Digital Photomontage

Check a Scott Mutter Web Site

From SURRATIONAL IMAGES Photomontages by Scott Mutter © 1992; pub, U. of I. Press.

"Photomontage, the art of combining two or more negatives, evolved in the early days of photography. The straight photograph, which told a frail truth, was hemmed in by focal and panchromatic ranges, by shutter and exposure speeds. It could not by itself hold detail equally well in a bright sky and a shadowed foreground. The eye compensates instantaneously for such disparity, and an artist can record such compensation whereas the first photographer could not.....Mutters photomontages are composite pictures of objects which when joined together assume a new and more complex definition.... All of (his) photomontages ring true. They may not be factual images, but they are plausible."

The Project

You are to create a digital photomontage; combine two images into one in such a way that a new, more complex (yet believable) image results. As an artist you must deal with aesthetic concerns as well: composition, balance, content. You are restricted to your own photographs; but if you find published artwork that will work well together I will consider it.

You will make complex selections. The selections can be made in a variety of ways using the Marquees, Lasso, Magic Wand, and Quick Mask. You will manipulate your image using the many features of the Toolbox.

Advanced students will use the Select Menu as well as Color Range. They will Save Selections to Alpha Channels.

Important Ideas

  1. Make it SIMPLE (just 2 elements).

  2. When choosing images find these individual elements that when combined appear as one:

    1. Shadows
    2. Textures
    3. Shapes
    4. Colors

  3. Alter the basic images. Make them very clear using:

    1. Contrast
    2. Relationship to the Background
    3. Sharpness or Blurriness
    4. Scaling

    5. Ask:

      1. How does each element fit within it's original image?
      2. How much space does it occupy (How much SHOULD it occupy)?
      3. What is the perspective and point of view?
      4. Is the element looking or moving in a particular direction?
      5. What about diagonals, horizontals, verticals and the horizon line?
      6. How will the below affect the image's mood and tone?

        1. Color, Grayscale, Black & White, Monotone, Duotone etc....
        2. Dodging and Burning
        3. Saturating and Desaturating
        4. Adding or Removing, Enhancing or Subduing Textures and Details

      7. What is the meaning behind the image choices (and your combination)?
      8. What kind of story does the digital photomontage tell?
      9. Do others perceive the new image as intended, and if not, what can be changed?


      1. Larger or Smaller
      2. Heavier or Lighter
      3. Darker or Brighter
      4. Duller or More Colorful
      5. Imposing or Weak
      6. Oppressive or Free
      7. Closer or Further Away

      Consider these questions in relationship to the above APPEARENCES:

      1. When something is above or below something else, does it change?
      2. How do these apply to one thing overlapping another?
      3. Or to the left or right of another?
      4. Or crowded along the edge?
      5. Or facing/turning away from the edge (or another element)?

    Steps to Follow

      Scan your work in RGB (millions of colors), or grayscale (256 grays). The output resolution should be set to 240 DPI; this is proper for printing on an inkjet printer with a resolution of 720 DPI. (Determining resolution is a tricky matter... best left to a classroom lecture.) Total image dimensions are determined by your compositional choices, but should be no greater than 8" x 10" (or 10" x 8"). Anything larger will not print on 8.5" x 11" printers. The size of objects in your composition determine the proper Scaling during scanning.

      Save as an Uncompressed TIF format, onto your Zip Disk.

      An Example:

      Illuminated Arcitecture by Michael McGinnis

      The images used to create the composition in the lower right were all larger than needed for the final piece. Each was scanned with the scaling appropriately adjusted to their correct dimensions.

      Make sure that the images you wish to combine are scaled to one another accurately. Problems arise when different scalings are combined, example: a 1/2" tall, 240 DPI face will not fit a 2" tall, 240 DPI head too well; but it would fit a 2" tall, 72 DPI face just fine. If this concept is difficult to understand, ask me to explain.

      Clean up the images in Photoshop using the Clone Tool, and other paint tools. Get rid of blotches, glitches and other undesirable artifacts now. Adjust colors as in project 1.

      Use selection techniques that you have learned so far to isolate image areas. ADVANCED STUDENTS: Store them as Alpha Channels (by making selections and then choosing Save Selection under the Select menu. Use Feather... and other features of the Select menu as necessary.

      Combine images using Copy, then Paste or Paste into features of the Edit Menu. Use Opacity variations as necessary. Also use the Clone tool to work from one image into another (ask for a demonstration if you need one).

      Make final adjustments in your image with the Tone tools (Dodge, Burn, Sponge), Clone Tool, Paint Bucket and other paint tools as necessary.

      PS. - Make them necessary!

      What is a TIFF or TIF?, "Tagged Image File Format", stores bitmapped (pixel-based) images but not object-oriented images. A TIFF also stores data on output size and resolution. This is considered an industry standard for page layout programs and can be compressed in a lossless fashion (no information lost). In Photoshop, the TIFF can be saved for Mac or PC use. A TIFF has exactly the same image info as EPS "Encapsulated PostScript", but is arranged, read and used differently. TIFF is not 100% standardized so parsing problems may arise. This means that the TIFF format in Photoshop may not be the same as that from an older scanner; they may be incompatible.

      What is a PICT?, the Mac standard file format, stores bitmapped and object oriented images. This is the standard for multimedia programs. One book suggests that the automatic PICT compression format in Photoshop is lossy while another says that it is lossless. Closed PICT files are typically smaller (memory wise) than TIFF files because PICT automatically compresses and doesn't "tag" output size and resolution data to it's file.