Tychs and Photo Collages: Not Just for Instagrammers!

Christmas Cookie Collage

Diptychs, triptychs, and other photo collages, formerly a relic of scrapbooks, have made a digital comeback, thanks to apps that allow smartphone users to easily share a series of related photos together.  While I'm really partial to the trend (especially pairing similar "detail" shots), I don't think it has to stop with Instagram, and I know I'm not alone.  I've seen a number of pro photographers using photo collages (diptychs are especially popular), which has inspired me to think more about doing the same with my own work.

There are a number of different ways to make photo collages with Lightroom and Photoshop, but I'm going to show you how I do it, using Adobe Bridge and Photoshop.  If you use Lightroom exclusively instead of Photoshop, there are a number of tutorials elsewhere you can consult.

First, select the images you want next to each other either vertically or horizontally (hold down the CTRL key in Windows or Command key on a Mac), and select to make either a new row (horizontally stacked) or a new column (vertically stacked) with Tych Panel.  This will open up the photos together as one image with two layers in Photoshop.  If all you want is a diptych or a triptych with two or three photos in a row, you're done.  If you want to add another row or column, just repeat the process and it will import the new photos into the file.  I often add a thick white line using the line tool in between each photo to separate them.

Want a border with rounded edges?  That's pretty easy to do.  Again, there are about a million different ways to go about this, but here's how I do it.

First, either flatten the image, or create a new layer on top.  Select the rounded rectangle tool (right click to see the menu if the line or rectangle tool are in use).  Draw a rounded rectangle around your collage, leaving a little bit of room at the edges for a border (if you don't want to lose any of the image, you could first add 100 pixels to each side of the image using the Canvas Size tool).  Then right click on the NAME of the layer (probably Round Rectangle 1), and select "rasterize layer."  This turns the rounded rectangle into a boring old regular layer.  Next, right click the layer thumbnail to the left of the name of the layer, and select "select pixels."  Now you have the rounded rectangle selected, but want you really want selected is the area around the rectangle, so go to the top panel and click Select-->Inverse to select that area.  Now you have no use for the rounded rectangle layer, so delete it and select either the background layer (if you flattened your image earlier) or the new layer you created earlier.  Then, take the paintbrush tool, and color in your selection the color you want your border to be (selecting a large brush will make the job much easier).

That may sound a little involved, but once you start doing it, it becomes second nature.

Beauty and the Beast Diptych

So what photos lend themselves best to photo collages?  I tend to find that portraits or detail shots, or shots with a shallow depth of field, really lend themselves to this.  These are shots that by themselves are good, but together they're even better because tell a story.  Two things that go together (like Beauty and the Beast or a bride and a groom) make great diptychs.

Le jardin de Catherine de Médicis

Inglenook Triptych

Tea Time at the Ahwahnee

The diptych above gives you a better feel for what tea time at the Ahwahnee Hotel is like much better than either photo alone could.

Santa's Scratch Offs

Showing a sequence of actions is another great way to tell a story. These actions can be rapid-fire (like a person running or a cat playing), or over the course of several minutes or hours.

Catch That String!

Below is a diptych I made of Jax Diner in Truckee, CA, paired with a photo of a dish I ordered there. Although it goes against my "details and portraits" preference for photo collages, I think it works here. In other words, rules (especially my rules), are meant to be broken! Take all my advice with a grain of salt, because I certainly do! Experimenting is much more important that following rules in photography.

Here are a some more diptychs and triptychs I've made:

The Ahwahnee Dining Hall

Robert Mondavi Winery

Saratoga County Fair

Martha's Dandee Cream
Martha's Dandee Cream in Lake George, NY

Abandoned Houses in Bodie Ghost Town

The Equinox Resort in Manchester, VT

Bodie Cemetery

Embassy Suites in Napa Valley

Little Mermaid ride at Walt Disney World

Main Street Trolley performers at Walt Disney World

If you'd like to see a really creative use of triptychs, check out Triptychs of Strangers by Adde Adesokan.

Tools I used to create the photos this post:  Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS 60D, Canon EOS Rebel T2i (since replaced by the T5i), Sony a200, Minolta 50mm f/1.7, Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM, Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM (since updated), Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USMCanon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, Adobe Photoshop CS6


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