Photoshop tutorial – Extracting objects to create a fun photo collage

Such fun creating collages! A simple art form in which multiple photos are combined into a piece of art. It is now my latest passion as I aspire to experiment and learn more tricks and techniques from Photoshop CS2 and the internet. Having recently experimented how to extract objects, resize, reposition and rotate images, I’d like to share an article on it, especially for beginners including me who may need assistance. Of course, these are so basic, yet if you don’t know them, you’ll be stunted! I know I was earlier but definitely am inching upwards! :)

And, coincidentally my theme is again on our wonderful pet friend, Maxi, a cross-bred miniature pinscher!! Just love seeing him standing on his hind legs when offered food or jumping excitedly in anticipation of titbits or greeting us joyfully! :D Recently, I teased him with a meaty bone on one hand and with a camera on the other to snap shots of his joy, but as you’ve guessed right – it’s absolutely difficult to get good snaps of a greedy impatient doggy friend in such a situation. Only one resulting image was okay but the others were either without his head as he leapt or hind legs as he came too close, though his expressions were pleasing! That’s how I came about with the idea of creating a hilarious looking photomontage which seems almost believable – a pack of quadruplets, yet false! :D

Let’s begin the collage tutorial, using Photoshop CS2 –

4 pictures of Maxi that were used to create a fun photomontage!

1. Envisage a theme for your collage. It’s advisable to assemble all your desired photos into one project folder in Windows Explorer. Do not use original photos, instead create a new folder and copy all your photos into it. In this example, I’ve used the 4 photos above! Picture #1 (size 1200 x 1600 pixels) was used as the background and as for the rest, the dog’s image was extracted and combined into the main photo to create a fun collage.

2. In Photoshop, open all the images – Choose File > Open and browse to select the images that you want. Click Open and the images will be opened one by one and stacked on the screen. Move to arrange the images in such a way that at least portions of them are visible. Then, check each to see that all the images are of the same resolution and size – Choose Image > Image Size, and make changes if necessary.

3. Start to work on the background image (picture #1) by activating it. In the Layers Palette, double click on the Background layer and rename it Collage. This will unlock the background layer to allow blending options later on. My picture had some unsightly patches of rainwater puddles on the right side. So, I did some minimal correction. To remove imperfections such as these, select the Spot Healing Brush Tool (J), key in your preferred brush size at top options bar, click and drag over area to be retouched. (Tips – you can show your Layers Palette by tapping F7 or go to Windows > Layers if yours is not opened yet. If you prefer to create a new blank image instead of using another photo as the background, go to File > New – to create one. Specify image size as desired on a transparent background. Resolution should be the same as that of images to be pasted. In the Layers Palette, double-click the words Layer 1 and rename it Collage).

4. Extract objects –
Now to extract the desired object (i.e. the dog) from the other 3 pictures. I’m sure there are many ways of doing this. However, in this tutorial, I’ll try to share at least 3 ways that I’ve learnt recently. Haha…and am still learning as I research further to prepare this article and reconstruct my collage all over again!! :D

First extraction, using the Magnetic Lasso (L) which is especially suited here as it traces perfectly the edges of the dog which has clearly defined edges – Activate picture #2 by clicking anywhere on the image. In the Layers Palette, unlock the Background layer by double-clicking on it and select OK when the New Layer window appears. Select the Magnetic Lasso tool from the toolbox, then click any edge of the object to set the first fastening point and drag along the desired edges without needing to depress the mouse button. As you drag, it places anchors to the selection border. If it doesn’t anchor to the desired edge, move backwards and/or press the Delete key to remove anchors and click once to add a fastening point manually. Then, proceed to trace the remaining edge in the same manner until you’ve covered the whole object, finally clicking the starting anchor point or double-click to seal the selection border. If you’re not satisfied with your selection border, you can undo with Ctrl+Z (or deselect with the pointer in the selected border, depress mouse button and release) and start all over again. Now, you’ll need to extract the object by inversing the selection border in order to remove the background – Choose Select > Inverse, followed by Edit > Cut (or Ctrl+X).

5. You may need to retouch the extracted object of some unwanted areas or rough edges. It’s best to work on an enlarged view – at the Navigator Palette at top right corner (select Window > Navigator if not displayed yet), increase the magnification % to a suitable size or glide the zoom slider. You can use this palette to quickly change the view of your image, using the thumbnail display. To move the view of an image, drag the colored box within the image thumbnail or click inside to designate the viewable area. Alternatively, you can use the Move Tool (tap V to activate), click and move your image around to see where needs smoothening or removal. Use the Eraser Tool (or tap E) set to a fine brush and drag over areas to remove. Another alternative which I normally use is the Magic Wand (tap W) to select the unwanted areas and remove with Ctrl+X. If wrongly erased/selected, just press Ctrl Z to undo or jump to any recent changes made in the History Palette. (Tip – it’s useful to remember the shortcut keys of frequently used tools to ease your work, especially if you need to switch from one tool to another.) Should you desire to adjust your image (probably the colors, brightness, etc.), go to Image > Adjustments and experiment (I haven’t tried this area yet!). Once completed, drag the extracted object to the Collage image – tap V key to activate the Move Tool (or select the Move Tool in the toolbox), click on the object and drag. Draft photo collage of Maxi – the extracted image on the right in its original size, whilst on the left as it appeared after resizing/repositioning as per step 6 below. Observe that as the object is added to the Collage, a new layer named Layer 1 is produced in the Layers Palette. You can either rename it by double-clicking on the letter or leave as it is. (Tip – you can still retouch the extracted image after addition, provided you target its layer in the Layers Palette). Close the window of the picture #2 from which the object was extracted.

