Back in the film days, we used to make photo montages using a slide duplicator to copy multiple images onto one frame of film. It worked pretty well; even color masters like Pete Turner were creating images this way.
That’s caveman stuff compared to Photoshop, of course. Photoshop makes creating montages so easy and fun that it’s usually one of the first features new users want to try out.
To get started, all you have to do is open two different images and use the move tool to drag one image onto the other.
If you click on the move tool and then click on one of the two (or more) images, you can simply drag it on top of the other, and Photoshop will automatically open a new layer with the second image. The bottom image becomes the background image in your new montage. You can adjust the opacity (using the opacity slider in the upper right-hand corner of the layers palette) of the top image to alter how it interacts tonally with the background image.
After you have the basic opacity set, you can tweak the colors, saturation and density of the montage.
Try playing with the layer blending modes to see if any of them creates an effect that you like. Layer blending modes are found in a drop-down menu at the top of the layers palette, and they are just different ways for the layers to combine. Experimenting is the only way to figure out what they do.
To create the above image of the Statue of Liberty, for example, I first opened two images: one of the statue and one of a sunset. I then did a quick curves adjustment on each one and dragged the sunset onto the statue shot (making the statue the background image).
Once they were combined I used the hue/saturation tool to pump the color a small amount and then used the selective color tool to darken the statue (by selecting the black channel and then adding more black to it, darkening the statue’s silhouette a bit).
No Mistakes in Art
I like to pick one dominant image (like the Statue of Liberty) that is almost a silhouette, and then add a more airy image to bring color and sparkle. I also find that the more I concentrate on just a small group of images in creating my montages, the more ideas pop up. It limits my picture choices and forces me to find new ideas with a limited palette.
For example, after creating the montage above, I continued experimenting and wound up with the image below, combining the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. I dragged the skyline image onto the statue image, made some hue/saturation and selective color adjustments, and then played with the blending modes until I found one that I liked (I ended up using linear light).
To make Liberty’s face come through more powerfully, I duped the background layer (Command J on a Mac) and again played with blending modes until I got the look I wanted.
Actually, I don’t know if this is a finished product or not. I kept one version with the layers open so I could go back and play with it some more. But it has a kind of poster/graphic quality that I like.
By the way, be sure all of the images you are combining are the same resolution and roughly the same size, or you’ll run into all sorts of sizing issues. And always work at high resolution (300 dpi), because it’s a shame to create a great image this way and then not be able to make a large print because you created the montage in a low-res version. I should know; I’ve done it a hundred times!
One of the great things about making montages is that you learn more about the ins and outs of Photoshop while creating fun, colorful images along the way.
And there’s no right or wrong, either. As my high school art teacher told me a thousand times: there are no mistakes in art — it’s all just playing until you like it!