In the days of the darkroom, film would be chopped into fours or sixes then lined up and used to create a contact sheet. In most cases, this served as a useful overview of the roll of film, but there are more creative possibilities. We can achieve similar results in Photoshop from a single image by making a duplicate layer for each contact sheet window to recreate the effect of an old film contact sheet.
The key to this technique is the option to unlink the image part of a layer from its Layer Mask so each can be moved independently of the other.
The beauty is that you can tweak the position of any window at any stage, so no individual crop is set in stone. As an added bonus, there’s a selection of contact sheet templates among this month’s project files.
01 Copy in contact sheet
Open your start image and a contact sheet frame in Photoshop (download free photo frames and borders here). Grab the Move tool and make sure ‘Auto-Select Layer’ and ‘Show Transform Controls’ are checked in the Options bar. Drag the contact sheet up to the tab of the image of St Paul’s Cathedral and down to copy the layer over.
02 Make 20 duplicates
Position the contact sheet over the image then grab the Crop tool and crop the edges where the background overlaps on the left and right. Next, highlight the Background Layer and press Cmd/Ctrl+J 20 times to create 20 duplicates.
03 Make a mask
Grab the Rectangular Marquee tool then drag a selection box around the top middle window. Next, click the Add Layer Mask icon to convert the selection into a Layer Mask. The only part of that layer that’s now visible is the area in white on the Layer Mask thumbnail.
04 Unlink the mask
In the Layers Panel, click on the little chain link between the layer thumbnail and the mask thumbnail. Next, highlight the layer thumbnail and grab the Move tool. Click on the bounding box to enter Transform mode and offset the frame by moving, rotating and resizing. Hold down Shift while resizing to constrain the proportions of the box.
05 Repeat for other squares
Now we need to repeat the process for the next 19 windows. So highlight the layer below, make a rectangular selection over the next window and convert it to a Layer Mask. Unlink the mask thumbnail, highlight the layer thumbnail and use the Move tool to transform the layer. Then repeat!
06 Convert to mono
Highlight the top layer then click the Create Adjustment Layer icon and choose Black and White. Next, add a Curves Adjustment Layer and draw an S-shaped curve to boost contrast. Use further Adjustment Layers to make any other tweaks you think are necessary. We’ve added a Gradient Map here to give a sepia finish.