When you take a photograph, you freeze a moment in time, and hopefully this instant will be able to tell a story.
Sometimes though, a single image can’t capture the whole story. Here is where you will do a diptic or a tryptic: a collage of two or three photographs showing the unfolding of the story you want to tell with your images.
And other times, you may want to put together more images to show memorable moments of your most recent travels or the progression you made in your journey into astrophotography or the unfolding of an eclipse.
In this case, we talk about photo collage and here is how you can create one in Adobe Photoshop.
Simple Steps To Creating A Photo Collage In Photoshop
Photo collages can be created in Photoshop in many ways: from simply dragging images in the workspace and rearranging them to creating elaborated layout templates. You can even use plugins to speed up the process.
Step 1: Choose Your Photos
The first step is to choose and organize the images that best describe the story you want to tell and showcase the moments you want to remember. Here are some tips for choosing the photos for your collage.
Tip 1: Build A Timeline
If you are showcasing a progression for example to show how your improvements on a particular astrophotography target, or the unfolding of a story, you have to pick and display your images in such a way to create a clear timeline.
Who sees your collage should understand how to “read” it and not wander aimlessly from image to image. Try arranging your images horizontally from left to right or vertically, top to bottom. Spiral arrangements can also work.
Tip 2: Create An Interesting Layout
When you select the images for your collage, particularly if you are not building a timeline, consider mixing images in landscape and portrait orientation to introduce some variety in your collage.
Tip 3: Match Colors
When you do a collage, try matching the colors/style of your photos. Mixing black and white images with color ones or collecting images together showing colors that do not match could make your collage less appealing and distracting.
Tip 4: Go On The Inside
As you will not place your subject next to the edge of the frame with no space to move/look into, the same is true for collages.
Try avoiding placing along the edges of the collage images where the subject looks/moves outside the collage. This type of placement, in fact, will guide the viewer’s eyes far from the collage.
Step 2 – Create The Canvas For The Collage
In this step you have to decide the size and format of your collage. Do you think making it in portrait or landscape orientation? A square one maybe? Do you want to print it in a large format, or is it just for the web?
When you choose the size, think of the final use of your collage. If it is used for the web, you don’t need a very large canvas. If you will print your collage, choose a canvas matching the print format.
Don’t forget to choose the color of the canvas: this way a small gap between images will create a “border” to better separate them.
To illustrate how you can create a collage, let’s go to File -> New and create a new custom square canvas, 2500 x 2500 px with white background.
Also, let’s decide we would like to print our collage, so let’s use 300dpi and RGB 16-bit colors for best results. If it is for the web only, you can use 8-bit colors and 72dpi.
Step 3 – Plan Your Layout Thinking In Terms Of Shapes
For this example we are going to create a layout using shapes and you can choose between rectangular, elliptical, polygonal, triangular, and custom shapes.
I am not a big fan of mixing different shapes and I prefer to choose my shape as a function of the layout and subjects I want to display.
Classic layouts make use of an arrangement of rectangular and/or square shapes since this naturally matches the shape of the photographs, and there is no shortage of examples.
But we can try to be a bit more creative: after all, we are using Photoshop, right?
So, let’s do something different: on June 10th this year (2021), I was able to photograph a partial annular solar eclipse, so let’s create a collage to show how it unfolded.
As the Sun is a circular object on a seemingly dark frame, let’s create a layout based on circular shapes.
Also, let’s say I want to show the maximum of the eclipse as a large circular image at the center of the collage, with the smaller images of the eclipse progression going around it, forming the eclipse timeline in a clockwise sequence of images.
Particularly with complex projects, It helps sketching your layout on paper before you start working on it in Photoshop.
Step 4: – Create The Layout For Your Collage
So, now that we have a more precise idea about the final result we want to obtain, it is time to draw the layout in Photoshop.
To help us arrange the shapes, let’s display the rulers around the workspace by hitting CMD+R (Mac OS X) or CTRL+R (Win). Also, let’s use CMD+’ / CTRL+’ to show a grid on our workspace.
Now we are ready to start drawing the shapes using the Ellipse Tool.
There are two ways to use the tool:
- Click and drag on the canvas to draw in real-time the shape.
- Simply point and click on the canvas: a new window will pop up on screen, allowing us to input the precise size of the shape
Step 3.1 – Create a Guiding Shape For Our Circular Timeline
To help us to create the sequence of images for the eclipse timeline, let’s draw a circle we will use as a guide to arrange the shapes that will create the timeline of the eclipse.
With the Ellipse Tool selected, point and click in the center of the workspace: use the rulers to find the position.
Once you click in the pop-up window, choose a size of 2000 x 2000 px, check “From center,” and click OK to create the circle.
Now, in the Properties window for the circle, select no filling and a black border of 10px.
