Tips for creating collages in Photoshop

Photo manipulation, collageing, photo-art – ways to turn photos into something new and interesting. Some of the several pictures can create a detailed landscape, while others develop characters from a variety of individual stock photos.

But this is the lot of professionals. And where do you start to conquer photo manipulation, if you are just a beginner?

In this tutorial, I will share with you useful tips on creating collages that will be useful for novice Photoshop wizards. I will show you which tools are useful in your work, and also reveal the basic principles of “stitching” different photos into a complete composition.

Paint in Photoshop makeup in the style of Sugar Skull

Before you start, consider one important point! The creative process is a journey. Many, after reading an article or a lesson, close it, believing that everyone has learned.

But only through experiments, practice, trials and mistakes will you learn the material. So act and do not forget to share your results!

From idea to ready collage

Any drawing begins with an idea. It is possible that a light bulb lights up in your head for a make-believe which signals the beginning of the creative process.

So what are the stages of the process from idea to implementation?

In fact, it depends on the artist himself. And, depending on your skill level, you can skip some of the steps. But there are several important key points in this process.

Write down your ideas

First, analyze your idea. Art is like a school project. In order to maximally effectively realize your intention, you need to analyze the symbols, colors, and your environment, which are necessary to achieve a realistic result.

All your ideas and thoughts can be written down on paper, on the phone or even on an ordinary napkin in the form of a set of words that describe in the most detailed way how you imagine the finished work.

For example, if you want to create a collage on the theme of Cinderella, then you can write down the following phrases:

  • carriage-pumpkin Cinderella;
  • bright red forest;
  • gloomy but beautiful;
  • magic pumpkins;
  • centered composition;

This small set of words causes enough images in my head to combine them into one composition. Please note that I not only recorded specific objects, but also words that describe the mood in the picture, as well as the colors and characteristics of the composition.

Every new project I start with these steps. This gives me the opportunity to understand which elements should be on the collage, and which ones are superfluous. If you’re interested, this is the result I got, then see the lesson. We are doing a magic collage with a carriage and pumpkins in Photoshop.

Small sketches

We proceed to the next stage – the outline. Yes, yes, the outline! But for this you do not need to be an expert in drawing. The sketch can be depicted in the form of several lines and simple figures, so that any newcomer can cope with this.

Photo manipulation, in fact, is a puzzle. Therefore, the main purpose of the outline is to visualize the location of the composite elements. Having finished with this, you can begin to select suitable pictures for a collage.

Draw the location of the elements on small sketches.

In addition, the sketches will give you the opportunity to experiment with different ideas before proceeding directly to their implementation.

You may have questions: “Should the main object be in the center? Or is it better to the right? ”Try different options and see which one is the most successful. So you save time and effort on the main stage of work.

For one of the latest works with fireflies, I sketched a simple drawing that you see in the picture below.

I just drew the outlines of cans, a few bugs and grass in the form of lines. This gave me enough visual images to create the final result.

At the very beginning, work with simple compositions that you know and understand! For example, the usual portrait in the center. Do not complicate the work of perspective and complex angles.

Such complex projects, which do not correspond to the level of your skills, can demotivate and discourage the desire to study further. So try to soberly assess their capabilities!

How to choose a photo for photo manipulation

Having decided on the idea, it’s time to move on to the selection of pictures!

I can confidently say that I spent thousands of hours searching for stock photos. I understand that it sounds sad. But there are many reasons why you should be so careful about the selection of photos.

Not all stock photos are the same. Quality, size, theme, composition can vary dramatically.

Where to find stock photos

To avoid problems with copyright infringement, use photos from free stocks, on a premium subscription, or your own pictures. A large number of quality sources for a monthly payment can be found on Envato Elements and other premium stocks.

But if you do not want to spend money on a premium account, you can use the links below to find out where to download the free sources.

  • How to find stock photos
  • 30 search sites for free stock materials

At the moment, Unsplash and Pixabay are my favorite sites. Pixabay is a great free stock, but the quality of the photo is different here. And on Unsplash you can find excellent high-quality images added by the users themselves.

How to search for stock photos

In the process of working with photo manipulation, many unpredictable situations can happen. For example, the author can delete a photo from the drain, and sometimes it is very difficult to find something suitable.