6. Next step is to resize the added dog image to coincide with that in the Collage and reposition. First target Layer 1 by selecting it in the Layers Palette. (Note – Always make sure the correct layer is targeted in the Layers Palette before making any changes). Then tap Ctrl+T (or go to to Edit > Free Transform) and a bounding box appears around the edges of the layer with anchor points on all the sides. You can then resize the image by dragging any side handle or constrain the proportions by holding down Shift as you drag a corner handle. (Note: If an added layer displays larger than the Collage image, click and drag the layer in any direction until you can see a corner of the image. You can then transform the image using the anchor point on the visible corner.) You can even rotate the layer by positioning your cursor just outside the bounding box and when it changes to a curved double-headed arrow, click and drag. When desired size is accomplished, double click inside box (or tap Enter key or click the check sign at top options bar) to commit transformation, otherwise tap Esc ( or click the circle with slash) to cancel it and start all over again. Finally, use the Move Tool (or tap V), click and drag to reposition the image to where you want. In this example, I’ve reduced the size of the added image by constraining the proportions, then click inside the bounding box and drag it over the Collage dog image for size comparison and resized further until a correct proportion is achieved. It is a good idea at this point to save the Collage as a PSD format as layers – go to File > Save as, just in case there’s a power outage and all efforts and time was for naught.

7. Now, you will need to repeat the steps 4 to 6 for the remaining 2 pictures (picture #3 and #4). You may want to experiment with two other alternative ways of extracting the object. Do try, otherwise you will not know which method suits you best and sometimes you may need a combination!

2nd extraction, using the Lasso Tool (tap L) – Activate your image window containing object you want to extract (picture #3). You’ll need to unlock the Background layer – in the Layers Palette, double-click on it and select OK when the New Layer window appears. Select the Lasso Tool from the toolbox. If it’s not visible, but hidden behind the Magnetic Lasso – click, hold and release to bring forward the list of tools, then select Lasso Tool. Click and drag to draw a freehand border roughly around your intended object, then release the mouse to close the selection border. You will notice that this selection needs lots of retouching. Not to worry, this can be easily done! Select the Magic Wand from the toolbox (or tap W) and set a tolerance of 25. Click on portions of unwanted areas and by holding down the Shift key and continue selecting, it keeps the previous selection as well as adds the newly selected areas or widens the outline. Click Ctrl+X to cut and remove selected areas. If selected wrongly, just Ctrl+Z to undo or jump to recent changes made at History Palette. Continue in this manner (tap W followed by Ctrl+X to remove or Ctrl Z to undo) until all unwanted areas are removed. You can then remove the remaining stray pixels with the Eraser Tool (tap E) set to preferred brush size. Finally, the retouched object can be dragged with the Move Tool (T), to be added onto the Collage image as Layer 2. Then resize and reposition this new addition following Step 6 above. Close the window of picture #3 as you have no further need of it.

3rd Extraction, using the Extract Command – Activate your image window (picture #4) containing object to be extracted. Choose Filter > Extract (Ctrl + Alt + X) to load the Extract Window. Specify your tool options (the brush size) which can be changed anytime during their usage. Select the Smart Highlighting. Then, select the Edge Highlighter tool and draw to define the edge of the object you want to extract. Drag so that the highlight slightly overlaps both the foreground object and its background. Use the Eraser Tool to drag over the highlight to erase mistakes, if necessary. To erase the entire highlight, press Alt+Backspace. The Zoom tool and the Hand tool are provided to adjust the view as needed. You have to highlight the entire object to seal it. Then use the Fill Tool to fill the areas inside the object to retain or click in the filled area again to remove the fill and retouch further if necessary. Click Preview to see the extracted object. Zoom in as needed, and use the Cleanup Tool and Edge Touchup Tool to make changes or select OK to accept the final extraction. You can still clean up the image after an extraction by using the Background Eraser or Magic Wand (tap W) with Ctrl+X to retouch further if required. Now, the completed object can be dragged with the Move Tool (T), onto the Collage image, producing a new layer named Layer 3. In this example, I had the 3rd extracted image flipped horizontal – choose Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Then resize and reposition this new addition following Step 6 above. You can now close the window of picture #3. (Please refer further to Adobe Help Center for more guide on the Extract command – press F1 > Help Topics > Selecting > Extracting selections > To extract an object from its background). Close the window of picture #4.

