How to make a cool photo collage in Photoshop

Use multiple images to create a collage with a twist in Photoshop CS

A creative way to evoke a sense of time passing is to combine several shots together. We can build on this compositing technique in a more creative way by chopping up several shots of a location and sprinkling fragments of each to create a photo collage. By using marquee tools and layer masks we can hide parts of each layer to reveal random details (instead of gently blending entire layers together). This creates a stylistic photo collage effect as different times and places are spliced together. To combine the fragments of each layer in a more random and organic way we’ll use the Gradient tool and layer blends. This will make each rectangle of detail look unique and add a more interesting texture to the finished collage.

1. Open images

Choose File>Open and browse to the folder on the CD containing the following images: Collage_Before_01.dng, Collage _Before_02.dng and Collage_Before_03.dng. Select all three images, right-click one and choose Open. The images will open in Adobe Camera Raw.


2. Straighten horizons

Before we start mixing the photographs together, there are a few issues that need to be addressed. The image Collage_Before_01 has a tilted horizon. Select the Straighten tool and drag it along the bottom of the steps. Straighten the other two photos as well.


3. Boost exposure

On Collage_Before_01.dng, drag the Exposure slider up to +0.90. On Collage_Before_03.dng, set Fill Light to 29 to reveal more mid-tone detail and boost the washed-out Blacks to 10. Click Select All, then pop Vibrance up to +45 to enhance the colours in each image.


4. Combine documents

Click Open images. Next, select the image Collage_Before_03. Now choose Select All, then Edit>Copy. Edit>Paste the image onto Collage_Before_02. Now copy the image Collage_Before_01 and paste it into Collage_Before_02.


5. Crop for consistency

You should now have three layers in one document. Each straightened layer features an image of a slightly different size to the others, so select the Crop tool and crop the document to fit the smallest image on Layer 2. Press Enter to remove the edges of the larger background layers.


6. Customise the grid

Go to Edit>Preferences>Guides, Grids & Slices. Set Guidline to Every 0.75cm. Set Subdivisions to 1. Select View>Show and choose Grid. Go to View and make sure Snap is ticked. Snap to should have Grid ticked as well. This will enable you to draw consistently shaped rectangles on your collage.


7. Make a selection

Click Layer 2. Click the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Select the Rectangular Marquee tool. Draw a horizontal rectangle on the white mask. When you’re filling this selection with a greyscale gradient you’ll make part of layer 2 disappear, revealing details on the layers below.


8. Draw a horizontal gradient

Now select the Gradient tool. Click the Gradient Editor icon and choose Foreground to Background. Click OK and then click the Reflected Gradient icon. Set Mode to Multiply. Click the white mask. Draw a horizontal gradient in the marquee selection to make that section of the layer translucent.


9. Draw a vertical gradient

Draw a vertical rectangle that overlaps the horizontal one. With the mask still targeted, draw a vertical gradient inside this marquee. As we’re using the Multiply blending mode you’ll get a random amount of transparency where any marquee selections overlap, producing a more random opacity.


10. Invert the mask

Draw more horizontal and vertical marquees over random parts of the mask and fill them with gradients. When you’ve finished, press Ctrl D to deselect the last marquee. Click the mask and press Ctrl to invert it. Most of Layer 2 will vanish, but random slices will remain.


11. Mask Layer 1

Click Layer 1 and add a mask. Repeat the techniques described in the previous steps to fill horizontal and vertical marquees with gradients. This will reveal details in the background layer. You should now have a collage featuring fragments of features from three seperate layers.


12. Tweak the tones

We can now see fragments of detail from three seperate photos. To make sure the composite collage has a healthy contrast, add a Levels Adjustment layer. Drag the white highlight input level slider left to 235. This brightens up the collage’s under-exposed highlights.