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Turn A Photo Into A Collage Of Polaroids With Photoshop

Written by Steve Patterson. In this Photoshop Effects tutorial, we’ll learn how to take a single photograph and turn it into a collage of polaroids, with each polaroid containing a small section of the overall image.

You can use this effect with lots of different types of images, whether it’s a photo of one person or several people. It’s great for photos of family or friends, vacation photos, or even as a creative effect for wedding photography. This is a very easy photo collage effect to create, and as we’ll see later in the tutorial, much of the work is simply repeating the same few steps over and over again until you’re happy with the results.

This version of the tutorial is for Photoshop CS5 and earlier. Photoshop CS6 and CC (Creative Cloud) users will want to follow along with our fully updated Collage Of Polaroids tutorial.

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Here’s the image that I’ll be working with in this Photoshop tutorial:

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The original image.

And here’s what the image will look like when we’re done:

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The final result.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Duplicate The Background Layer

The first thing we need to do for this effect is duplicate our Background layer. With our image open in Photoshop, we can see in the Layers palette that we currently have just one layer, the Background layer, which contains our original image:

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The Layers palette in Photoshop showing the original Background layer.

To quickly duplicate the layer, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac). Photoshop creates a copy of the Background layer for us, names it “Layer 1″, and places it above our Background layer in the Layers palette:

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The Layers palette now showing the copy of our Background layer above the original.

Step 2: Add A New Blank Layer Between The Two Layers

Next, we need to add a new blank layer between our Background layer and the copy of it that we just created. Currently the copy is selected in the Layers palette (we can tell the layer is selected because it’s highlighted in blue). Normally when we add a new layer, Photoshop places the new layer above the layer that’s currently selected, but we want our new layer below “Layer 1″, not above it. To tell Photoshop to place the new layer below “Layer 1″, hold down your Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key and then click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette:

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Hold down “Alt” (Win) / “Option” (Mac) and click on the “New Layer” icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.

Photoshop adds a new blank layer named “Layer 2″ between “Layer 1″ and the original Background layer:

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Photoshop adds the new blank layer between the Background layer and “Layer 1″.

Step 3: Fill The New Layer With Black

We’re going to use black as the background for our effect, so let’s reset our Foreground and Background colors if needed by pressing D on your keyboard. This sets black as your Foreground color and white as your Background color, as we can see in the Foreground and Background color swatches near the bottom of the Tools palette:

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Press “D” to reset Photoshop’s Foreground and Background colors to black and white if needed.

Now with black as our Foreground color and the new blank layer selected in the Layers palette, let’s fill the new layer with black using the keyboard shortcut Alt+Backspace (Win) / Option+Delete (Mac). Nothing will appear to have happened to the image itself, and that’s because “Layer 1″, which contains a copy of our original image, is blocking “Layer 2″ from view. But if we look at Layer 2′s thumbnail in the Layers palette, we can see that we’ve filled the layer with black:

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Layer 2′s thumbnail in the Layers palette now shows that the layer is filled with black, even though we can’t see it yet in the image itself.

Step 4: Add A New Blank Layer

With “Layer 2″ (the layer we just filled with black) selected, click once again on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette:

Clicking on the New Layer icon once again.
Add a new blank layer.

Photoshop will add a new blank layer between the black-filled layer and the copy of the original image above it:

Photoshop's Layers palette showing the new blank layer between Layer 1 and Layer 2.
The new blank layer is added between “Layer 1″ and “Layer 2″.

Step 5: Drag Out A Rectangular Selection As The Inside Of Your First Polaroid

Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool either from the Tools palette or by pressing M on your keyboard:

Selecting the Rectangular Marquee Tool in Photoshop.
Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool.

Then, with the Rectangular Marquee Tool selected, drag out a selection inside your image which will become the inside of the first polaroid (the part which contains the photo). I’m going to drag my selection around the baby’s face. It doesn’t really matter where you make this selection since you’ll be able to move it anywhere you like later:

Dragging out a selection with the Rectangular Marquee Tool.
Drag out a selection in the shape of the inside of a polaroid photo.

Step 6: Fill The Selection With Black

We need to fill the selection with black at this point. Technically, it doesn’t matter which color we fill the selection with, but to keep things simple and since black is currently our Foreground color, let’s use black. Make sure you have the new blank layer selected in the Layers palette, and then use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Backspace (Win) / Option+Delete (Mac) to fill the selection with the Foreground color, which is set to black. Again, nothing seems to have happened in the document, and that’s because the image on “Layer 1″ at the top is still blocking everything else from view, but if we look at the thumbnail for the blank layer in the Layers palette, we can see that the selected area has indeed been filled with black:

The thumbnail for Layer 3 showing the selected area now filled with black.
The new blank layer’s thumbnail in the Layers palette now shows the selected area filled with black.

Step 7: Create A Clipping Mask From The Filled Selection

We’re going to use the selection we just filled with black to create what’s called a clipping mask for the layer above it. What this means is that the layer above it, “Layer 1″ which contains the copy of our image, is going to be “clipped” by our filled selection on the layer below it. In other words, the only part of the image on “Layer 1″ that will remain visible is the part directly above the section filled with black. The rest of the image will become hidden from view.

