In Part One of this three-part series on How to Make Amazing Photomontages, you learned how to approach and take your photos for your montage. Here in Part Two, you’ll learn about compiling photomontage photos. To compile your Photomontage images using the following steps, you require Photoshop or other imaging software that has the ability to create layers.
Part 2: Compiling your photos
1. Get organized
Managing your photos well can save you getting in a mess further along in this process.
Import all your images into one folder. Go through and pick out your strongest images – ones that stand out to you.
Naturally, you’ll have lots of photos that won’t be worth looking at on their own, but among them should be some key images. Put these into a separate folder and label it ‘Group 1’ or something useful to you.
Next, you need to choose the bulk of the photos you want to use. Think about the images you want to go around the edges. Which ones are for the main body of your photomontage? These are likely the first photos you took. Place these into another folder and label it ‘Group 2’ or something useful to you.
Drop the remaining images into a third folder and label it.
2. Save as and resize all your images
Save all your photos as jpeg files with a resolution of 300ppi. At this resolution, they are a little large but will be the same size when you get them printed later.
What dimensions do you want your finished photomontage to be? Think about how many photos you made along the horizontal axis. Calculate how wide each one should be, so they fit within the finished size you want your montage.
If you want a montage one meter wide (3.3 feet) and have taken seven photos across the horizontal, make each photo 14 centimeters wide (5.5 inches.) This gives you a starting point. As you start laying the photos out, this can change entirely so you may have to resize the images again later.
Run a batch command to resize them all. Save them to new folders because it is helpful if you need to resize the originals again later.
3. Prepare a clear canvas
In Photoshop or your preferred software, make a new canvas. Make the ppi resolution 300 to match your image files. Make the size a little larger than you want your finished Photomontage to be.
4. Import your photos
Photoshop allows you to import a series of images to a single working file, so they retain their original file names. To do this, go to the top menu and choose File->Scripts->Load Files To Stack. These open into a new canvas. Select them all and drag and drop them onto your montage canvas.
Do this with the three folders of resized images you’ve made. Arrange them in the layers panel so they are in three groups to make your workflow easier.
5. Lay out your photos
Right now you probably have all the layers stacked so you can only see the top photo. Turn off the visibility of the Group 1 and Group 3 folders.
Select all the layers in the Group 2 folder and drag all the photos to one corner of your canvas.
Now select only the top layer and drag and drop it roughly in the position you want it. Do the same with each layer. Don’t worry at all about positioning anything precisely at this stage. Everything from here is likely to be shuffled around a number of times.
Once you’ve added all the photos in Group 2 and have them laid out, repeat this process with images in Group 1. Then from Group 3, but only if you really need them.
Drag photos up and down in the layers panel hierarchy to place them above or below other photos on the canvas.
As you add more photos, you should start noticing the relationship between the images. Keep nudging and tweaking all the layers until you are satisfied they’re all in the best position.
When I am working with large numbers of layers, I color code them to help me keep track of them. You might like to make the layers with the images on the left, middle and right of your montage all separate colors.
6. Turn unused layers off
You may now have many layers visible with lots of overlapping. Begin to turn layers off for images you may not want to include in your finished montage. Don’t delete them at this stage, just turn their visibility off.
Now you’ll see fewer photos on your canvas, and it’ll be easier to arrange the images you have visible.
At this stage, you may be seeing some gaps in your montage. This is where the images in Group 3 may be useful if you haven’t added them already. You can always duplicate similar layers and drag the copied layer to fill the space. If this does not work, you may need to go back and take some more photos.
Once you are happy with the way your montage looks, go ahead and delete all the layers you have turned off.
7. Go back and take more photos (optional)
Having big gaps in your photomontage may look okay. Alternatively, you may have completely covered the whole area and edges, and have ample images. If not, you’ll need to have another session and make some more images.
Use the same camera and lens, at the same focal length. Make your new photos at about the same time of day and ensure you have similar lighting. If the light’s not right, you’ll have a hard time making the new set of photos match.
A few additional layout tips
There’s no right or wrong way of laying out your Photomontages, but you’ll be more pleased with some layouts than others.
If you get stuck and can’t get the photos arranged so they look good, start again. Duplicate the whole file. Keep the original one and re-work the new file. Move the images around differently and change their positions in the layers hierarchy. Experiment until you are content.
Aim to build cohesion in your composition. Too much fragmentation can make your montage difficult for people to view. Follow strong lines in your montage to help keep the flow. In my montage of the taxi trucks in Chiang Mai, following the lines of the vehicles was vital.
Don’t worry about ragged edges. I don’t often make montages that fit a regular shape. However the edges of your montage are formed, make sure they enhance the overall image.
Tweaking individual photos may sometimes improve the overall look of your montage. When you have the images laid out, take a step back and consider your composition. Are there individual images which are too dark or too bright? Do some contain colors that don’t fit well? How would the whole montage look in black and white?
Be prepared to go with the flow of new ideas you’ll have during the process. As I said, there’s no right or wrong way to make these. It’s up to your creative process. Starting with some idea of how you want it to look is important. However, you don’t need to stick to it strictly when you feel fresh ideas emerging.
Take your time. The process of compiling a montage until you are satisfied can take a long time.
Often I have been on the verge of giving up because I just can’t get a montage looking right. I had started my Tuk Tuk montage then it sat on my hard drive for months without being touched. Finally, I got back to it with some fresh inspiration, and it came together well.
Experiment with the placement of your photos on the canvas. Look at how each one relates to the images around it. Zoom out and sit back often to keep an eye on how the overall montage is taking shape.
Let’s see what you are working on and your thought process in the comments below.
In the next article in this series, I outline how to compile a print version of your Photomontage.