Select the Move Tool and move it around to make sure the circle is centered: when it is, two pink guiding lines will appear on screen.
Step 3.2 – Creating The Shapes For The Eclipse Timeline
Now let’s start drawing the shapes forming the eclipse timeline using this circle as a guideline for their placement on the workspace.
With the Ellipse Tool selected, click on the place where you want to create the shape and choose a size of 500 x500 px. Select the Move Tool to place the first shape at 12 o’clock.
Make sure the shape is filled in black, and there is no border.
Repeat the process to create all the other shapes for the eclipse timeline. Start by creating the shapes at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, then fill in the gaps between those shapes and use the pop-up pink lines to guide you in precisely placing these new shapes.
Step 3.2 – Creating The Central Shape
Finally, select the layer containing the large circle we drew first and let’s make it smaller: this will be the “container” for the large image showing the maximum of the eclipse.
In the Proprieties window let’s shrink the circle to 1200x1200px and use the Move Tool to center it in the workspace.
In doing so you should also look that the shapes at 12,3,6, and 9 o’clock, as well as those in between, are equally spaced from the central one. If not, use the Move Tool to improve on the shapes arrangement.
I strongly advise you to save the layout once you have created it as a Photoshop document (PSD format). This way, you can reuse it as a template.
Now you have completed your layout and you can start to add the images to it.
Step 4 – Load Your Images In Photoshop
Now you need to load your images in photoshop.
You could start dragging your images directly on the new canvas to load them in separate layers so that you can arrange and resize them individually in the next step.
To keep things easy, we will load the images differently: go to File -> Scripts -> Load Files Into Stack and select your images.
We have now loaded all the images as layers in a new document and we can add them one by one to our collage.
Step 5 – Add Your Images To The Collage
Let’s start by creating the timeline of the eclipse: for this, let’s copy-paste the image of the entire Solar disk in the document containing our collage.
A new image layer is created.
Now drag the image layer above the one containing the shape at 12 o’clock: in my case, this is the Eclipse 2 layer, then go to Layer -> Create Clipping Mask.
We have just turned the shape at 12 0’clock in a mask for the image of the entire solar disk. Because of this, the image is not visible anymore, but don’t fear, we will bring it back.
With the image layer selected, use the Move Tool to move the image on the shape at 12 o’clock and then resize the image so that the Sun is filling the shape.
Beware that the pink guiding line will tell you when the whole image is centered on the shape, but the Sun may not be at the center of the image.
Once you have a decent alignment of the Sun in the shape, use the arrow keys to center it in the shape as best as you can.
For the other images, do the following:
- Take note of the final size of the image you have resized that is shown in the properties window. From now on, when you paste a new image, you can set the exact dimensions in the Properties panel: this way, you will have the same size for the Sun across the timeline.
- Remember that you need to create a clipping mask and for this, you need to paste your image in a layer directly atop the one containing the shape you want to use to mask the image. It is easy to select the desired shape before pasting the image so that the image layer will be created in the proper position in the stack.
Finally, let’s fill the central shape with the image of the maximum of the eclipse to complete our collage.
Step 6 – Final Touches
Our photo collage is finished, but is not “quite there” yet.
We chose for our collage a white background to help us with creating the layout, but it does not really fit in this case. A white background works better for the classic cases, as it spares you to create a border for the shapes.
So let’s use the Paint Bucket Tool on the background layer to fill it black. Remember you need to select the background layer from the stack of layers.
Much better, isn’t it?
Step 7 – Save And Export Your Collage
Before saving the collage and exporting it in JPEG format to share it on the web and print it, you may want to watermark it or add annotations to remember what the collage is showing.
Does photoshop have a built-in collage maker?
Photoshop does not come with a built-in collage maker, as opposed to a photo merge tool to create mosaics.
But you can find a number of plugins, either free or commercial, to guide you and automate the collage creation.
You can get those via your Adobe Creative Cloud application.
Can I make my own collage templates?
Sure you can… and you did it already when you saved the layout in step 3 as a PSD document.
The beauty of using templates is that you can be consistent in the way your collages display the images.
The template we have created can be used to display the evolution of lunar and solar eclipses, to show lunar surface closeups surrounding the lunar disc, and even the lunar phases through its monthly cycle.
Downloads Your Templates
Here are a few free photoshop collage templates you can download for your collages.
Showcasing Your Astro Images In A Collage
Photo collages are great to showcase your astrophotography work, and often this can be done using a classic layout with square and rectangular shapes.
In this video I’ll show you how to create and use a template for a simple tryptic with Photoshop.
Photo collages are a great tool to showcase your work on social networks without spamming your favorite group, to create a poster with your favorite moments from your latest trip or family holidays and to create timelines of an event.
While there are many simple apps and plugins to let you quickly create your collage, learning how to do one with Photoshop will allow you to create more complex and interesting collages.