To create our clipping mask, click on “Layer 1″ to select it in the Layers palette. Then go up to the Layer menu at the top of the screen and select Create Clipping Mask. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Ctrl+G (Win) / Option+Command+G (Mac). Either way, Photoshop “clips” the image on “Layer 1″, keeping only the area above the black-filled shape below it visible and hiding the rest of the image, revealing our black background on “Layer 2″ in its place:

The image on Layer 1 is now clipped using the black-filled shape on the layer below it.
The image on “Layer 1″ is now clipped using the black-filled shape on the layer below it.

If we look in the Layers palette now, we can see that “Layer 1″ is indented to the right with a small arrow pointing downward on the left. This indicates that the layer is being clipped by the layer below it:

The Layers palette showing Layer 1 being clipped by the layer below it.
The Layers palette showing that Layer 1 is now being clipped by the layer below it.

Step 8: Add Another New Blank Layer Above “Layer 2″

We need to add another new layer, and we need it between the black-filled layer (“Layer 2″) and the layer containing our filled selection (“Layer 3″). To do that, click on “Layer 2″ to select it and then click once again on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette:

Creating another new blank layer in Photoshop.
Add another new blank layer directly above the black-filled layer (“Layer 2″).

Photoshop adds the new layer between “Layer 2″ and “Layer 3″ and names it, surprisingly enough, “Layer 4″:

The new blank layer named 'Layer 4' in the Layers palette.
The new blank layer, “Layer 4″, is added between “Layer 2″ and “Layer 3″.

Step 9: Drag Out Another Rectangular Selection As The Border Of The Polaroid

With your Rectangular Marquee Tool still selected, drag out another rectangular selection, this time around the outside of the original selection, which will become the white border of the polaroid. Keep in mind that polaroid photos have some extra space at the bottom of the border, so add some extra space at the bottom of your selection:

Drag a second selection around the outside of the original selection to create the border of the polaroid.
Drag a selection around the outside of the original selection to create the border of the polaroid.

Step 10: Fill The Selection With White

Since the border of a polaroid is usually white, let’s fill our selection with white. Make sure that you have the new blank layer, “Layer 4″, selected in the Layers palette. Then, since white is currently our Background color, let’s use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Backspace (Win) / Command+Delete (Mac) to fill the selection with the Background color (white). Press Ctrl+D (Win) / Command+D (Mac) when you’re done to deselect the selection. We now have our first polaroid in our image:

The first polaroid in the image.
Fill the selection with white to create the first polaroid.

Step 11: Add A Drop Shadow Layer Style

We have our first polaroid, and we’re going to use it to easily create as many polaroids as we want. But before we do anything else, let’s add a slight drop shadow to it. We won’t be able to see the drop shadow just yet, since we’re using a black background, but we will see it once we start piling polaroids on top of each other. To add our drop shadow, with “Layer 4″ selected, click on the Layer Styles icon at the bottom of the Layers palette:

Clicking on the Layer Styles icon.
Click on the “Layer Styles” icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.

Select Drop Shadow from the list of layer styles:

Selecting 'Drop Shadow' from the layer styles list.
Select “Drop Shadow”.

This brings up Photoshop’s “Layer Style” dialog box set to the Drop Shadow options in the middle column. I’m going to set my shadow Angle to about 120° and then lower the Opacity value at the top all the way down to about 30% so my shadow isn’t too intense:

Changing the Drop Shadow options.
Lower the “Opacity” of the drop shadow to 30% and set the “Angle” to around 120°.

Click OK to exit out of the Layer Style dialog box. As I said, we won’t be able to see the drop shadow just yet thanks to our black background, but don’t worry. We’ll see it soon enough.

Step 12: Rotate The Polaroid

I’m going to rotate my polaroid to add a bit more interest to it. In order to do that, I need to select both layers in my Layers palette which make up my polaroid. I already have “Layer 4″ selected, which makes up the outside of it, but I also need “Layer 3″ selected, which makes up the inside, so with “Layer 4″ selected, I’m going to hold down my Shift key and click on “Layer 3″, which will select both layers at once (they’ll both appear highlighted in blue):

Selecting Layer 3 and Layer 4 in the Layers palette.
Use the “Shift” key to select both “Layer 3″ and “Layer 4″ in the Layers palette.

Then with both layers selected, I’m going to bring up Photoshop’s Free Transform handles around my polaroid using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac). To rotate it, all I need to do is drag my mouse cursor anywhere outside of the Free Transform handles. The mouse cursor will change to a “rotate” cursor with curved arrows on either end of it. As I drag my mouse, the polaroid will rotate:

Rotating the polaroid with the Free Transform command in Photoshop.
Click and drag anywhere outside of the Free Transform handles to rotate the polaroid.

