I have been pleasantly surprised by the popularity of Yellow Hound’s collages – they do seem to have captured the imagination. I have just completed one for a client and I thought it would be interesting to set out my process for creating them, minus my ‘secrets’ I’m afraid.
I use Adobe Lightroom for cataloguing images and a large proportion of my processing. Step one is to select the images the client wants in the Lightroom catalogue, closely followed by any final specific adjustments, paying particular attention to the white balance across the image set. At this stage I also remove any Lightroom image sharpening and then export the files to Adobe Photoshop for the next stage.
There is a certain amount of design required to produce a good collage. In an ideal world the images selected would complement each other perfectly in terms of the key shapes, colours and sizes. Life generally doesn’t follow perfection so any collage is a process of compromise. I like to start with an overall plan for the collage. This I determine by examining the selected images – is there a naturally dominant image in the set, can I see a set of complementary shapes in the images? I’m old school and like nothing better than to sketch things out and see how I feel about the pattern.
Next step is to create a blank background image of the size intended for the final print. I determine the colour for this background from the image set – is there a predominant colour in the set, or perhaps a complementary colour? Using this colour I apply a technique to create a subtle canvas-like texture on the background as I feel this adds a pleasing subtlety to the final image.
Now I’m ready to work on the collage design.
I now need to work on each individual image and extract the element of the image that will form that image’s contribution to the collage. Essentially I create a layer mask in Photoshop that I can then layer onto the blank background ‘canvas’. The image to the right shows one image layer mask ready to go onto the background. I now need to work on each individual image and extract the element of the image that will form that image’s contribution to the collage. Essentially I create a layer mask in Photoshop that I can then layer onto the blank background ‘canvas’. The image to the right shows one image layer mask ready to go onto the background.
Once placed onto the background I will scale the image element and place it in accordance with my outline design. As there will undoubtedly be a lot of revision and adjustment (sometimes a complete change of design) I feel it is better to get all of the images into place straight away. Doing this immediately tells me whether the composition ‘works’ – is it balanced, do the images complement each other, is there a ‘flow’ to the design?
Very often the image shapes aren’t quite as I had envisaged them, or simply don’t sit well where I have initially placed them. I like to have the subjects of the individual elements facing into the frame and not out of it. For some parts of the collage this will mean that I need to move them on the background, for others a simple horizontal ‘flip’ may be all that is required.
Once I feel happy that I have a collage that is pleasing to the eye I will home in on the details. I spend a lot of time looking at the feathered transitions between the images in the collage – are they the right shape, are they the right size, is too much of the donor image background included, is there a distracting element? I will repeatedly modify a layer mask until I’m happy with it.
This is an image of the collage ‘in progress’. You can see that the image transitions are not what they need to be and I have two dogs at bottom right running out of the image.
It’s looking better in this image, but still not quite ‘there’!
Some more finessing and I’m ready to save the the final article. At this stage I also apply a level of output sharpening appropriate for the print size wanted by the client; the key here is to most definitely keep it subtle. Finally I create a personal gallery for the client protected by a password, upload the image and contact the client. As the final image is my vision I’m always keen to know what the client thinks – I’m delighted that this particular client ‘loved it’!