How to make a textured collage in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements

With some creative adjustments, your collage can be more than the sum of its parts.

collage hero

One of the most rewarding projects you can tackle in layer-based apps such as Photoshop and Photoshop Elements is combining images. In this column, you’ll learn how to employ blend modes to turn an ordinary portrait-style snapshot into a a special textured collage.

Prepare the document

The first step toward your collage is to gather the images you want to use. In this example, we’ll use these three goodies:

collage 1

Collages are a great opportunity to use stock imagery in conjunction with your own—these are all from iStock.com. For free images, check out this column.

Next, combine the images into a single document so they’re on separate layers. There are a variety of ways you can do this. For example, you can open one image and then open another one and select it (Command-A), copy (Command-C) and then paste it (Command-V) into the document containing the first image. You can also create a new document (Command-N) the size you want the final collage to be and then add images to it using Photoshop’s File > Place Embedded command or Elements’ File > Place command, and then resize the image by Shift-dragging one of the corner handles that appears around the image (just press Return when you’re finished resizing). Either way, make sure the portrait layer lives at the bottom of your Layers panel—in Elements, you need to be in Expert mode to see this panel.

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Here’s the Layers panel in Photoshop and Elements. Alternatively, you can use Photoshop’s File > Scripts > Load Files Into Stack command to automatically create a new document and plop each image onto its own layer for you.

Add contrast to the portrait

To add an artistic touch to the portrait, let’s convert it into pure black and white using a Threshold adjustment layer. First, turn off the visibility icons for all layers except for the portrait and then duplicate the portrait layer by activating it and pressing Command-J. Turn off layer visibility for the original portrait layer so that only the copy is visible. Click the half-black/half-white circle at the bottom of the Layers panel—it’s at the top of the Layers panel in Elements—and choose Threshold.

In the panel that appears, drag the slider left or right to adjust contrast so your subject’s facial features are well-defined. If necessary, click to activate the portrait copy layer and then use the Dodge and Burn tools to lighten and darken (respectively) areas so your subject’s features stand out more (increase each tool’s Exposure setting in the Options bar to 100 percent to save time). As you use those tools, your portrait changes in real time because we added the Threshold adjustment layer first.

collage 3

Prior to dodging and burning, the background was dark and her facial features weren’t prominent (top). Here’s the result of dodging the background and dodging/burning on and around the edges of her face and flute (right).

Swap blend modes

Using the menu at the top of the Layers panel in either app, change the blend mode of the other texture layers to Linear Burn. Use the Move tool to position the layers to your liking and adjust the opacity of each texture layer as needed. Here the green rays were moved so they originate from the girl’s eye, and opacity was lowered to 60 percent. The Free Transform command (Command-T) was also used to flip the flower layer vertically.

collage 4

With a free evening and your favorite beverage, experiment with all the blend modes to see which one looks best!

Adjust color

To add a color tint to the entire composition, click the half-black/half-white circle in the Layers panel and choose Hue/Saturation. Position the new layer at the top of your Layers panel. In the panel that appears, turn on Colorize and then adjust the Hue, Saturation, and Lightness sliders to your liking.

collage 5

A Hue/Saturation adjustment layer is a great way to add a color tint to a collage, though it won’t affect the high-contrast (black) portrait.

To add a touch of color to the portrait, you can lower the layer opacity of the Threshold adjustment layer or, as in this example, you can lighten it by clicking to activate the Threshold adjustment layer and then adding another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. In the panel that appears, turn on Colorize and then adjust the Lightness and Saturation sliders to suit. After adding color to the piece, you may need to go back and adjust layer opacity of the texture layers.

collage 6

Here’s the final result, after adding a layer mask to the flower layer and then painting with black inside the mask to hide some of the flowery-bits from her face.

As you can see, a quick flick of a Threshold adjustment plus a few interesting pieces of art set to Linear Burn can make a super creative collage. Until the next time, may the creative force be with you all!

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