How to create a Photo Collage in Photoshop

How to do a Photo Collage

By Maggie Terlecki.

This tutorial is easy but assumes that you have a rudimentary understanding of using Photoshop.

Hi Everyone. I did this collage tutorial a few months ago to explain to someone how to do it and today I share it with you. It was actually the very first video tutorial I had done (yes, just a little before the detail and sharpening tutorial) so please bear with the small glitches that happen here and there; I hope to get batter at doing them in the future. This is a transcript of what is happening in the video which to most would be enough. I do understand though, that some people prefer to follow a text, so here it is!

Edited Transcript:

The first thing we want to do is bring in a bunch of images that we think will look good in our collage. I always like to bring in a few more than is probably necessary simply because I want a nice composition and I may move things around, then  find that I have one or two that are too many.

Re-sizing your images:

The next thing we want to do is re-size all our images so they have the same height. So, I go into IMAGE – IMAGE SIZE  and here where it says height, I’m going to set that to 500 pixels high (make sure that the three options are the bottom are checked: Scale styles, Constrain Proportions, and Re-sample Image).  We have to do this with every single one of our images before we can continue. I have already done them to save time.

New Background for Collage:

The next thing that we want to do is open up a new fresh image with just a plain  background with nothing on it.

To open up a new file, we go into FILE – NEW. I’ve set the width to 2500 and  since I want to have 2 rows of images and I’ve set them to 500px high each,  and I’m using 1500 pixels high which will give me room to spare. Where it says name at the top, I’ll just call it something like Background, but you can call it anything, including ‘Collage’ ( I probably should have called mine that ;-) )

Moving your photos unto the Collage Background:

There are 2 ways to get your images on different layers on top of your new background images because that is what we need to do.

–The first way to move them is to click on the image you want to move, on the little thumbnail here, and just click with a left-click and just drag and drop and there it is. There is another way though because not everybody likes to drag and drop. I’ve heard a lot of people that are not used to working in Photoshop say “Argh”; they have trouble doing it, so, I have a different way also.

- The second way to get your images unto different layers on this background is to go to each of them, one by one, and on the only layer you have, you right-click, choose duplicate layer; you’ll get this pop-up window; and where it says document, you drop down the list and go to your new BACKGROUND layer, or whatever you called it, and press OK.

When you go back to your new Background Collage Image,  there it is!. So now you can go back to your image you duplicated, and close it, as we don’t need it anymore. Since  we don’t want to save over it, when the program asks if you want to save; simply click NO. Now, you can do the same thing with every single image you brought in.

Optional – Naming your Layers:

Okay, well, now we have our new BACKGROUND image with all our different photos on different layers on top of it. The first thing you will notice is that I have given them all different names. You don’t have to do that, but it is helpful if you have many different kinds of photos, when you are moving them around, it can be a little difficult to see exactly where they are in these thumbnails so by having names for them,  it will help me move them around.

But, if you are taking 20 pictures of chipmunks and trying to put them all on the same background, Chipmunk1, chipmunk2, chipmunk3, 4, etc., will not help you very much, you will have to rely on the little thumbnails here to help you move them around.

Smart guides : CS2 or higher (you can still do this tutorial if you don’t have the guidelines)

The next thing we want to do, is if you are using Photoshop CS2 or higher, is go  into VIEW – SHOW.  you’ll find something  called SMART GUIDES. Make sure it is checked. Mine already is but I always check it because I use it a lot.

The thing that it does is when you use your move tool move-tooland you move things between  different layers; lines show up.  Those are alignment lines. So, when it hits something that is aligned, you will see that line appear. It will align with the centers and it will align with the sides. We want everything to be nice and aligned so it doesn’t look sloppy.

Creating our composition:

The next thing we will do is start moving things around and try and make a nice composition. So let’s move these. We are going to close some of these so we can see what we are doing as there are too many open at the moment. When moving a photo on a layer, make sure that layer is highlighted.

The eye on the side of you layers will turn the visibility of your layers on and off. In the video, you now see me moving the images around. I keep moving them around until I find a composition I find pleasing.

* Notice how aligning the images keeps thing neat and professional looking.


After we find a pleasing composition, we may have to adjust things a tiny bit. (Remember I’m winging this) You may find that you have small differences in the spacing between images. With your move tool, you can use your arrow keys  to nudge your images left or right. You may find you still have a little bit of a difference between them, but as long as everything that is all around them:  the top, bottom and sides are all aligned, it is going to look neat and no one will even notice these little details.

Outer Border:

Now we are almost done but obviously the border around is not all the same size. So, I’m going to take my crop tool crop-tool, click on the top left corner and pull it until I get on the lower right corner and then press ENTER.