You can also move the polaroid to a new location if you wish by clicking inside of it and dragging it around the screen with your mouse. I’m going to leave mine where it is for now and simply rotate it. As you drag, you’ll notice that the border of the polaroid moves and rotates but the image inside of it does not, and that’s because we’re not moving the actual image. It remains fixed in place. The only thing we’re moving is the polaroid itself, and this is what’s going to allow us to create our final effect, as we’ll see.

When you’re happy with the location and angle of the polaroid , press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to apply the transformation.

Step 13: Group All Three Layers Which Make Up The Polaroid

We have our first polaroid created and rotated into place. Now we’re going to use it to create as many polaroids as we want. Before we can do that though, we need to group all three layers which make up the polaroid , which are the top three layers in the Layers palette. “Layer 1″ contains the image itself, “Layer 3″ contains the inside of the polaroid , and “Layer 4″ contains the outside of it. In order to group them, we need them all selected. We already have “Layer 3″ and “Layer 4″ selected, so once again hold down your Shift key and click on “Layer 1″ to add it, so all three layers are selected and highlighted in blue:

Selecting the three top layers in the Layers palette at once.
Select the three top layers in the Layers palette at once.

Then, with all three layer selected, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+G (Win) / Command+G (Mac) to group them. You’ll see all three layers disappear from the Layers palette and be replaced by a layer named “Group 1″, which contains a folder icon to indicate that it’s a Layer Group. If you click on the right-pointing triangle to the left of the folder icon, the group will open and you’ll see your three layers inside of it:

The three layers are now inside a Layer Group.
The three layers which make up the polaroid are now inside a Layer Group.

Step 14: Duplicate The Layer Group

We’re going to use this Layer Group to create our second polaroid , and we’re going to do that by duplicating the group. First, click once again on the triangle to the left of the folder in the Layers palette to close the group so your Layers palette doesn’t get too cluttered. Then simply click on the group and drag it down onto the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette:

Duplicating the Layer Group by dragging it down onto the New Layer icon.
Duplicate the Layer Group by dragging it down onto the “New Layer” icon.

When you release your mouse button, you’ll see the copy of the Layer Group appear above the original:

The Layers palette in Photoshop showing the copy of the Layer Group at the top.
The copy of the Layer Group appears above the original.

We now have our second polaroid.

Step 15: Move And Rotate The Second Polaroid With The Free Transform Command

Just as we did with the original, we’re going to move and rotate this second polaroid using Free Transform (I didn’t actually move my first one, but you may have, so let’s pretend I did as well). First, twirl open the newly created copy of our Layer Group by clicking on the triangle to the left of its folder icon. Just as before, you’ll see all three layers inside of it which make up the polaroid . We need to select the bottom two layers which make up the inside and outside of it, so click on one, then hold down Shift and click on the other to select them both:

Selecting the bottom two layers inside the Layer Group copy.
Select the bottom two layers inside the copy of the Layer Group.

Then with both layers selected, press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to bring up the Free Transform handles around the polaroid . At the moment, it looks like there’s only the one polaroid in the image, and that’s because both of them are directly on top of each other. Click inside the polaroid and drag it to move it to a new location, and you’ll see that you do in fact have two. Drag this second one to wherever you like in your document, and then rotate it just as before, by moving your mouse anywhere outside of the Free Transform handles and dragging your mouse to rotate it left or right. You’ll see that once again, we’re only moving the polaroid itself. The image inside of it remains fixed in place, and now that we’ve added a second polaroid , we’re displaying more of the full size image:

Moving and rotating the second polaroid.
Use Free Transform to move and rotate the second polaroid .

You’ll also notice that with the second polaroid overlapping the original, we can now see the drop shadow, which gives the image a bit of depth. When you’re happy with the location and angle of your second polaroid , press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to apply the transformation. We now have two polaroids completed:

Two polaroids have now been added to the image.
Two polaroids have now been added to the image.

Step 16: Add, Move And Rotate More Polaroids As Needed

At this point, we just repeat the exact same process over and over until we’ve added enough polaroids to reveal enough of the original image. First, drag the top-most Layer Group down onto the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. This will create a copy of the last polaroid you made. Then twirl the new Layer Group open by clicking on the arrow to the left of its folder icon and select the two bottom layers which make up the inside and outside of the polaroid. Press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to bring up the Free Transform handles, click inside them and drag the image into a new location to reveal more of the overall image, then move your mouse outside of the handles and drag to rotate the new polaroid. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept the transformation, then repeat the process again until you’ve added enough polaroids that you’re happy with the results.

There’s no “right or wrong” placement of the polaroids , so don’t be afraid to play around with it, and you can always go back and move or rotate any of the polaroids at any time by selecting its Layer Group, twirling it open, selecting the two bottom layers, then using Free Transform to move and/or rotate it again.

I’m going to add, move and rotate more polaroids here with my image, and after creating about 16 polaroids, moving and rotating each with the Free Transform command, here is my final result:

The final result.
The final result.

And there we have it! That’s how to turn a photo into a collage of polaroids with Photoshop! Check out our Photo Effects section for more great Photoshop effects tutorials, or see below for other tutorials you may be interested in!

Download our tutorials as print-ready PDFs! Learning Photoshop has never been easier!

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