Using Collage to Capture Complexity

If photos can be said to have any limitation beyond those brought to the table by the photographer themselves, it’s that an individual photo can only express a limited slice of an experience. Consider a wedding photo, for example: It captures a second in time, a moment. The imagination might imbue it with a depth of emotion and meaning that goes beyond what’s in the frame, but a single photo can still only convey so much about a period of time. A single photo from your high school years, for example, might remind you of all sorts of memories, but it still only represents a single moment.

A single photo tells part of a story, but using collage expands the scene.

To get past this limitation, collage is a fantastically flexible tool. When utilised effectively, using collage can capture more than just a moment in time, it can represent an entire experience in all of its complicated, messy power. Here’s a short guide to using this technique to expand the emotional power of your wall art and other photographic art pieces.

Using Collage Doesn’t Mean Don’t Edit

When using collage you still need to edit!

The first lesson in using collage effectively is a warning against assuming collage means you can simply take every photo from a time period or event and slap it together to form a piece of wall art. Quite the opposite: Collage requires a strong editing hand and a good eye. You want to discard repetitious photos and you need to consider the final shape and composition of the collage you’re creating so you can choose photos that to some degree support and mirror them. Editing can actually be more important when creating a collage.

Tell a Story

Collage gives you a broader virtual canvas to work with, allowing you to tell a story – which is exactly what you should do. Instead of trying to capture a single powerful moment, choose photos that tell a narrative.

This narrative doesn’t have to be obvious or explicit; it can be something that only you see perfectly clearly. Just having that story in your head will affect the final composition and presentation of the collage, giving it a structure and power that doesn’t come from simply slapping random photos together.

Have a Theme

When using collage, it's important to have a theme - even if it's a subtle one.

When creating a collage from a single event or experience, theme comes totally naturally, without effort. When your photos are sourced from something less focussed, you have to have a theme around which to organise your collage or else it’s just a mass of photos. The theme could be anything, really – your family, a shared experience, something more artistic and philosophical. As long as you have a unifying idea behind your photo choices, the collage will turn out with a recognisable structure and form.

In the end, collage can be powerful, and it always comes down to your choice of photos. If you want, we can create your collage for you – just click here – but we can’t choose your photos for you. That’s up to you!