Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Frankenstein Formula

Someone asked me how many actual photographs go into a typical photo-collage, which is really one of those "how long is a piece of string?" questions (or what grammarians call "a question expecting the answer 'it depends...'"). So, it depends... But, typically, I suppose I'll use about four or five main source photos, a few handy texture photos (as you've probably noticed, I've currently got a thing about metallic gold, the mother lode being a set of flattened-out Ferrero Rocher wrappers), plus repurposed bits and pieces sawn out of other useful source images. It's one of my rules (though casual and often broken) that, as far as possible, these source images should have some kind of common denominator, for example, have come from the same session, month, or location. Why? Because constraints seem to stimulate creativity.

Perhaps the easiest way to show this is to itemise the main elements going to make up one actual Frankenstein-style composite. Generally, I start with a blank canvas, drop in a couple of photos as Photoshop layers, and see where it takes me. Obviously, I have certain intentions – for example, in this one, I was hoping somehow to use the back view of a home-made angel, seen through a church window in Llandegley – but it's very much a case of making it up as I go along. As things progress, I will often save a promising arrangement in a file, before taking the whole thing in a different direction in a new file. There might be five or more variants along the road; the main thing I have learned is to save something good before trying out a new step which might, but may well not, make it even better. The great thing about Photoshop layers is that few things need be irreversible.

Each of the constituent parts of the final picture is a perfectly satisfactory photograph in its own right (all from our recent Easter visit to Wales) but, in the end, any competent photographer could, and probably would have seen and taken them, with the possible exception of the angel, almost a ready-made "collage" in itself. But it is my contention that the composited image is not only unique, but a fuller, more considered artistic expression, for whatever that is worth. Not only is that more satisfying, for me, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun to do.


Omer said...

I spent twenty+ years as a graphic designer so am pretty familiar with the tools and know-how. But for personal stuff, the seemingly infinite possibilities for creativity with digital is like going for a swim in the middle of an ocean. But seeing what you're doing I gotta admit to thinking, well maybe...

Mike C. said...


Go for it -- the worst that can happen is that you'll have some fun just playing around (I use the cut-down Photoshop Elements, which cuts out a lot of that panic-inducing oceanic feeling!). If you already know how to handle layers and things like masking you're 80% of the way there anyway.