Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Technique -- Creating a Tiled Picture

Wow, I just learned something new and am so psyched! I've learned how to create an image that contains other images. (I took these photos at the Chihuly exhibit a couple years ago when it was at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.)

Why do I need to do this? Well, I've wanted to know for awhile, but I am thinking of joining the 2010 Swap (Sewing with a Plan) contest on Stitcher's Guild, and I felt a sense of urgency to figure it out. There is a limit to how many photos you can submit and sometimes you need several to show closeup details, the back or side view, and so on.

I use a Mac and, so far as I can tell, my software options are GIMP (free, but complex) and Photoshop (expensive and complex). However, some time ago I bought Photoshop Elements when it was on sale at I paid no more than $30 but hadn't used it much. Photoshop Elements is designed for regular folks who take photos and scrapbook, and offers a subset of the features offered by its more powerful professional (and super expensive) cousin, so I wondered if it was able to perform this task, and it can!

So, here are the steps to create a tiled image using Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac:

  1. Create a blank image to hold all the images. Decide out how big you want the final image to be. It's easiest to specify the size using pixels, because that's how images are typically measured. For my Chihuly image, I used 800 pixels wide by 600 pixels high. You create a new image using command-N, or File->New->Blank File.
  2. Each image is going to live in its own "layer". Go ahead and create the layers you need, one for each image. If the Layers palette is not present on the lower right side of the screen, you can bring it up by selecting Windows->Layers. There is a tiny square icon in the Layers palette with a turned-up corner. Hover your cursor over that icon and it will show a tooltip that says: "Create a new layer." Click this once for each image you want to add. In my case, I had 6 images, so I clicked it 6 times. You will see the layers appear in the palette, initially blank and with the default names, Layer-1, Layer-2, and so on.
  3. Open all the images you want to add to your picture using Command-O, or File->Open.
  4. It's best to resize each image before importing it into the tiled picture. To do this, click the window that contains the image you want to import, and bring up the resizing panel using Image->Resize. Enter the size you want. For my example, I made each image 300 pixels high and I let Photoshop calculate the width that maintains the same relative proportion.
  5. Import the image into the tiled picture. First, select it with Command-A (this step is counter-intuitive, but required), and copy it with Command-C, or Edit->Copy. Select the tiled window and make sure that you have selected one of the blank layers. (You can click on the layer in the Layer palette to select it.) Paste the image with Command-V, or Edit->Paste.
  6. The photo is loaded into the center of the image, so you need to re-position it. Hold down the Command key (the cursor changes to the Positioning cursor, a plus sign with arrows) and select the layer containing the picture you want to move. While holding the Command key, slide it to its final location. If you need to move the image just a pixel or two, you can do this with the arrow key while holding down the Command key. So, Command-upArrow will move the image up one pixel and Command-rightArrow moves it to the right by one pixel.
  7. Repeat this process for each image until all are imported and positioned as desired.
  8. Save the image. I saved mine as JPEG. Bring up the Save panel using Command-S (or File->Save), and select JPEG from the Format pull-down. You must save it "As a Copy" and de-select "Embed Color Profile." Save the file. Once you save it as a JPEG, the layers are no longer available. If you think you might want to further tweak the image, also save it in the Photoshop format, which uses the .psd extension. This preserves the separate layers so you can go back and swap out any of the photos, add text, or tweak the images in any way you want.
  9. You can now upload the JPEG to Picasa or Flickr (or whatever website you use to host your photos) just as you would any other image.

Thanks so much to my friend, Kansas Jeff, for walking me through this process! :D