Therefore, I will share with you some tips for effectively finding photos on the drains:

  • Keep close by a list of words describing the idea.
  • First, just bookmark those photos that you think may be suitable.
  • Try using multiple keywords at the same time in your search query to narrow down the search subject as much as possible. For example, at the request of “girl”, “woman” and “child” you will be given a lot of pictures in completely different categories.
  • Pay attention to the name / tags / tags under the photo.
  • Bookmark a few spare photos so that, if necessary, you can quickly and easily replace something.
  • Immediately download those pictures that you 100% like and fit.
  • And do not drive yourself into the frame. Be flexible!

Caption for the picture: See how the authors mark their photos. Stock photo from Pixabay.

Using your photos

You can also use your own snapshots. I highly recommend it!

Last year I launched a personal project for creating self-portraits, in which I used my photos. This allowed me not only to improve my skills, but also to develop confidence in myself. Slowly, but clearly, my knowledge increased, because for each photo I was inventing something new.

Using your photos will give you more room for creativity. And nowadays, a good picture can be taken even on a regular smartphone, if you tinker a little with the lighting.

Below the links you can see the lessons in which I used my own portraits:

  • We create space manipulation in Photoshop
  • Make a collage of selfies in Photoshop in the forest

Many beginners underestimate the careful selection of stock photos. Of course, you can take low-quality pictures, but this will inevitably affect your collage. In this case, you will need a good knowledge of Photoshop to hide the difference in quality as much as possible.

Tools that are needed in the work

Assemble all the pieces of the puzzle will help the right tools.

It is surprising to realize that most, if not all, tools in Adobe Photoshop can be used in the field of photo manipulation. At least I believe it with all my heart.

After 10 years of studying the program and the increasing number of tools in it, I realized that the more tools you know, the simpler the creative process becomes.

Basic tools

Let’s go back to the basics. In Photoshop, there are many tools suitable for photo manipulations. This is my personal list:

  • Selection tools;
  • Brush / Eraser;
  • Layer mask;
  • Clipping masks;
  • Blending modes;
  • Corrective layers.

With these tools you can already get a good result. For example, masks are needed to remove backgrounds or other objects. Learning how to work with these tools will take no more time than searching Google for examples of their use.

Caption: In this tutorial we create a gothic portrait in photoshop Jenny Le used masks for cutting the head.

Note that many of these tools are a collection of various functions and parameters. For example, adjustment layers are called Brightness/ Contrast (Brightness / Contrast), Color Balance (Color balance), Levels (Levels) and others. There are also many blending modes that are responsible for how the layers overlap. Pay enough attention to studying all the tools, you will not regret!

You can learn the basics with these lessons:

  • Adjustment layers
  • Selection of objects
  • Why layer mask is better than eraser
  • Blending modes
  • Brush

Advanced tools

Having mastered the basic tools, you can move on to experiments with more complex ones. Some of them are used in photo retouching, 3D and even animation.

Here are some of them:

  • 3D tools;
  • Time scale;
  • Filter Gallery;
  • Plastic.

With the help of Plastics, for example, the facial features can be very deformed. To do this, there are special “smart” tools.

Notice how I processed the face in the photo below:

Independently determine for yourself in what mode and pace you prefer to work. For example, tomorrow, study 3D-tools, and then immediately apply this knowledge in practice.

Here are a few lessons to help you understand the topic:

  • Create the effect of curved mirrors in Photoshop
  • Create a pencil sketch effect on photos in Photoshop
  • Create metallic 3D text with spikes in Photoshop

How to create the illusion of depth and movement with blur

In photo manipulation it is often necessary to be cunning in order to achieve realism. For example, if I need to create a defocus effect, I clearly separate the back, middle and foreground.

This can be done using the blur tool in Photoshop. Let them do all the magic for you!

I recently finished an autumn collage. To create a depth effect, I replaced the background with autumn leaves and slightly blurred it.

Then in the foreground I inserted a blurred maple 3D sheet. Due to the blur, this sheet seems closer to the viewer than the model.

Caption: With the help of several stock photos, I turned an ordinary girl into an elf. Original photo was on Unsplash, but now, unfortunately, it is not available.

