wish to superimpose onto a modern one. For this example, I will be utilizing the fantastic digital archive of historical photographs of Mexico City created by Carlos Villasana, Juan Carlos Briones, and Rodrigo Hidalgo and located on their Facebook page, La ciudad de Mexico en el tiempo.

2. In this case, I selected a photograph of the iconic Palacio de Bellas Artes under construction during the first decades of the twentieth century (See below). Once one has decided on the historical image, it’s time to find its modern counterpart using Google Maps.

facebook step

3. Normally, one would need to open up a browser, go to the Google Maps site, and locate the approximate modern location of your historical object/building/event from the vintage photograph. Fortunately for those of us interested in the history of Mexico City, La ciudad de Mexico en el tiempo’s photo galleries include links directly to the Google Maps Street View corresponding to the vintage images. (See image below.)

google maps step

4. While viewing the modern location In Google Maps Street View, attempt to recreate the same angle and viewing distance as the original historical image. This can be frustrating as Street View may not provide the perfect perspective for the juxtaposition of the two images. This issue can be resolved by taking one’s own photograph at the physical location, but of course this is much more time-consuming and may require some travel. Once you have lined up your perspective in Street View as best as possible, it’s time to capture the images.

5. To capture the two images (historical & modern) for beginning the juxtaposition process, I’ll use one method for both images, although there are several ways to accomplish this step. For all images that cannot be right-clicked on and the image directly downloaded, you can use the “print screen” button on your keyboard. Move your mouse cursor away from the area of the image you want to capture and click the print screen button once. (See image below.)

keyboard print screen step

6. This single press of the button copies the entirety of your screen to be pasted into an image retouching program, which in this case, will be good old Microsoft Paint. Open up Paint and press the “paste” icon in the upper left corner of the program. (See image below.)

paste into paint step

7. Once you’ve hit this button, the captured image should be pasted into Paint for capture as a .jpeg file. Go to the drop down icon in the upper-left corner of the program and select “Save as” and then “JPEG picture.” (See image below.)

save as jpeg step

8. Do this process twice, once for the Street View image and one for the historical image, and save your new image files to a secure, familiar location on your hard drive (these steps can be skipped if you scanned and/or uploaded the image files to your hard drive yourself rather than from the web).

9. To edit these images for juxtaposition, we’ll need to crop them down a bit, so open these two image files with Microsoft Office Picture Manager or your image editor of choice. You can select which program to open these files with by right-clicking on the image file and selecting the program from the drop-down list. Once you’ve opened the image file, you’ll want to open up the option to “edit pictures” or its equivalent. (See image below.)

edit pictures step

10. To crop out the unwanted content surrounding the images, use the “crop” tool to edit the image. (See image below.)

crop step

11. Once this has been done, the perspective of the modern image should resemble the historical image as closely as possible. (See image below.)

cropped photo step

12. Now that we have our two images looking as similar as possible prior to juxtaposing, we are ready to open up the modern image first using our free image retouching program, GIMP. Certainly it is possible to retouch these photos using Adobe Photoshop, but money doesn’t grow on trees, and as an adjunct professor I’m always looking for ways to cut costs and instead utilize good quality freeware. Download and install GIMP (I’ll be using GIMP 2.8 here) from their official website.

13. Open the modern image pulled from Street View first, clicking on the “open” tab found under the “File” icon. (See image below.)

gimp open google maps image

14. Once you’ve successfully imported the image into GIMP, it should look like the image below. A multitude of tools are now at your disposal for image retouching, but first you need to import the historical image (See image below.)

gimp image opened in gimp

15. Instead of using “open” to bring in the historical image, go to “File,” select “Open as Layers,” and then the image file for the historical photograph. (See image below.)

gimp import 2nd image

16. Once you’ve imported the historical image in as a separate layer, your screen in GIMP should look like the image below. Now it’s time to manipulate the size and positioning of the historical image to match the modern image. (See image below.)

gimp 2nd image on screen

17. The first tool needed to manipulate the historical image is the “move” tool, located in the “toolbox” window on the left side of the program. This tool allows you to grab and relocate the positioning of the historical image atop the modern one. (See image below.)

gimp move 2nd image around

18. The other very important tool utilized for this process is the “scale” tool, also located in the left-hand toolbox window. This tool allows you to resize the proportions of the historical image to fit as precisely as possible on top of the proportions of the modern image. (See image below.)

gimp scale 2nd image

19. After you click the scale tool button, left click on the historical image to begin resizing it. A grid and resizing boxes will appear over the historical image, allowing you to either input the exact pixel dimensions of the image or to left click and hold on the resizing boxes at the edges of the image.(See image below.) I prefer to resize using the latter method, but be sure to hit the “scale” button on the pop-up box once your resizing process is complete. However, to “perfectly” line up the two images, you’ll need to use a combination of “scale,” “move,” and a particular image attribute explained in the next step.

gimp scale applied to 2nd image

20. The obvious challenge in lining these two images up and resizing/repositioning the historical image is the inability to see through the historical to the modern for accurate juxtaposition. This can be resolved by adjusting the “opacity” of the historical image via a slider bar located under the “Layers” window on the right side of the screen. (See image below.) By clicking/sliding this attribute’s value (0-100), the historical image becomes more transparent as the opacity value goes down. By doing this, the modern image can more easily be seen in the background, allowing for accurate resizing/positioning of the historical image.

gimp adjust opacity to 2nd image

21. As you reposition and resize your historical image, be sure to use visual reference points in your two images to ensure proper overlap. In this example, I used three specific visual markers. (See image below.)

gimp manuvering the image in place

22. Once the two images are properly juxtaposed on top of one another (see image below), it’s time to remove unwanted visuals from around the historical image in order to blend it into the modern landscape.

gimp lined up right

23. The final tool to be utilized is the “eraser” tool, located on the toolbox window on the left side of the program. (See image below.) Adjust your brush size, hardness, and opacity to remove the background from the historical image.

gimp erase 2nd layer

24. Carefully use the eraser tool to remove unwanted image materials around the historical image, careful not to go too quickly or with a brush that is too large to preserve the fine details at the edge of the building. (See image below.)

gimp start to erase 2nd image

25. This process of erasing and blending is where an artistic eye can be helpful, as the best means of blending in the street lamps, bushes, and pedestrians to appear as a natural part of this hybrid image is up to the editor. Use a medium-opacity eraser at the edges of the historical image to carefully blend it into the modern background to complete the juxtaposing process. (See image below.)

gimp eraser and opacity blending

26. You can now finalize your juxtaposed image by exporting it from the program. Click the file icon and select “export” from the drop down menu. You can select the file type (.png, .jpeg, etc.) and save location, click the export button, and you are done! (See image below.)

gimp export as png

27. These steps are a very crude, simple means of juxtaposing a historical and modern image, but I hope this tutorial provides a starting point for historical enthusiasts/image retouching novices to get started. I will continue to update and edit this tutorial as I learn more about fine tuning the process and improving the quality of the final product. I look forward to seeing your images!

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