Try this as a fun family project—collect your favorite digital photos from your most recent vacation or family gathering and create a photo collage. You can print your composition on 8.5x11" photo paper to put into an album, or have it developed into an over-sized poster.

In this short article I will tell you about the basic tools you need to create a collage and the general steps to follow. The list of tools is fairly short:

  • Digital photos for the collage composition
  • Digital photo editing software
  • If you want to print at home, you will need a photo printer, photo paper, and quality inks

Collage Ideas

What should a collage include? Anything you want. Vacations, family events, birthdays, and even a photographic family tree.

To keep it simple while learning, start a collage that looks like a traditional photo album page with a white background and pictures placed in various locations with margins around them. If you are an advanced user of your editing software, you can move on to more advanced collage making by adding fancy borders around the photos, blending the edges with the "feather" feature, or adding creative text styles.

A note about the Photo Album Pages wizard
If you are an Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 or 4 user, you may have seen the Photo Album Pages creation wizard. This feature is an easy way to create a collage of images for an album page, but you are limited to the styles offered by the software. With the steps below, you are limited only by your imagination and skills.

I have created a basic collage as an example to use in this article. As you can see below, I started with four scenic photos from a recent vacation and placed them on a single page. All of the original photos were the same size and shape. In the collage I sized some smaller than others and cropped the top right into a narrow panoramic view.

Collage of scenes from Corona del Mar, CA

Creating the Collage

Here are the steps for creating the collage using Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 or 3.0. If you have a different editing software, you can still follow along because the concepts will be applicable.

  1. Select all digital photos for this collage.
  2. Determine the output size and shape of your collage. For example, if you are printing at home on an 8.5 x 11" page, then this is your size.
  3. Start the Photoshop Elements Editor or your own editing software.
  4. Create a new blank image which will become your collage. Command: File arrow New arrow Blank File
  5. In the New dialog box enter the dimensions and resolution of the collage image. To create a landscape letter-sized page as I have done, enter the following information and click OK:

    New dialog box

  6. Save this blank image as a "Photoshop (*.PSD)" file in a location where you will easily find it. Command: File arrow Save As
  7. Open the first image to be added to the collage. Command: File arrow Open
  8. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool Rectangular Marquee Tool to select all or a portion of this photo.
  9. Copy the selected region to the clipboard. Command: Edit arrow Copy
  10. Close the first image without saving any changes. The portion you copied remains in the clipboard. Command: File arrow Close
  11. You should now be back in the collage image. Paste the image you copied. Command: Edit arrow Paste
  12. The image you copied in step 9 now appears in the collage image. Select the Move Tool Move Tool to move the image where you want it in the collage.
  13. If you want to size the image, make sure you still have the Move Tool selected and point to one of the corners of the image. Drag the corner of the image to size while you hold down the Shift key—this prevents the image from distorting.
  14. Repeat steps 7 through 13 for each image you want placed into the collage.
  15. Use the Horizontal Type Tool Horizontal Type Tool to add text to your collage.
  16. Save your collage image again. Command: File arrow Save
  17. If you are printing at home, you are now ready to print. Command: File arrow Print
  18. If you will be uploading this image to an online developing service or taking it to a local lab, save this image in JPEG format. Command: File arrow Save As, name the file with a .jpg extension, choose JPEG in the Format box, and enter 10 for quality.

If you saved your collage as a JPEG file in step 18, be sure to always go back to your Photoshop (*.PSD) file any time you want to make changes. After making changes to the Photoshop file, repeat step 18 to re-save as JPEG.

With practice, you will be able to create collages at increasing speed and complexity.