9 Ways to Add a Deceased Loved One to a Family Photo


When you lose a loved one, it’s the memories that you hold close. This might mean collecting DIY memorial gifts or holding onto favorite family photo albums. These are the things you’ll look back on for years to come. 

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However, family photos have their limitations. There might come a time when you want to add a deceased loved one to a family photo as a way to honor his or her memory. Perhaps that individual never got to meet younger members of the family, or you want a photo of everyone together that you weren’t able to get while they were still around. 

Luckily, with a bit of technology and creativity, there are many ways to add a deceased loved one to a family photo. Here are some of our favorite ideas. 

Why Add Someone to a Family Photo?

Why add a deceased person to a family photo? Image of a camera and photographs

What’s the importance of adding someone to a family photo in the first place? There are a lot of reasons one might consider doing this. If you’re wondering how to preserve the memory of loved ones, adding them to a family photo is a lasting, meaningful tribute. 

The deceased are added to existing family photos for any of these reasons:

  • Show an extended family tree: Family photos don’t give a full view of someone’s family tree. By including deceased family members, their branch lives on. 
  • Reunited: Seeing loved ones together again (or for the first time) can help with feelings of grief and loss. 
  • Mementos: This is also just a way to remember a family member who is no longer with you. Though they might be gone, they’re never forgotten. 

Adding someone to a family photo doesn’t have to be morbid or unnatural. There are many ways to do so both realistically or with a focus on his or her legacy. These are mementos you’ll want to hold onto for years to come, and they make powerful family heirlooms.  

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

Ways to Incorporate a Deceased Loved One in an Existing Family Photo

Ways to add a deceased loved one to a family photo image

If you have an existing family photo, you might be wondering how to add a deceased loved one. You have more options than ever before, and here are some of our favorite ideas below. 

1. Photoshop or image editing

If you’re a confident image editor, you can use a tool like Adobe Photoshop to incorporate your deceased loved one in an existing photo. This program is relatively straightforward if you’re familiar with the basics, but you might need to follow an image manipulation tutorial

Other than Photoshop, you can use a program like GIMP, PicMonkey, or Acorn. These have limited features compared to Photoshop, but they’re more accessible. 

2. Ghost photo

Another option is to create what’s known as a ghost photo. This is when you use an existing family photo, but you include a deceased relative at a lower opacity. The result is a “ghost” effect where they seem less visible than the rest of the family, not unlike a ghost. 

These ghost photos are a powerful form of remembrance while still making it clear this individual is no longer living. There is a famous story from 2015 of a family including a ghost photo of their deceased son in a wedding photo months after his death. This image circulated widely online, and it shows how meaningful these edited images can be for the family. 

3. Hire a professional

If you’re not confident using image editing software on your own, don’t worry. There are many professional editors who specialize in adding people to existing photos. 

They understand the sensitivity around this work, and they can work with you to design the perfect rendition. Etsy has many artists who merge photos to create something completely unique. 

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

4. Memorial corner

Another alternative that doesn’t involve any photo editing is to include a memorial corner in your family photo. If you have an existing family photo, adding a small corner where you share photos of the recently deceased has a similar effect. This way, they’re still included, but they’re not the focal point of the image. 

5. Collage

Last but not least, if you’re wondering what to do with old photos, consider making a collage. A photo collage can be done with physical or digital images, and it lets you blend the old with the new. 

Creating a collage of photos featuring members of the entire family is a great way to honor everyone’s memory. Include photos from throughout your life, the life of the deceased, and the progression of the family. You’ll be left with a gorgeous tribute to a life well-lived. 

How to Add a Deceased Loved One to a New Family Photo or Piece of Art

How to add a deceased loved one to a new family photo or piece of art image

Another alternative to adding a deceased loved one to an existing family photo is to add them to a work of art. You can also create a new family photo that includes everyone. There are so many ways to honor your loved one creatively. 

6. New family photo

The first option is to create an entirely new family photo. This involves manipulating multiple images to make it appear as though everyone is in a single place together. This is called a photo merge, and it can be done a number of ways. 

Again, you’ll need to be confident using Photoshop or another image editing program to achieve this merged image result. Otherwise, you can hire a professional on Etsy or locally. 

7. Painting or drawing

Another alternative is to go the artistic route. By commissioning an artist to create a family portrait including your deceased loved one, you’re left with something entirely new and unique. These portraits are very popular, and it’s easy to find something in a style you love. 

8. Graphic or vector design

A modern option that’s similar to a painting or drawing is to commission a graphic artist to create a digital artwork of your entire family. This is usually done with an illustration app, and it involves quite a bit of skill. The end result, however, is worth the wait. 

9. Video memorial

For something with a bit more movement, a video memorial allows you to compile all of your photos into a slideshow or video tribute. This could include photos from the deceased person’s life, family memories, and words from surviving relatives.

Video is a powerful medium that’s not often thought about, but it makes the perfect digital memorial. Again, you can create a video yourself using a program like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, or you can use a professional service. 

Tips for Creating a Memorial Family Photo

Tips for creating a memorial family photo image

When creating a memorial family photo, whether you’re making something new or working from an existing family photograph, there are some tips to keep in mind. This will make the process easier no matter which idea you choose. 

  • Image quality: First and foremost, you’ll want to be working from a quality image. Smaller, distorted images are harder to manipulate.
  • Background: You’ll also want to choose an image with a solid or easy to define background. The more distracting the background, the harder it will be to remove. 
  • Proportions: Consider how your image proportions work together. To make it realistic, you’ll need to make sure the proportions are realistic when paired together. 
  • Purpose: What’s the purpose behind your image? Is it to show the legacy of your loved one, make it seem like the family is together, or simply act as an heirloom? Consider this when making your decision from the options above. 

These tips aren’t one-size-fits-all. When in doubt, work with a professional image editor who can assist you with ensuring your photos are the right size, color, and quality. 

Memorialize Your Loved One

Photography and art are tools for remembrance. By creating custom art or imagery with your entire family, you can honor someone’s memory in a way that makes sense to you. From image manipulation to custom artwork, there are no limitations to what you can create. 

How are you memorializing the ones you love? Even after a death, it’s still possible to grow closer to the memory of someone special. They might be gone, but you always hold them close in your heart. 


1. “Why This Family Included Son in Wedding Photo Months After He Died.” Inside Edition. 3 November 2015. InsideEdition.com

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