Piece together a David Hockney collage

Don’t just capture a landscape – reconstruct it in a way that’s hyper-real. Focusing on the finer details within a scene and piecing them together in Photoshop allows you to create exciting panoramics with a difference.

The wide scene was captured in over 140 individual shots and took a few hours to put together in Elements.

The wide scene was captured in over 140 individual shots and took a few hours to put together in Elements.

This eye-catching technique was created by British artist David Hockney in the early 1980s. He called the collages ‘joiners’, and spawned a technique that has remained popular ever since. Back in the days of film you’d have to shoot the images, get them printed and then physically lay them out. But now, the whole process is much quicker and easier. So there’s no reason not to give it a try.

How to shoot individual joiner images

Shooting landscape images really doesn’t get any easier than this technique.  It’s so simple you can take all the images you need for the collage in just a few minutes. The main challenge, and it’s not a tough one, is shooting images that capture small areas of a larger scene. Each image needs to overlap both the one taken before and the one after. And this includes those to the left, right, above and below. The process to ensure this is very simple, and to make matters even better the odd missing image can often be replaced with another.

Another thing that must remain consistent is your position. Once you begin shooting you should remain standing in the same spot, only turning on the spot to capture the wider landscape around you. For our main image we shot a 180° view, but you could go even wider than this or simply focus on a single object like a tree.

Stand or kneel, but don't switch between the two.

Stand or kneel, but don't switch between the two.

Use basic settings

You really can use any camera for this technique, but you’ll ideally be able to use a focal length equivalent to 55mm on an APS-C camera, and 85mm full-frame. Set the camera to an ISO level that allows you to handhold the camera. Shutter speed should be above 1/125sec. Turn the mode dial to aperture-priority and set aperture to f/5.6. Make sure the central AF point is active. Now simply focus and shoot before framing and taking the next shot, and so on.

Shoot in a considered way for easier editing

To successfully shoot the entire scene in 20-150 images, take the first shot on the bottom-left of where you’d like the collage to begin. Now simply compose shots following a snake-like route across the scene, with each image overlapping the one before and the one after. When shooting the sky, autofocus on the horizon before switching to manual focus. Now shoot the sky, and when you get back down to shooting the ground switch AF back on.

Step-by-step: Lightroom and Elements

Now it’s time to bulk process the RAW files and reassemble the scene as you saw it, but with a surreal twist. Our first two steps for bulk processing and outputting image files were completed in Lightroom, but if you prefer you can use Elements or Photoshop RAW.   This part of the process is where all the magic happens, because the scene gradually grows before your eyes, one image at a time. The edges will be uneven, but it works!

1. Process and resize images
Open all of your RAW files in Lightroom or Elements RAW, and simply increase Contrast for the first image. Don’t worry about exposure because any variance between images adds to the overall effect. Now scroll to the last image, hold down Shift and left-click your mouse to select all the images. Press the Sync button at the bottom of the control panel on the right, click on Check All and then on Synchronize.

2. Export small images
All your images should still be highlighted. Hold down Ctrl+Shift+E to open the Export dialogue box. Now select Desktop under the Export to drop-down menu. Tick the box next to Put in Subfolder and type in a name. This will be where all the images can be found after export. Now scroll down and select JPEG and set Resize to fit to Long Edge. Type in 5-7cm because this will be large enough for each image.

3. Create an A2 document
Open Elements or Photoshop, and hold down Ctrl+N to create a New document. Now set Width to 594mm and Height to 420mm. Resolution should be 300, Color Mode – RGB Color and set Background Contents to White. If you’re using Photoshop make sure Color Profile matches that of your images. This will be either Adobe RGB (1998) or sRGB. Your empty A2 size document is now ready, so click on OK.

4. Copy, paste and arrange
Go to the folder of images you created on the desktop and open five at a time in Elements or Photoshop. Click on the first image, press Ctrl+A to Select All, Ctrl+C to Copy and then click back on the A2 document. Next press Ctrl+V to Paste the copied image. Now press V to activate the Move Tool, and left-click your mouse on the image and drag it into position. Repeat this process for all images.

5. Reorganise the Layer stack
In the last step the most recent Layer was below the one positioned before, but we want it to be above. Throughout this technique there will be times where you need an image to be either above or below others. To change the position of a Layer in the stack, make sure it’s active and highlighted blue. To move it up, press Ctrl+] (right square bracket key) and to move it down press Ctrl+[ (left).

6. Crop the image
Once all the images are in position there could be lots of white space around the collage. If this is the case, press C to activate the Crop Tool. Go to the control panel at the bottom of the Elements window and set the drop-down menu to No Restriction. Now you can left-click the mouse and drag the crop guide over the image as required. Next click on the green tick to crop or the red circle to start again.

Options for the final presentation

With your joiner carefully laid out in Photoshop, the next obvious step is to print it. A3 would be the ideal paper size, but if you only have an A4 printer this will be sufficient, although you won’t be able to appreciate the full spectacle of this eye-catching technique.

Alternatively, you could send the image off to an online printing service such as PhotoBox to have it printed at A2 or larger. But to really enjoy what the technique has to offer you can’t beat putting the images together the way David Hockney intended. To do this you’ll need to have all the individual images printed at 6x4in. You then simply lay them out by hand for a more traditional approach to the technique.

This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of Practical Photography magazine - download back issues here.