SF Photo Collage Instructions

Making a Collage using CS1 and Earlier

Prepare the Images

First - prepare the set of images you intend to use. The size and resolution will depend on your intended use - smaller and lower resolution for web use and standard page size prints, larger and higher resolution for larger prints. There is no built-in limit to the number of images, but more than 7 or 8 can look pretty cluttered, will require very small versions, and makes a very large file.

Bring the Images into Photoshop

Open Photoshop (PS). Use File>Open to get your images into PS. Note that you can select multiple images by using the 'Ctrl' key as you click. If you use Bridge, Select All>Open Images will open them. You can also drag your images from a folder to the PS window.

  • If the Action Palette is not visible use Window>Actions (Alt-F9) to display it.
  • If the Tools Palette is not visible use Window>Tools to display it.
  • If the Layers Palette is not visible use Windows>Layers to display it.

Create Collage File

Select 'Before You Start' and click the go triangle at the bottom of the palette. Review the suggestions and click 'Continue'. Read the second message and click 'Continue'.

Select the top image, click the Color Picker on the Tool Palette and select a background color. This will be the background color for your palette. Note that you can change it later.

Select one of the 'Start Collage' actions and click the go triangle. The 'auto' version requires no input from you. The 'at specific size' version can be used instead if you want to specify the size and resolution of the collage. Note the Message to 'Load Image' and click 'Stop'.

Add Images to Collage

For each image, select 'Load Image (auto)' and click the go triangle. If you have Photoshop CS, you can use 'Load Image and Name Layer' instead, if you wish to name the image layers as you load them. Note that each image will be loaded into the main document, and the original file will be deleted from PS. Continue clicking the go triangle until all of the original images are gone and you are left with a single image. It will have a separate layer for each image opened, and a blank background layer.

Note: You may see an error after the last image is loaded: "The object 'Previous Document' is not available." This is ok: it happens because of a difference in how different versions of PS handle documents. Just click "Continue."

Rearrange and Adjust Images

From the Tools palette, select the 'Move Tool' (v). Ctrl-Click the top image to select it, and then click and drag it to a convenient place on the background. Do the same with each image in turn until you have them spread out and all visible. Note that you can select an image by clicking on its layer in the Layer Palette.

At need you can Enlarge the Background, Rotate the Current Layer, or Flip the Current Layer by selecting the image or layer, selecting the action, and clicking the go triangle.

To resize an individual image, select it, select Resize Current Layer, and click the go triangle. Note the Message and click 'Continue'. Note the handles around the selected image. Be sure to use one of the corner handles so the aspect ratio will be maintained. Double click the image to finalize the resizing.

To make one of the images a background image go to the Layers Palette. Select the layer containing the desired image and click-drag it to just above the background layer. Note that the background layer is locked so you can't put your image layer below it. Select the image, select Resize Current Layer, and click the go triangle. Read the Message and click 'Continue'. Click the corner handles and size the image as necessary. Since the image is the 'next to bottom' layer, all of the other images will appear 'on' it.

To change the way images overlap each other

In the Photoshop "Layers" Window, you can click a layer and drag it higher or lower in the list to change the order. Layers at the top of the list overlap layers at the bottom. The Layers window is usually at the right side of the Photoshop window. If the Layers window isn't visible, you can show it by choosing "Window" from the main Photoshop window, and then clicking "Layers" to put a checkmark in front of it.

Complete Your Collage

To complete your collage, use the Move Tool (v) and Ctrl-Click the other images to move them as your artistic sense dictates. Use the Resize Current Layer as above to get the sized and relationships you desire. Note that once an image is selected, a simple click and drag can be used to move it.

If your background image does not cover the entire background, you may want to change the background color. Use the Color Picker on the Tools Palette to select your desired background color - use the background, lower icon. Then select the 'Change Background Color' action and click the go triangle. Note the Message and click 'Continue'.

If you are so inclined, you can add drop shadows and borders to individual images using the Action Menu items available by selecting the item and clicking the Go triangle.

NOTE: The collage is a normal PS image. Once you have completed the Collage tool actions, the image can be manipulated as you please with your standard workflow - add a frame, convert to BW, ETC. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Have questions?

Check the FAQ

Using Masking on Collage Layers

For certain kinds of images, you may prefer that only the main subject shows in the collage. For example, look at the images below.

Some layers show as rectangles

Edges removed using masking

Collage with some layers showing as rectangles After using masking to remove edges.

If you'd like to see how we did this, we have detailed instructions.

Ron's Big Football Collage

Ron Donson used our collage action to create the collage he's holding here.

Ron holding his printed collage
Here's how he described his procedure:
  1. Setup: all images in the collage were 8 or 12 megapixel images in JPEG. RAW files or TIFFs just ate RAM like it was going out of style.

  2. First I added the background image to the collage. It was a 12 MP 2:3 landscape image so that would be the base. Qimage handles upsizing that to 24x36 without breaking a sweat.

  3. After the background I added one image at a time - resizing it, putting a border and drop shadow on it and then positioning it.

  4. I periodically saved all the layers.

  5. The final PSD with all the layers is 409 MB. It behaved well on my machine.

  6. I created a flattened TIFF for the print and it was only 55 MB.

  7. I'm pleased with how it turned out. Adding one image at a time turned out to be much easier to keep track of. Labeling all the layers was a great boon once you get that many layers and you're fine tuning the positioning.

    Thanks again for the action. Its a huge time and money saver for me.

The final results:

Ron's football collage