This is the first article in a series of three on how to make amazing Photomontages.
Most photographs are created in a fraction of a second from one point of view. Imagine an image made from multiple positions and spread out over time. This is the nature of the cubist style Photomontages I make.
David Hockney, the famous English painter, made many of these in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He called them “photo joiners.” This is where I gained my initial inspiration to experiment with time and space photographically.
What’s involved in making a Photomontage?
Joining together a series of photographs is not a new idea. My great grandfather, Frederick Cooper, was doing it back in 1889. He made this panorama of the Tasman Glacier and Mt. Cook range with five 8X10 inch images. He made them on the first expedition to photograph the mountain.
What’s different about Photomontages is they are not supposed to represent a single perspective in a single instant. By changing your camera position and spreading out the process of making the photos, a cubist style becomes possible.
Here’s a series of steps I take to produce my Photomontages. This has developed over time since I was first introduced to the concept in 1984. There are no rules. If you want to try something new, follow these steps as guidelines to create your own cubist-styled photography.
1. Choose your subject carefully
Have a raw concept in mind. What is your photomontage going to be about? It’s more than just the subject you choose.
When you are starting out, it is easier to use static subjects. Any movement in the scene adds complexity and difficulty.
Can you re-visit and photograph you subject again if you need to? Getting all the photos you need does not always happen in one session. It is convenient if you can return to your subject and fill in any gaps.
Try to find a subject you can move around and photograph from different angles. Nothing too small. Small subjects can be very challenging.
For my Photomontage of the old Iron Bridge in Chiang Mai, I photographed it from the left side, in the middle, and then from the right side.
2. Decide how big you want your Photomontage to be
My example above is made up of only seven individual photos. You can make a montage with just a few photos or with hundreds or thousands. There is no limit.
Looking at your scene, choose a focal length to use. I generally keep to one. Zooming or changing lenses can bring about confusing results.
Avoid using a wide-angle lens. Distortion at the edges of the photos can make it harder to compile them well.
Base your lens choice on the dimensions you want your finished montage to be. This can be tricky when you are first starting out, but it’s helpful to consider at this stage of the process.
Having a baseline of six or seven photos with a height of five photos, you end up with around 40-50 photos in your final montage. Choose a focal length that gives you the number of photos across the horizontal axis that you want.
Having too many or too few photos to work with can be quite complicated. The Iron Bridge montage took me ages to compile to make it look right because I was working with so few images.
3. Create a base series of photographs
Take more than you think you need. This is most important. Don’t go crazy taking loads of images that are all very similar. Change each composition slightly.
I am always working in manual mode, so my exposure remains constant unless I choose to adjust it.
You can use this first set of photos as the base of your Photomontage. It’s good to have a foundation of images to reference once you start compiling your montage. For these first photos, try to build a selection of images that, when put together, make a fairly normal looking representation of your subject.
Aim to have some overlap in every photo. About 30% is the minimal amount. Being methodical as you make the photos can help to ensure you capture everything you need.
Follow a grid pattern. Start at the bottom left corner and make a series of overlapping images as you move your camera across to where you want the bottom right corner to be. Count the number of photos you are taking.
Point your camera a little higher, including some of the last photos you made. Now work your way back across to the left, taking roughly the same number of photos. Follow this pattern as you continue to cover the whole area you want to include in your Photomontage.
Look for strong lines running through your montage. These help make a more cohesive image when you are putting it all together.
4. Begin adding alternative perspectives
Now that you have a fairly standard collection of photos change your perspective. Move to your left or right. Crouch down or get up higher. You may be surprised at how much a slight change in your perspective alters the look of your montage once you start to compile it.
Move a few times, each time photographing the whole scene again or just the most significant parts of it.
When working with movement in your subject, it may be best to stay in one position to make all your photos. You can rely on the changes in your subject for a cubist effect.
Photographing the tricycle taxi rider, I did not move much. As he moved, I photographed him in different positions. I compiled the photos to convey this movement and contrast it with the image of him sitting.
Keep looking for the strong lines as you or your subject moves.
5. Take more photos
Once you think you have taken enough photos, take some more. There’s nothing more frustrating when you’re compiling your montage than finding gaps you have no photos to fill.
Don’t be in a rush. Take a careful look over the area of your composition and take more photos around the edges and the most important parts of your main subject. These are the two areas you can have the most significant problems with.
When you’re working with subjects you have some control over, think about adding them into your composition more than once. I have done this with some of the people in my tuk-tuk montage.
Taking the photos for a montage is typically the shortest part of the process. Imagining how your compiled montage looks help guide you when taking the photos.
Be careful not to make your first Photomontage too big or too small. If you do discover you have photographed a space too wide or too high, you can alter it when you start positioning the photos in the next step.
Here’s a short video where I share a little more of my montage making experience and an introduction to the videos I make of these Photomontages.
I’d love to read your comments and feedback below. Please share your photomontages and your thoughts on making them.
The next article in this series I will explain the steps taken to compile your photos so they won’t end up looking like a dog’s breakfast.
All articles in this series:
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