8. A final check to see that all the extracted images are positioned as desired in the Collage, otherwise reposition with the Move Tool (tap V), remembering to target the specific layer before moving. In this example, I needed to trim slightly the right side of Collage layer – target this layer in the Layers Palette, then use the Crop Tool from the toolbox (or tap C) to drag over the part of the image you want to keep to create a marquee. You can then adjust the cropping marquee by dragging any side handle or constrain the proportions by holding down Shift as you drag a corner handle. Holding down the Ctrl key as you drag a side handle allows you to nudge minutely. To complete the crop, press Enter or double-click inside the cropping marquee or click the Commit button in the options bar. To cancel the cropping operation, press Esc or click the Cancel button in the options bar.

9. Photomontage of our pet dog, without a frame yet! Create a photo frame/border –
The Collage looks naked without a border, don’t you think so? So, this is what I did to frame and make it more attractive.
To create the first border, select the Create a new layer button at the bottom of Layers Palatte and notice a new layer named Layer 4 is produced. Click on this layer and drag to stack below the Collage layer. (Note – In the stacking order of layers, the higher up on the stack the given layer is, the closer to the top of the overall photo it will be). Now, with the Layer 4 still highlighted, you need to make it visible by increasing the canvas size. Go to Image > Canvas Size and in the window, enter the amount of increase in width and height size according to unit measurement that you desire, then click OK. You can now see the border added and if you’re not satisfied with the size, just press Ctrl+Z to undo and start again. Now you’d want to color the layer – Choose the color you desire and use the Paint Bucket Tool (or tap G). (Tip – if you want to use a color from the collage, use the Eyedropper Tool to extract the color). In this example, I’ve increased 30 x 30 pixels to canvas size and painted black #020202 (this dark color is just perfect to be used for a Blur filter later on).
Next, create a second larger border in the same manner as you did for the first one above. The new layer will appear as Layer 5 in the Layers Palette. Click on it and drag it to the bottom of the stack. Increase the canvas size by 150 x 150 pixels and paint it medium grey (#5d5f5f). Then, give a slightly darker contrast edging to it by applying a simple stroke effect – select icon for Add a layer style found at the bottom of Layers Palette and choose Stroke. In the Layer Style window, make your desired choices in size and color. You can play around with your selection and see their effects simultaneously on Collage itself when Preview is selected, then click OK button when done. (Tip – when Stroke is applied to the bottom layer in the stack, the Position selected must be Inside to make it visible).
To complete the framing in this example, a Blur filter like Gaussian Blur would be the perfect finish. It will produce a hazy effect and a slightly curved perspective. Select Layer 4 in the Layers Palette, then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter 80.0 pixels for Radius (the effect can be seen simultaneously on image when Preview is selected), then click OK to apply.
A distinct border was then created to separate the Collage and the framing to make it more appealing – select the Collage layer in the Layers Palette and at the bottom, click icon for Add a layer style and choose Stroke. Here, a stroke size of 3 px and color #fc6d05 was applied. Then, in the same Layer Style window, click on Inner Shadow to apply its effects with a chosen shadow size of 50 px. Hit OK when done. If you change your mind later, go the same way you had them applied earlier and revise your selections.

10. Whew! Finally finished! That’s about all I think! You can now save the completed Collage in either jpeg or psd format or both. To save, choose File > Save as, and then proceed as guided. I would normally save in both formats, making sure that the photoshop format is saved as layers, just in case I’d want to make any more changes! Remember to delete the back-up file saved temporarily at Step 6.

Here’s presenting my fun-loving pet friend with his siblings (?) in this hilarious photomontage creation! Isn’t he (aren’t they?) adorable!! LOL!! :D

The completed collage of Maxi, our adorable companion and his pack (?) - the quadruplets? LOL!

I truly hope this photo collage tutorial has been useful – it’ll really make all my efforts in presenting it so worthwhile! Anyway, I had great fun too, creating this joyful collage again and writing this article, though it seemed to take ages…almost 4 days!! In wanting to share, I’ve been so enriched – I’ve got to know much more about what’s available in Photoshop, using its tools the correct way instead of groping and going the roundabout way, etc. etc.! Yay…wonderful outcome, indeed!! :)

Go…have fun and enjoy your own creation!

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3 Responses to “Photoshop tutorial – Extracting objects to create a fun photo collage”

  1. Rnel Says:

    thank you for the nice tutorial Jacqueline. help make more people know about this, recommend it here

    thanks again

  2. Jacqueline Says:

    You’re welcome, Rnel! And, thanks for introducing it to others! :)

  3. ThierryD Says:

    You can see here another tutorial, who explain all step by step :
    it is for information.

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