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Depending on your collage style, you may or may not want to have a “focus image.” I come from the world of mixed media art journals, where usually there’s a specific photo or drawing that the rest of the page is centered around. Having a focus image gives the eye something to catch on, a starting point for looking at the rest of the collage.
But there are plenty of other styles of collage that make use of everything BUT a focus image– so do what you like!
However, for this series of “how to make a digital collage,” we’ll be doing it the way I make collages e.g. with a focus image. Ha!
>>Learn how to make a digital collage background!
The focus image is usually the largest single image on the collage, and offset in such a way that it’s obviously the first place the eye should look.
Finding a focus image
Most of my focus images are vintage photos and illustrations. since I find them the most interesting to look at. The contrast between the painted, brightly-colored backgrounds and the (usually) muted, sometimes even black-and-white focus image is fantastic. I also love incorporating a person’s face into what it otherwise a somewhat abstract piece of art.
I (almost always) get an image from one of the free, public domain resource websites, but of course you can use whatever you’d like.
Consider using: photos of your friends and family, old magazine images, screenshots of VHS movies, book illustrations, your own drawings and doodles, self-portraits, animals and animal portraits, etc. etc.!
Whatever you choose, you’ll want to pick something that goes with the theme or the story of your collage. Also, don’t worry about limiting yourself to only ONE image, either, if two or more focus images make the most sense. For instance, my piece “July 4th” is a composite of two vintage photographs:
Because I edited them to be similar in tone and size, they work well together and look like one entire image.
Tidying up, showing off, and other edits
You’ll often have to edit the focus image to fit within the background, especially if you use vintage photographs like I do.
1. Remove the background.
I don’t enjoy the look of the dark backgrounds found in many old photos, so I always edit them before putting them in my collages.
Canva Pro subscribers have access to a background remover tool which is AMAZING and works well 95% of the time. It works best on images with high contrast between the main image and the background, which does limit some of the images I can use.
If you don’t have Canva Pro, I recommend trying remove.bg or LunaPic. They’re free, easy to use, and work just as well as Canva’s background remover.
Sometimes the background remover…removes things that it shouldn’t. Usually this happens because the background and the main image are slightly too similar in color tones.You can’t change the perameters for the background remover like you might be able to on Adobe Photoshop or another professional software, so you kinda have to take what you can get. This can make for an interesting image, especially if you end up using a filter or a particularly grungy image adjustment. You might also be able to cover up the missing part with another image element!
Another option would be to hire someone to remove the backgrounds for you. I’ve actually done this! I hired someone on Fiverr to process images for a very low cost. It’s faster than doing them one at a time myself, and works great for images with a lot of background noise that the Canva processor can’t figure out.
2. Adjust coloring using filter/etc.
Just like I never leave a background element without editing, I never leave a focus image just as it is. Editing, tweaking, and adjusting things makes the focus image blend in better with the background– and gives it the personal touch.
Usually I add a slight tint using a Canva’s filter tool, something that corresponds with the major colors in the rest of the collage.
There’s some cool stuff you can do on Canva to make the focus image pop even more.
For instance, on In the Woods, I duplicated the focus image, processed it with the Blur slider on the Adjust tab, and then off-set it to the 1st image.
For etoile, I duplicated the focus image, processed it with an Effects color filter, and then placed it behind the main image to look like a purple-colored shadow.
There’s a lot of great filters, effects, and color adjustments you can do to your focus image to make it unique and exciting to look at. I encourage you to play around and see what works best for your collage!
Placing a focus image
The general rule is that focus images look best when placed anywhere BUT center of your design.
I recommend off-setting it slightly to either side of center. Consider the rule of thirds: if there’s a grid over your collage, place images over an intersection. This creates a more dynamic image!
Here’s an example: the focus image (Alice Roosevelt) is very slightly to one side of the center line, and then the circle behind her emphasizes the offset.
The nice thing about digital collages is that you can always adjust the placement of an image or background element to make it flow better, so don’t worry if it takes a little time to find the right place.
(That said, don’t get too sucked into making a “perfect” collage. It’s almost always better to just go with the flow and see what comes out, rather than worry endlessly about where to put one tiny piece.)
Also: rules are meant to be broken. If an image looks best in the center for a particular collage…go for it!
If you DO put a focus image in the center of the collage, be sure to anchor it to one of the edges (top or bottom). (See the July 4th collage above for an example of what I’m talking about.) Focus images floating in the middle of a collage can be very jarring and often make a collage look incomplete.
The next step will be adding decorative elements and flair, to tie the background and the focus image together and finish off the collage!
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