How To Make A Digital Montage; Combining Images To Create New Visions

All Photos © 2004, Ellen Anon, All Rights Reserved

It has long been my goal to create photographic images that capture not only what I saw, but what I felt at the moment I made the picture. It was at a workshop with Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant that my creative spirit truly began to soar. Patterson and Gallant are two extraordinarily talented photographers and wonderful teachers. At one of their workshops I began to experiment with ways to digitally emulate the techniques I was seeing, specifically ways to superimpose two or more images.

There are several different types of montages that can be created. In his book, Dreamscapes: Exploring Photo Montages, Gallant describes surreal (which involves combining a sharply focused image with the same image out of focus), mirror (which involves flipping an image vertically or horizontally and combining it with the original), cross (which is similar to mirror except that the image is rotated 90Þ clockwise or counterclockwise,) and composites (where two completely different images are sandwiched together). Digitally it is possible to combine these techniques and take each one still further.

This close-up shot is often mistaken for a photograph of a painting, when actually it is simply two versions of a single photograph digitally combined together.

Surreal Composites
Creating soft, dreamy, surreal montages by combining an in-focus and an out of focus slide has been a popular technique for years, but is often hard to accomplish. With film, the procedure is to expose two shots of the same subject (a tripod for steady composition is a must), one two stops overexposed sharply focused with a small aperture and the other one stop overexposed blurred with a wide-open aperture. The goal is to have the first image provide the detail and the second provide the color. When the two slides are sandwiched together the exposure becomes correct. Unfortunately, sometimes two stops overexposed is too light and, conversely, sometimes the resulting slides are too dark. And if you didn't realize the subject lent itself to this technique at the time you were doing the actual photography you were out of luck.

Using digital, it is possible not only to duplicate this technique, but to expand it and allow it to become considerably more versatile. Although with a digital camera you can still expose the shots in the field for a surreal montage as you would with film, using raw mode and the raw converter either in your native camera converter or in Adobe Photoshop CS, will increase the applicability of the technique. Using raw, you can easily convert a single image twice, once at plus two exposures and once at plus one using the exposure options in your raw converter. You will need to do a Save As after you convert the first image to be able to reopen the original raw file and convert it a second time with different settings. The ability to modify the exposure and blur the image means that you can experiment with creating a surreal effect with any image that might seem to work.

A rather ordinary shot can become extraordinary by converting it into a surreal montage. Creating these montages digitally means you can experiment with a variety of images in your files.