Thursday, July 28, 2011

How To Make A Typology Grid—08/01/11

Patti Thompson Published in Tip Of The Week
How To Make A Typology Grid—08/01/11
This Article Features Photo Zoom
Photographs displayed in cohesive groups can sometimes be more interesting than a single image. Photographers have long created diptychs and triptychs, groups of two or three images, but many folks—myself included—have a real affinity for creating grids of six or nine or more images, too. These groups work especially well with “typologies.” This is the name for a collection of images of similar things—items that fit a particular “type.” Creating typology grids is fairly easy, and it can be accomplished with some basic image-sizing and canvas-resizing controls. Here’s how I do it.

First, I pick a subject. Usually, my plan for a typology grid is fairly spontaneous—a portrait session in which the subject is giving me a lot of great expressions, for instance—but it works better for some subjects than others. I’d say the same subject photographed in multiple ways (like a portrait with several expressions) or a different subject photographed in the same way (like a series of buildings with each one centered in its own frame). The point is, the grid needs a unifying theme. A type, actually, if it wants to be a typology.

Next, you need to choose a method of shooting. I believe that part of the success of a typology grid is uniformity of technique, so pick a method and stick to it. That means constant exposure (or at least uniform luminance values) and the same camera orientation, as well as a consistent treatment of the subject from frame to frame. This will enhance the differences in the individual frames. Consistency of technique allows the typology grid to really showcase the differences within the group, as opposed to differences in photographic technique.

Once you’ve got your series photographed and edited into a finished set, it’s time to lay out the grid. If you’ve got four originals in the series, you can do a 2x2 grid. Nine originals, 3x3. Eight originals could be 4x2 or 2x4, and so on. There’s no right or wrong answer. If you’re a bit OCD like me, a nice 3x3 grid certainly has its symmetrical appeal.

The next option is the spacing. Should the images be touching on each side, or should there be a margin separating them? Should that border be white, or black, or another color entirely? These are all aesthetic decisions, so there’s no right or wrong answer. Simply determine your layout and set to work with your plan in mind. 

I first output all the image files from Lightroom into a uniform pixel dimension. If you use full-size TIFFs from the full sensor size of your camera, your arrangement can get pretty large, pretty quickly. If you can stomach the file size, though, this is a great way to go—as you can always shrink the final product down, and keeping your grid as large as possible opens up a variety of extra-large printing options.

The next step is the physical arrangement. Start with a file you’d like in the top-left corner. If you’ve outputted files that are 2,000x3,000 pixels, open that top-left image and then go to Image > Canvas Size and double each dimension—to 4000x6000 pixels. But before you click okay, choose the positioning of the original image on the new canvas. Since this should be the top-left image, click the image of the top-left portion of the canvas grid and then click okay. You’ll see your original photo occupying the top-left quarter of the frame. Next, simply open the next three images you’d like to fill out the frame, open them, copy, paste and drag them into place. Now, you’ve got four quadrants filled with four images. If you want to expand, open the Canvas Size dialog and repeat the process. For a 4x4 grid you’d simply double the canvas size again and repeat the entire process, relying on Photoshop’s Snap functionality to help you align your pictures perfectly. For a 3x3 grid, though, you can’t just double the canvas size. You need to do a little math and add the original pixel dimensions to the canvas—in this case, 3,000 pixels to the width and another 2000 pixels to the height. Now, you’ll have room to add the remaining five images, again using the open/copy/paste/snap approach. When your grid is complete, simply flatten and resize as needed.

The only real variation to this approach comes when you want to include borders in and around the image. For a border between frames, I find that it’s easiest to create a border half the final size around each of the original files, which when pasted together using the above approach will yield an ideal border throughout the frame. In the end you’ll have to expand the overall frame size to make the outside borders the same thickness as the ones running through the grid, and you simply use the canvas size adjustment to create this finished border.

As you can see, this process is pretty straightforward and requires only some basic math and a bit of forethought to create a dynamic arrangement of images—one in which the whole can be even greater than the sum of its parts.
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