Playing With Pixels
Make A Digital Montage

The photo montage--a picture or several pictures within a picture--has been around for decades. In the 1930s, for example, famed Harlem photographer James Van Der Zee created montages in camera and in the darkroom. His most famous is perhaps the picture of a dead child looking at himself as he is laid out in his own casket. (Many of Van Der Zee's pictures were published in a book entitled, The Harlem Book of the Dead.)

Well, Van Der Zee would probably turn over in his grave and jump with joy at how easy it is to produce montages today--in the digital darkroom.

You can create a montage with any digital imaging program that offers a feature called "layers." Basically, layers allows you to add pictures (layers) on top of each other. More sophisticated programs let you add more layers than basic programs. In addition, professional imaging programs make it easier to work on the entire montage without going back and forth from image to image (layer to layer). That is a very beneficial feature when you want to resize and edit pictures within pictures. Here's a quick look at how I made a quickie montage with three pictures--one taken in Singapore (white statue) and two in Bangkok.

One closing thought on making a montage. Imagine what my Bangkok/Singapore montage would look like with my headshot in the frame€or a zebra€or a picture of the Statue of Liberty! My point: when creating a montage, use pictures that complement each other--pictures that have a similar theme. Of course you can go wild, too. It's up to you.

Step 1. This screen shot shows the three pictures I scanned into Adobe Photoshop. The windows for the Unsharp Mask filter, Brushes and History are also shown.
Photos © 2000, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

Step 3. After placing the pictures where I wanted them in the frame, I resized them using the Image Transform tool. Next, I used the Eraser tool to erase the backgrounds around the woman and the statue. To see what the heck I was doing, I turned off the background, which, as you can see, made it easy to erase around the main subjects.
When the two added pictures were in place, I cropped the image because the gold Buddha statues on the right side of the frame really did not add anything to the montage.
An important tip on erasing: when you are working around the edges of a subject in a montage, set your Eraser tool's opacity to 5-10 percent, rather than at the factory preset of 100 percent. This percentage setting is not available on all digital imaging programs. Low settings allow you to erase only a very small part of a subject at a time; it also lets you partially "see through" a layer, which adds soft edges to pictures-on-pictures. When you use your eraser at 100 percent, your pictures-on-pictures will look like you cut them out with scissors.

Step 2. I decided to use the picture of several Buddha statues as my background image. So, I opened this picture first. Next I dragged the picture of the statue in the frame, followed by the picture of the Thai woman. As you can see, all the pictures are visible--corner to corner. Plus, they are not carefully placed in the frame.

Final Image. And there we have it--a finished montage (with the edges vignetted for a soft and pleasing effect). I thought about adding type--something like Visit Bangkok and Singapore--but I did not want to detract from the images' impact. Adding text, by the way, is very easy to do in Photoshop and other imaging programs that offer a Text feature. But as with layers, as the cost of a digital program increases, so does the ease with which you can add text to your pictures--and the ease at which you can place that text in the frame and change the color, size, and font of that text.