Photoshop Tutorial – Simplifying Blog Collages with Smart Objects and Actions
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Let me start off by saying, I’m an efficiency nut! Anything I can do now to save myself time down the road is a huge priority. I think sometimes my wife wants to kill me, because I sit down next to her as she works, and the whole time I’m saying, you know…there’s a better way for doing that. She’s only tried to strangle me twice, but I know she’s thought about it a lot more! So I figured, if I’m doing all this stuff to be more efficient, why not share it with the world. You see, if I make you more efficient, maybe we can all be out shooting more…
So the first thing that came to mind was blog collages. (In reality, you could use these concepts to create lightning fast templates for storybook albums as well.) So the background: Jean asked me to put together some templates for her to use on her blog, and I thought this was something everybody may like to learn. We all love collages. The problem is, it’s such a hassle to put them together. There are templates out there you can purchase, but in reality, with just a few minutes, you can piece together your own templates and create an action that reduces the time you’ll spend creating the collages to a matter of seconds. And best of all, you’ll be using smart objects to create the collage, so if you decide you want to make changes to the images (ie resize, change to black and white, or even swap images) you can do so non-destructively!
I’m going to break this tutorial down into 3 segments spread over the next three weeks.
- Creating the template
- Creating the Action
- Optimizing file size for the blog
Each segment, I believe, will help you become more efficient in your workflow and more proficient at Photoshop. In addition, I’ll give you a download for the template we’ll be discussing and the action that goes along with it.
Creating the Template
The first step is deciding what size document you would like to create. If you’re creating this collage for your blog, the document size should have the same width as your blog images. For example, my blog images are 900 px wide. The height of your document will depend on how many images you want to create, and what orientation you would like them. When creating the document, I don’t worry too much about the height, as I can adjust it later as needed.
The document I’ll be creating in this tutorial is 900×900 px. Once you have decided on your document size, open Photoshop and click File > New (or Command+N on a Mac, Ctrl+N on a PC).
Enter the Width and Height and be sure you are setting pixels (not inches, or points, etc). I leave the resolution set to 72. However, that number is irrelevant, since we are establishing the document size in pixels rather than inches. Click OK to create the document.
In this next step, we’re going to be creating image placeholders for the template. Grab you’re Rectangular Marquee Tool, and drag out a selection on your document where you would like to place your first image. Don’t worry about being too precise, as we can adjust the placeholders at the end.
Once your selection is made, click the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of Layers Palette (looks like a white and black circle). Select “Solid Color” from the list. Pick a color (doesn’t really matter which). And press OK.
This should have created a new layer and filled the selection with the color you selected.
Now repeat for the other image place-holders you would like to create. I typically choose a different color or shade for each layer so I can see where each image will go. See below for an example of my document:
The next step is to rename (and I like to reorder) the layers. Double click on the text next to the layer mask on each layer and rename to “img 1”, etc. This is an important step in order to have the action work correctly.
At this point, you can adjust the image placeholders as needed by simply clicking on the mask (the small thumbnail on the right hand side of each layer) and resizing. There are several methods for resizing. I typically just click on the move tool (the black arrow at the top of the tools palette) and make sure I have the “Show Transform Controls” box at the top of the Photoshop window checked. You can also resize by clicking on the thumbnail and pressing “Command+T” on a Mac or “Ctrl+T” on a PC. Want to change the color of the image place holder? Just double click on the thumbnail (the one on the right hand side of the layer) and choose another color from the dialogue box.
Now save the document as “blog-collage-01.psd”. Ta-da! You’ve just created your first template. However, the real efficiency comes when we combine smart objects and actions with these puppies. Keep reading to see how to best use smart objects with the template, and come back later for part 2 of the tutorial…Creating the Action.
Placing Images as Smart Objects
The action we’re going to create in the next tutorial will simplify this process, but until then, I’ll demonstrate how to place a Smart Object in the template and create a clipping mask to fit the image within the place-holder.
First, click on the “img 1” layer, then “Command+Click” (or “Ctrl+Click” on a PC) on the layer mask. This should create a selection around the layer. Next, click File > Place…Navigate to the folder where you have the images you would like to use for your collage, and select one, then press enter.
Your image should now be placed in the document, centered over the “img 1” place-holder. Press enter again, then press “Command+G” (“Ctrl+G” on a PC) to create a clipping mask. This fits the image to the image place-holder. You can now resize or move the image all you want, and anything outside the place-holder, will be hidden from view. Also, keep in mind, you can adjust or resize your place-holders as well without changing your images…play around with the template as you use it and get comfortable with how all the layers work together.
Follow the same procedure to place images over the remaining image place-holders. Once you are finished arranging your images, click File > Save As and save the document as a jpg file for the blog. (You’ll also want to optimize the image for the web, however, that will be discussed in a later segment). Your image is now ready to be uploaded to your blog!
As promised you can download the template I created for this tutorial along with an action that automates the image placement by clicking HERE.