How to Make a Photo Collage

By George McBride




  I'm sure that we all have seen those very nice looking photo collages that are framed and have the beautiful beveled appearance that just seems to make all the photos snap to attention. But, if you are like me, I can't ever seem to get the layout quite right and when it comes to making the photos fit the spaces in the store bought templates I just can't seem to get my photos aligned with them. My end result is several hours wasted and a collage that looks like a second grader could have done a much better job.

  I have the solution for this problem at hand and that is the theme of this tutorial. So please bear with me and I will show you how to make a wonderful collage using photoshop or a similar program that allows you to use layers when working on your project.

  The first thing you want to do is select the photos of an event, person, pet or special occasion that you think would look good in a collage like this. Lay them out and arrange them in different ways, always thinking of how each photo could be displayed to its best potential. Then, when you have decided what you want your finished collage to look like, its time to scan them into your favorite imaging program.

After all the photos have been scanned be sure to label them somehow so that you can keep track of them and the order you want to use them.

The photo below shows a finished collage. This is what we will try and duplicate now.




Step 1: Open a new document in your imaging program and set it for the max size of your printer i.e.: 8x10, 11x17 or 13x19 and set the resolution at 300 ppi (pixels per inch). Then on top of the background layer, which will be blank and appear white. At this point, select a color of your choice in the foreground color from the two small color squares in the tool bar. Go to edit - fill and then click ok. This will color your background layer blue. Click on the layer pallet radio button and choose new layer. Give this layer a name so that you will remember that this is the top layer. Repeat the edit - fill except this time fill with white. This will be your working layer for this job. Please refer to the screen shot below and notice the bottom right hand side with the white over blue layers.

  Now we have two layers, the bottom one, (either the background or layer 1 which should be blue) and a top layer (layer 2 which should be white). Imagine a sandwich you are making and these two layers are waiting on whichever type of lunch meat you are going to put between them. In this case our lunch meat will be all those photos you scanned earlier.

Step 2: If you are working with Photoshop or a similar program there is a selection tool called the marquee tool. This will allow you to put your cursor in an area of the canvas and draw a selection. It can be either a rectangular or elliptical selection, what ever you have decided. You can activate the rulers and snap to guides in photoshop now if you want too. This way you can determine where the center is at all times. As you lay out your design you will not become lost.




  Using the marquee tool, drag your selection on the top layer, and release the mouse. You can move this selection anywhere you want to at this point. When you are satisfied with its placement click on the delete key and it will cut the selection out showing the blue layer underneath. Then drag another selection on your top layer, hit the delete key again and so on. Continue doing this until you have the lay out the way you want it.

When all the selections have been cut out it will look something like this.



  Now we can add a little photoshop magic to our collage now so that the photos you put in here will stand out. Using your magic wand tool and holding down the shift key make a selection of each box until you have the marching ants around all of them. Then go to edit and click on stroke. When the box comes up, change the color to black and set the amount to 15 pixels. Click on “outside”, then click ok. Go to edit once again and change the color to white, amount to 10 pixels and click on inside this time and click ok.

  Now, let's add a layer style to our collage. At the bottom of the layer pallet you will see in the bottom left hand corner a little sideways F. Click on this and select bevel and emboss. This can also be accessed from the layers drop down menu. When that box comes up just click ok and use the default that photoshop sets.

Your collage should look something like this now.





  We can begin to add our photos now. Open your first photo and drag it onto your collage. You can do this by selecting the move tool and just click and drag to the collage and let the mouse go.  You might have to either make the photo larger or smaller to fit in your box. To do this hold the ctrl key and type T, a bounding box will appear around your photo. Hold the shift and alt keys down and grab one of the corner handles and resize the photo till it will fit. When it suits you just hit enter. By now you have noticed that your photo is sitting on top and not between the layers like it is supposed to. Go to your layers pallet and grab the new layer with your photo on it and pull it down below the top layer. This will place it between the layers. With your move tool arrange it however you like.

Keep repeating this until all your photos are in place. If the photos overlap into other boxes just grab the eraser and erase anything you don't want. * Be sure you select the correct layer to erase*

I need to mention here that each photo you add increases the file size of this project so be careful and don't make it too big as this will slow down your machine unless you have lots of Ram. It is also a good idea to go to layer - merge visible, at this point. This will help control the size of your collage.

Your collage is just about finished now but let's just adds a couple more nice touches to it. Set the foreground color to a nice shade of beige by clicking on the color squares.  Select your top layer again in the layers pallet and then pick an area in the top pallet that is all white and select it with the magic wand tool. Then go to edit and select fill then click ok. Again under the filter menu select Texture, then texturizer. When the box appears, just click ok. Now you have given your collage a very nice look and it is ready for the printer.


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