It also helped focus attention on the main subject of the composition. Such techniques can transform your work in seconds!

So if you need to add blur, use filters. Filter – Blur Gallery (Filter – Gallery blur). Move the sliders and select the appropriate option for your work blur. Pay attention to the difference between a slight and strong level of blur, as it looks in the photo.

Caption: The difference between weak and strong blur. Maple Leaf can be downloaded at Envato Elements.

Sometimes I specifically increase the degree of blurring to immediately decide whether it is needed. This allows you to narrow the treatment options and not waste time on unnecessary actions.

In the lessons below you can learn more about the blur tools:

  • Create a dynamic collage with falling stones in Photoshop
  • Create a surreal scene with a lightning overlord in Photoshop

Why is color correction important?

Color correction – one of the key stages in photo manipulation, without which it can not do.

With it, you can change the usual photo beyond recognition. For example, to turn a green apple into a red one, use a correction layer. Hue/ Saturation (Hue / Saturation).

Let’s try this on the example of a 3D apple. Open the picture and go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Hue/ Saturation (Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Hue / Saturation).

Move the slider Hue (Color tone) until the apple turns red.

Caption for the picture: With the help of the mask you can adjust on which areas the adjustment layer will act.

See how easy it is!

Imagine how much you can do! I use this technique to change the color of clothes, hair and other details!

In fact, there are many other color correction tools in Photoshop. I advise you to study everything and use as needed. But this does not mean that they will absolutely be useful in all cases. Therefore, it is important to understand which tool is useful in a job.

Work with 3D-objects

I adore 3D objects! Moreover, it seems to me that in photo manipulation they need to be used more and more often.

3D objects are a picture with a transparent background created using a 3D editor. Sometimes these are ordinary everyday objects, such as bottles or cars, and sometimes this is something fantasy, fabulous, etc.

Image caption: Pumpkin carriage on Envato website Elements

Sites like Envato Elements support 3D objects. In some lessons I use a lot of them (including the lesson about the Cinderella carriage).

Before using the 3D carriage, I first selected the desired angle in the editor on the website and saved it as a normal image with a transparent background in PSD or PNG format.

After that, such a picture can be inserted into the composition and correct the details.

The final setting of the location of objects

I recently recorded my flyer creation course. I admire the fact that I use all the techniques from the course I successfully use in other projects, including photo art!

See the picture below? The more you have knowledge of techniques and methods of image processing, the easier it is to work with them.

Then I will tell you about a trick to positioning objects!

Caption to the picture: Notice how the position of the sheet changes depending on the direction of the arrow.

Sometimes the mouse or guides in the program is not enough to find the perfect arrangement of elements. Instead, use the arrow keys in conjunction with the tool. Move Tool(V) (Move) to move an object pixel by pixel.

To do this, activate the tool Move Tool(V) (Move) and press the Up / Down or Right / Left Arrow keys. It’s very simple, and I use it in almost all projects!

Why you should use drawing in photo manipulation

Before plunging into the process of photo manipulation, I was an artist. And I am very glad that I began my journey with this, as this knowledge helps me in all spheres of creativity.

But if you are new to drawing, then I advise you to learn the basics of drawing in the context of photo manipulation. After all, flexibility of mind and openness to learning new things are the key to development!

I applied my artist skills in a lesson. We paint in Photoshop makeup in the style of Sugar Skull.

The skills of working with digital painting will give you a good basis for working out the composition, working with color, lighting and other details of the collage. In addition, with the help of drawing you can emphasize some details in the photo, add depth or atmosphere.

In general, if you can not create an illusion with a photo, then draw it! Just do not rush and do not forget about patience!


I am very glad that once I started doing photo manipulation. This is not only interesting. Photo manipulation is one of the easiest ways to express your creative potential using Adobe Photoshop.

I hope this article motivated you to immediately begin to learn the principles of creating collages. Do not forget to spend enough time studying the necessary Photoshop tools that will improve your results and simplify your workflow.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.

Below are links to examples of interesting lessons on photo manipulation, which I recommend to study:

  • How to create a cyborg from photos in photoshop
  • Create a dramatic portrait in Egyptian style in Photoshop

Like this post? Please share to your friends: