This article is a step by step guide on how to make a collage in Photoshop. You will learn to choose and arrange photographs so they look great together.
Most magazines use this technique. This is because a selection of photos can make the story more clear to the viewer.
If you want to learn how to create a collage, keep reading this Photoshop tutorial.
Do You Have to Use Adobe Photoshop?
No. There are many other programs and apps you can use. To most clearly show how to make a photo collage I have chosen Photoshop because it is commonly used.
Photoshop also gives you plenty of freedom to express your creative photography ideas. Other programs and apps provide limited flexibility.
But do not feel you need to make a collage in Photoshop if you have other software that can do the steps in this article.
You can also create a collage in Lightroom.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
Pick up your favourite magazine for inspiration. You will find interesting photo collage layouts in many good magazines.
Look at how the photos are positioned. What type of photos appear most often. Whether they include text or borders.
These are all questions that can help you define your Photoshop collage’s style.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
Making Your Photoshop Collage – Step by Step
Step 1: Select Your Photos
Once you have chosen the theme of your photo collage you need to select the pictures you will include in it. Double-click on the Photoshop icon on your desktop to open Photoshop first.
Most often, unless you want to create a very large collage, five to seven photos will be enough.
Your aim is to tell a story with your photos that you could not tell with just a single image. Too few images will not convey enough feeling.
Cramming too many photos into your collage will make it confusing. Careful choice of which photos to use is the key to creating a harmonious, expressive collage.
Include wide, medium and close up images. This combination provides a viewer with various perspectives of your chosen subject.
Including wide, medium and close up photos in your collage will give it visual depth.
This is not a hard and fast rule . Some subjects work well in a photo collage with only close ups, like a collage of flower close ups.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
To illustrate this article I have selected a series of photographs from the Muang Mai market in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I had 24 photographs in my folder and narrowed my choice down to 13 and then the final six. These include wide, medium and close up photos and some vertical and horizontal images.
When you choose your photos look for images with similar colours and shapes in them. These common elements will help give your photo collage more cohesion.
At this stage you do not have to choose your final images. Having eight or ten or more will give you some flexibility when you begin your layout.
Don’t select too many though as this can inhibit your progress.
Step 2: Resize Your Selected Photos
Now you need to resize your photos. Using them at full resolution is not necessary and will possibly slow your computer down.
Think about how you will display your finished photo collage. If you are going to print it to hang on a wall or put in an album, your photos will need to large files.
If you are going to only share your collage on social media, you can make your files smaller.
For print, set the resolution to 300 ppi. For use only on a monitor, set the resolution to 72 ppi.
Decide the dimensions you want to print your collage and calculate the size for the photos. Then make them 30% larger.
Making them bigger than you need will give you some flexibility to resize them later if you need to.
I have sized my photos to be 700 pixels on the long side, which is 247 mm at 72 ppi.
Step 3: Create a New File in Photoshop
Open the New Document panel in Photoshop and choose a preset or make a custom document. You do not need to be absolutely precise as you can always crop it or add your canvas size later.
The most important thing is to make your new document the right resolution. The resolution of your new document must be the same as you used when resizing your photos in Step 2.
I have chosen to make my collage a horizontal A4 size at 72 ppi. It will be suitable for use on a website.
Step 4: Add Your Photos to Your New File
There are many ways you can add photos to your document. I find the best method is to open the folder they are in and drag and drop them onto your document canvas.
This way they are added as Photoshop Smart Objects.
Resizing a smart object is nondestructive, this is one of the advantages of using them in your collage. You can also skew, rotate, warp or apply any transform non-destructively to a smart object.
This means you have great flexibility to position, scale and distort the photos in your collage without them losing quality.
Smart objects need to be rasterized before you can perform any pixel editing on them.
If you want to clone something out, dodge, burn, brush or manipulate pixels in any way you need to right click on the layer and choose Rasterize Layer.
It’s best to have already completed editing on the photos you are using before you resize and import them.
If you find you need to, wait until you have positioned, scaled and rotated all your photos in Step 6.
To make it easier to see the photos you are placing, hide the ones you have not yet put into position.
Turn each new layer on as you come to add it to your layout.
Step 5: Position Your Photos on Your Photoshop Collage Canvas
With your Move tool selected, click and drag the photos into position. You may need to experiment with this to get it looking the way you want it.
