Saturday, May 7, 2011

Making a Box Collage

I have been working on a new collage idea, brought to me by my colleagues at Pro4Um. One of them created this neat box, and others since have adopted it and used it in their senior and family portraiture as a unique offering.

I had the good fortune of several great models, and have built several collages from this pattern. Here's a brief tutorial on how I did it. This assumes you are familiar with either Photoshop or Paintshop Pro.

The box was constructed of 2x12 lumber on edge, with a flat black front (facing) edge and high-gloss white inside. I built it in early April. It took about 4 hours to make, and cost around $100 with lumber and paint.

Step 1, I photographed the subjects using high-key lighting. A key light to the upper right of the camera, a lower fill to left of camera, and two background lights behind the subject. With the camera on a tripod to keep the angle consistent, and steady indoor settings (for this, 1/250 sec, f/5.6 or so, and ISO 100), I captured several images of my subject from the same vantage point.  See the first image.

From the first image, I use the transform function to select the corners of the box to make the box into a perfect rectangle.  That will correct for any difference in angle or presentation of the box. I also do a quick Levels process to blow the top of the box to pure white, and crop to rough size. You can see Step 2 as the finish of this.
 Once complete, I'll save several of these images in my "edits" folder, and choose from them for my collage layout. In this case, I'm using five images for a tie-dye "hippie" collage. I chose four others and did the same edits to each.

In Step 3, I crop even tighter, and use the "magic wand" to select the gray supports to my box and delete them. My background color is white, so the deletion function fills them with white, which suits me just fine. You can see the edges are pure white, and I've touched up the box corners with the clone tool. I'll also push the exposure a bit with levels and saturation to get a nice "pop". In some cases, I'll also select the box border and change the color of it, but in this case, I kept it black.
The image is nice and clean now. I create a "new" image on a canvas of pure white, in this case 14" wide by 11" tall by 300 ppi. I resize each of the five images to about 9.8" tall by 300ppi. Then I copy the image and paste as a new layer in the white canvas image. I move each one until there are five in close arrangement to the final. I save that as a "native" Paint Shop or Photoshop image with the layers intact, in case I want to play later.
The sizes are close, but not perfect. I use the guides/ruler tool to create top and bottom guides, and resize each layer until the top and bottoms are the same level. Once at the same level, I'll save the native image, and then save a copy as a flattened JPG image (no layers).

Once flattened, I copy the image, paste as a new later, flip it with the "mirror" function, move it to be underneath the base of the boxes, and reduce the opacity of the flipped layer. I'm getting more sophisticated with using a gradient fill on the bottom layer as a mask to let the reflection fade to light as it moves down to the bottom. Layer masks are great tools. If you are not ready for that, just reduce the opacity of the reflected layer to about 70%.

Once complete, I'll save that as a full size image, and resize for web display with some fancy titling. Here's my finished web display:
I sampled the shirt colors to use in the font fill, and used a stock picture frame for a sample display. I also resized for my main website: It shows up in my main image rotation.

Overall, this edit takes me about 1-2 hours per collage, depending on size (number of images) and finish (frame colors, etc.) . With practice, I should be able to shorten that time. It's one more option I have for seniors and families that set me apart from shoot and burn photographers!

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