How to Make a Photomontage

How do I make a photo montage or photo joiner?

Making a photo joiner is compiling multiple photos in one frame. This is a simple photo collage. But making David Hockney style photography joiners is much more complex.

Joiner photos must be more than a cut up single image. In most interesting and complex photomontage examples the joiner photos are made from different perspectives. This David Hockney photo collage technique has been a passion of mine for over 30 years.

Making a Photomontage by Kevin Landwer-Johan

The David Hockney Photo Collage Technique

I was initially introduced to the concept of photo collage through a video of British painter David Hockney. He described the process and technique he used to photograph and compile his collage of photos.

I was fascinated with his photo collage design ideas. He talked of how time and space could be alternatively represented with multiple joiner photos how it could not be with a single photograph.

David Hockney is not really known so much as a photographer. He is famous for his paining. In the video he talked about how photographs differ from paintings. Paintings take time to produce and there are fewer limitations than with photography. David Hockney photo joiners made up from a series of photos appear more like a cubist painting, unbound by time or a single perspective.

Since I started I have never lost interest in making photo collages. I go through phases where I am very creative and at other times I produce none. I am always seeking to explore and expand the way I make photographic collages.

Kevin Landwer-Johan Making a Photo Joiner

How I Started Making Photo Collages

I started simply with small scale black and white photo joiners. Most were small and uncomplicated. It took a lot of experimentation to teach myself to make a photo collage at home. I could never find many other joiner photography artists to draw inspiration from. Although I did eventually meet another photographer who lived in Auckland who was also a contemporary collage artist.

Back when I started in the 1980s up until I purchased my first digital camera many years later, I made my photo collages with a film camera. It could be an expensive exercise getting all the film processes and printed. I mostly stuck to making smaller photo joiners in black and white as it was more affordable and less time consuming.

I became more experimental in creating my photomontage images. Over time they have become increasingly fractured and more cubist than my earlier montage examples.

Using a digital camera to make the photos changed my creative process. It was far cheaper to produce new photo collages. I could take as many joiner photos as I like without worrying about cost. I could also compile them far more easily using Adobe Photoshop.

The biggest change that came with the transition to digital happened with video. I began to incorporate video clips into my photo collage design ideas. These are rendered as video and viewed on a monitor or television screen.

Roy Harper in concert, His Majesty's Theatre, Auckland, March 1986.
Roy Harper in concert, His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, March 1986.

How To Make a PhotoMontage

(or PhotoJoiner or PhotoCollage)

The method in creating joiner photos does not take long and is most enjoyable. Good planning always leads to better results. The technique of compiling the pictures for a photo collage is time consuming and requires a lot of creative concentration.

Photo Collage Design Ideas: Choosing Your Subject

Finding a good subject, anything you like really, is the first step. When you are just starting it’s a good idea to choose a subject you like and are familiar with. Picking something you can return to later and make some more photos is important. When you start compiling your photo joiner you may find you have some gaps. Being able to return and make some more photos to fill the gaps is convenient.

Plan Making Your Photo Joiner Images

Choose a time of day when your subject will look the best. I returned to the markets three times before I started photographing the samlor rider photomontage. The sky was overcast and the light was dull, so I waited until I had a sunny morning.

Think about how cubist you want to make your photo collage. The more you move or change your lens focal length the more difficult it can be to compile the photos into your photo joiner.

Movement is also anther factor to consider. Anything within your composition that moves as you are making your series of joiner photos will complicate things. Complications are not bad, but it could also make compiling your joiner photos more difficult.

Standing in one place and photographing a static subject is easiest.

With my samlor photo collage I loved that the rider was resting in his cycle and them hoped down off it. His action creates a fun cubist style movement in the joiner.

photo montage or a tricycle taxi in Chiang Mai, by Kevin Landwer-Johan

Make Your PhotoMontage Photographs With Purpose

Randomly making lots of photos of your subject will make compiling your photo joiner more complicated than it needs to be. It’s going to be complicated enough.

Working to take your series of photos methodically is important so you can avoid having gaps. Overlap your photos. Look for something at the edge of your frame when you take a photo and when you move you camera to compose the next picture include that same thing.

You do not need to hold your camera straight all the time. Taking some photos with your camera at an angle can help you photo joiner design be more interesting. Typically I will take most photos for a joiner with the camera conventionally and then take some at different angles.

You will need more photos for your photojoiner than you think. But don’t be tempted to take hundreds if you are only going to use 20 or 30 when you compile your photomontage.

When you are taking the photos look for lines running though your composition. Horizontal, vertical, diagonal or curved lines can help hold your composition together.

My photo collage design idea for the Iron Bridge was to include a minimal number of photos. I want to show both sides of the bridge so joining the strong lines of the road and bridge framework holds the composition together. If the lines are disjointed the joiner design just does not work.

Kevin Landwer-Johan Making a Photo Joiner

Using Adobe Photoshop to Compile Your Photo Joiner

I have always used Adobe Photoshop to compile my photo joiners since I started making them digitally. You can use any photo manipulation software with layers, but Photoshop really does it the best. If your photo joiner has lots of photos you will require many layers. Working with software that is less robust than Adobe Photoshop will result in it crashing as the workload is intense.

You do not need to compile your photo joiner with full size images if you import them as smart object in Photoshop. Doing this will allow you to more easily size them for printing later.

Calculate how big you think your photo joiner will be and create a new canvas. Select all the photos one by one and drag and drop them onto your canvas. Reposition them roughly where you want them to be. Do not be too precise at this stage as you will likely move them more than once before you are finished.

With each photo on it’s own layer you are able to reposition them in the hierarchy by dragging them up or down in the layers panel. You will need to do this in order to get them overlapping well.

As you continue to add photos to layers you might find some become redundant. It can be helpful to turn some of these layers off so you can see more clearly how your photo joiner is coming together.

Take time to move the images around. The position of each photo for your join can be adjusted until you are happy with it. Sometimes it is necessary just to call it quits as this process could become eternal.

Screen grab of a photomontage by Kevin Landwer-Johan

Converting Photos To Cubism

Most photos are made in a fraction of a second. They do not convey a duration of time. This short window in time is captured at one location. Photo joiners are more like cubism. Making and arranging many photos into one composition does away with the restrictions that encapsulate a single photograph.

I love exploring the bounds of time, space and perspective with my photomontages. There is a lot more detail I can share about this David Hockney photo collage technique and how I have developed it.

I have not written here anything of the process to make printed photo collages. This is a whole expansion of a flat screen to a tactile interaction. Having prints made. Arranging them, again and again and again, as they get jostled around. Then sticking them down in the right position and order.

I have not written here anything much about the video photo collages I create. These are a quite different and more complex work-flow. Making the joiner photos and video requires different planning and technique. Compiling them using Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro is another whole big topic to cover.

I am considering producing another video course to sell online explaining my work-flow in greater detail. If I receive enough interest in an online course it will be great incentive to get one made.