Overlapping photos can be rearranged easily so they stack the way you want them to.
When you have one photo under another and you want to see it on top, click on its layer in the Layers Panel and drag the layer upwards.
Place it higher in the order than the photo that was overlapping it.
Arranging and positioning your photos can be time consuming. To experiment with different layouts make a new group with your photos in the Layers Panel.
To do this click the Create New Group icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Name your group. Select all the layers with your photos and drag them into the folder you created.
Now you can duplicate the folder, which will duplicate all the layers. Right click on the group icon and select Duplicate Group. Collapse one of the groups and hide it from view then start repositioning your photos again.
You can duplicate a group as many times as you want. Collapsing them and hiding them from view makes the new group easier to work with.
Tweak positions and image sizes of each one until you are happy with the new image.
You can also use the Photoshop lasso tool to crop sections of the images if you don’t want the entire image if your Photoshop collage.
Step 6: Fine Tune Each Photo
You may not want to individually tweak each photo or adjust the colour, tone or other properties of your whole collage.
Adjust individual photos using the Image>Adjustments and then choose the menu item. This will allow you to fine tune each image so the colours, tone contrast etc. balance the way you want them too.
You may want to emphasise a particular colour in each photo or adjust brightness levels so all the photos balance well. This is where you can let loose with your creative style.
To make overall adjustments to all your photos at one time, create a new adjustment layer.
Click on the New Fill and Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of your Layers panel and select what you want to manipulate.
You can alter the whole look and feel of your collage here. Be careful, time can disappear quickly when you get engrossed in making these changes and realise the potential you have.
For one version of my collage I have decided to desaturate all of the photos by about 60%.
I then made some adjustments to the green, blue and yellow channels to add some of the colour back in.
For the other version of my Photoshop collage I have worked on each photo separately. First I went through and made adjustments to the saturation of the photos around the edges.
I then also changed the brightness and contrast levels on each of them. With the central photo I increased the saturation in some of the colour channels.
Step 7: Add Text to Your Photo Collage
Give it a title or add a remark, much like you will see in a magazine. Select the Text tool. Click and drag on your collage where you want the text to be placed.
Choose your preferred font and an appropriate font size.
You might choose not to add any text and let your photos stand alone to tell their story.
Step 8: Adjust the Background Layer Colour
This set, like step 7, is optional. You may be happy with the way your montage is looking at this stage. However, you might like to experiment and fine tune your photo collage a little more.
Click on the background image layer and try changing the colour or adding a gradient. The background should support, not overpower, your photos.
Pick a colour that’s prominent in your photo collage, or one that’s a highlight, and make this your new background colour.
I experimented with a few colour options before choosing the colour of the cauliflower leaf for my background.
I then changed the colour of my text to the same as the yellow plate in the photo of the chillies and fish.
You can also keep the background white, or add a white border around your images.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
Step 9: Add Borders to Your Photos
An option you might like to try is adding borders to your photos. This can make them look like old style printed photos have been laid out on a page.
Select one of your photos. From the fx icon at the bottom of your Layers Panel, select Stroke.
In the Layer Style window that opens adjust the size, position, opacity and colour.
For this version of my Photoshop collage I have made my borders white and 25 pixels wide at 100% opacity. They are positioned on the outside of the photo edge.
You can add a border to each photo individually if you want to make them unique to each photo. If you want them all the same, right click on the layer you have added the stroke to and click Copy Layer Style.
Now select all the other photo layers, right click and select Paste Layer Style. The stroke you created on the first layer will be added to each of your photos.
What Else Can You Try to Improve Your Collage
You can endlessly experiment with placing multiple photos on a blank canvas and arranging them.
Other things you might like to try are:
- Resizing the canvas longer or taller;
- Adding more photos;
- Adding a colour layer over your collage;
- Duplicate the Layer Group and experiment with Blend Modes;
- Add a vignette.
In this version of my Photoshop collage I duplicated the group twice. Set the middle layer blend mode to Overlay and the top one to Screen.
For the lower layer I left the blend mode set to Normal. I then slightly lowered the opacity of the Screen layer.
And lastly, I added a vignette.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
There you go. Now you know how to make a collage in Photoshop in 9 easy steps.
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