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Sunday, January 12, 2014


Writer and environmental engineer Karen Hall has many passions. She’s joined us previously to talk about her writing and her crochet. Today she’s joining us to talk about her passion for photography and photo collage. Learn more about her and her books at her website. 

How to Build a Photo Collage
I love photography because it’s all about the moment:  I take a photo, and I know the same group of people, animals, flowers, or whatever I’m shooting will never occur again in quite the same way.  So for me, photographs are precious glimpses into a world preserved only by the pixels that appear on my screen or on the film that’s printed for my next collage.

There are a couple of ways to do a photographic collage.  The first is to purchase a large frame with several windows for photographs.  You’ve all seen them at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s and other craft stores.  They’re by far the easiest option—if your photographs are sized appropriately for the windows.

The second way to do a collage is to use a graphics program (Publisher comes with a lot of Microsoft Office packages) and “paste” them together.  Or you can, of course, go old school and print your photographs, then cut and paste them together.

No matter which way you do it, here are a few tips for making your collages terrific:

Faces  If your collage is made of photographs of people, be sure to highlight their faces.  Make sure they’re readily visible and not dwarfed by the surroundings.  Close-ups work best, of course, but you can always print the photos in a larger size and crop/cut them so the faces are correspondingly larger.

Shapes  Are your photographs taken in portrait mode (taller than wide) or in landscape (wider than tall) or both?  If you’re using a purchased collage frame, you may limit yourself in the selection of photographs by what the frame wants you to use.

Backgrounds  Try, as much as possible, to use photographs with simple backgrounds.  If the backgrounds are busy, filled with buildings or other people or complex landscapes, your eye won’t know where to go.  Use photos that focus on a single subject for at least half of the collection; if you must use shots with complex backgrounds, alternate them with simple ones.

Light and Shadow  Photographs are, really, all about light.  When you’re building your collage, try to alternate light with dark; your eye will better discern individual photographs, and the overall effect will be stunning.

Color  If you use only black and white shots, pay more attention to light and shadow.  If, however, all your photographs are in color, mix them up!  Don’t concentrate all the reds in one part of your collection unless you’re specifically going for that look. 

Here are a couple of collages I put together for pre-purchased frames.  The one at the beginning of the blog was for my father who moved to a very small assisted living apartment and wanted a collection of family photographs for his wall.

Here’s a smaller collage, a grouping of black and white photographs I took one fall afternoon at the University of Minnesota arboretum.  Note the light and dark contrasts.

Here’s a sample collage of nature photographs.  I’ve tried hard to vary the backgrounds and the light/shadow, as well as the subject matter and color.  It’s not always easy, as you can see.

Finally, here’s a color collage I just made for my sister-in-law, at whose birthday party they were taken.  I tried to pay close attention to all the tips above.  Let me know what you think. 

These days it’s tempting to leave your photos on your computer or your phone, but if you do, you’re the only one likely to see them, and then only when you search them out or select them as wallpaper for your phone or desktop.  If you don’t have a photo-quality printer, there are a number of online services that will print them for you.  I use Snapfish.com simply because my sister does, but there are many others available.  You can easily upload your photos and order prints, and you can also share them once they’re loaded to the site.  Your friends can either copy and paste the photos you’ve shared to their own hard drives, or they can order prints, too.  Either way, your photos will be out there for others to enjoy!

Unreasonable Risk
First in the series.  Hannah Morrison’s place of business might as well be a bomb. Nearly everything inside the fence is either flammable or explosive—and somebody is trying to blow it up. Hannah’s friend and mentor has already died, and though she knows it was sabotage, she can’t prove it. With the help of photojournalist Noel Keller, Hannah uncovers suspect after suspect as the stakes mount for the refinery, its neighborhood and the entire city. Determined to avenge her friend’s death, Hannah works to identify the saboteur before he decides: WHO WILL BE THE NEXT TO DIE?

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Anonymous said...

I would love to do something like this for a Christmas card, but I would need some help figuring out the program. Andrea Hovey

Unknown said...

I've always wanted to do photo collages, but I'm all thumbs when it comes to doing them. Thanks for the advice on how to organize them.

Karen said...

Andrea, thanks for the comment. I'd be happy to help. Just give me a shout at karen@karenehall.com and I'll do my best. :-)

Unknown said...

Thank you for the tips. I love doing collages myself and these are beautiful.

Unknown said...

Beautiful photos. It's a good point that no one sees the photos on your computer or phone.

Charlotte Walling said...

tte Walling"These days it’s tempting to leave your photos on your computer or your phone."

I'm certainly guilty of this one. Time to go wading through photos and get crackin' on a collage.

Suzanne said...

How do you limit your selections so you don't end up with postage sized images? Is there a "magic number" one should not exceed?

Karen said...

Thanks for all the comments! Suzanne, in terms of the number of images in a collage, it depends a lot on your purpose. If you want to highlight an event that lots of people attended, it's hard not to overdo the number as you try to show every face. My general rules of thumb are these: try to use an odd number of photographs (always more pleasing to the eye), and try not to highlight more than a dozen faces (and those faces may be two to a photograph). Too many more than that and your collage will, in fact look like a bunch of postage stamps, especially if it's 8 1/2 x 11 in size. For faces, make the most important people stand out in the largest photos (i.e., the bride and groom, the birthday girl, the graduate and his parents), with less important people in smaller ones. If you must, do two separate collages to get everybody in. Especially if you give them as gifts, the recipients will appreciate being able to see each person in a reasonable size!

With nature photographs, fewer is always better. The one I did for this post is maybe a little too crowded -- but it was my only opportunity to show off my photos to you guys!

Again, thanks for all the comments, and good luck with your collages.

Karen said...

OMG, looking back at the collages I posted, I realize I broke my cardinal rule #1 (use an odd number of photographs) in EVERY ONE! So maybe it's not that cardinal of a rule.....

JenBin said...

Awesome, Karen! You're so very talented. The best collage I can do is the "collage picture frame" from the store.

Karen said...

But you have OTHER talents, Jen. For all of you who love paranormal mysteries, check out Jen's book, GHOST MOUNTAIN. She's a friend of mine and will have a new books out soon! Watch for it, watch for it....

Karen said...

Uh oh. Forgot to mention that Jen writes under the pen name "Nichole Bennett." It's under THAT name that you'll find GHOST MOUNTAIN...