That will crop it. Now I have no border at all,  but I want an equal sized border anyways, right? so I’m going to go into IMAGE – CANVAS SIZE and I’ll add 100 pixels all around; so 100 to the WIDTH and 100 to the HEIGHT. Click Okay.

That looks fine but I personally would like it to be a little big bigger so I’ll add an extra 100 pixels. You don’t have to. This is a personal decision you should make.

Change background color and add a stroke around your images:

So we could stop here and save but we are going to go a little bit further for those that want a little extra touch. As you might have noticed, we have placed all of these images on the default white background, but you don’t have to use the default white background. You can use any color that you but just remember that if you put a screaming color behind, it is going to overpower your images.

This tutorial came about because I had created a collage on a black background with a stroke of color around each image to make it ‘pop’ a bit, so I’ll show you how to do that; it’s really easy.

The first thing that you will notice is that I don’t have the right color here. So if you press ‘D‘ on your keyboard, it will turn your foreground and background colors to the default black and white. After doing that I will go here to my background layer, and using my bucket tool  bucket, and simply CLICK on my background and it will bucket black behind everything.

Now that could be fine except, but you’ll notice in areas of really dark black vignetting and shadows, that the corners don’t really show up and it’s not as pretty as it could be. So what we are going to do is add a stroke. For the stroke, we just need to go to one of the layers with an image and we could either add white or we could be a little adventurous and maybe use a rusty color which ties all the images together.

The first thing we will do is go into our LAYER STYLES layerstyles, ( you ‘ll find it at the bottom of your layer palette) and at the very bottom of the list, we have a thing called STROKE. Choose that to open that option up. It says here, black, size = 1. I’m going to use 2, and we’ll see if that is big enough, and where you see the swatch of color, we are going to open that up, and let’s choose a rusty kind of color and we’ll see what that looks like. I see it and I could probably use a little thicker stroke than that; It feels a little light.(Again, stroke size is a personal choice. Just remember to not go too big or too bright or you will overpower your images) So,I’m going to re-click on the stroke and change the 2 to 4. Let’s see what that looks like. It looks fine.

Stroking all the images:

Now, I don’t want to have to do this one by one, so what I’m going to do is right click on the layer I put the stroke  and choose COPY – LAYER STYLE.
Now, I’m gong to press SHIFT ion my keyboard and click from the bottom-most images all the way up to the top so they are all highlighted, RIGHT CLICK again, now choose PASTE LAYER STYLE. And now they all have the really nice stroke around them.

Okay, we can end it here, but we are going to try one more thing.

Another option: Adding a drop shadow to your images:

As you can see, I’ve reverted to the white background that is the default that we had before. The reason for this is I’m going to show you how to put on a little drop shadow underneath all of the images. It will help it ‘pop’ just a little bit. We never put a drop shadow on a black background because we can’t see it. We also don’t want something to look like it is very offset and hanging too high with  harsh direct light, we want to keep it subtle. ( overly strong and overly large drop shadows are usually considered amateur work).

We’ll be able to see it here nicely. I’m going to one of my  images I have called rear window. Go to one of your images for your called and in LAYER STYLES, choose DROP SHADOW. For this image, I’m going to choose 3 pixels for distance, zero for spread and and 8 pixels for size, because I think that will look good. (You can use other settings, just remember, for a professional look,  don’t go overboard).

It’s subtle but it pops it out just a tiny bit, and I’ll press okay. Now, just like we did when we did our stroke, CLICK, copy the layer style, again, go to the bottom and SHIFT-CLICK all the way to the top, and RIGHT-CLICK again and PASTE LAYER STYLE and we are all done.

OPTIONAL: For images with white background that will be used on a white online background such as you find on several forums.

Now, if you leave it like this, it will just be a collage of images that are laying on a white background. If they are being posted somewhere that the background is white, you may want to add just a 2 pixel wide border in black to give you just a tiny little line that will delineate it from the white background it will be placed upon. This is achieved by doing IMAGE – CANVAS SIZE and adding 2 pixels to the height and 2 pixels to the width in black.

Another option:

If you want, we’ll try something else. Go down to your background image. Now duplicate that. Now go back down to the original background again, and add 40 pixels all around and make it white. (Image – Canvas Size) Now go back up to the duplicate that you just createdas a copy of your background and add a drop shadow (LAYER STYLES – DROP SHADOW) there also, I will also set it to 3 for distance  and 8 for size. (or you could simply paste the layer style as we did earlier). and it will just show up as floating slightly  over the background, and it will look fine.

We are pretty much done. You may want to change the size, since it is for the web, we can set it to 1600 or smaller. I personally save for the web.  We are done! Easy, n’est-ce-pas?

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial!
Creative Commons License
How to create a photo collage in Photoshop by Maggie Terlecki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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