How to make a mini photo series
Stitching a series of nine images together is a great way to not only give some of your lesser images a second life, but also to focus your creativity. Lee Cleland explains how to create your own miniseries.
If you’re like most photographers, there are thousands and thousands of images on your hard drives. You may keep your best shots in a separate folder that grows over the years, but what about all the others?
Putting my images in a series of nine is something I’ve been doing for a few years, and I’ve found it adds a new dimension to my photography and the way I present my images. Why nine you ask? Nine images are visually appealing but still a challenge to fit into a 3×3 grid. At the same time, nine images of the same orientation will give you a nice finished look.
Putting your images in a group of nine collectively makes them stronger saying “I think these are important”. As an exercise, it encourages you to think about how images can work together to create a story, and it helps clarify what you like to photograph and how you can take better photos.
Finally, it’s a step towards understanding how to create a portfolio or body of work for competitions or an exhibition, and it’s also great for understanding how to organize photos for photo books.
If you already know what you like to photograph, you’re halfway there. Anything can make a series of nine: kitchen utensils, forest paths, seashells, birds in flight, sunrise reflections – anything!
The key, however, is to be specific and focus on the details – instead of a variety of architectural images, for example, you can choose open doors, city window reflections, or angles of city buildings. In my own work, I have been less concerned with the technical elements (a lens, focal length, etc.), but more with the composition of each individual image and the placement of “how” these nine images work together in a 3×3 grid .
Images should have a common theme, be consistent, and be connected and balanced. You should have at least 20, and preferably 30-50 images, to choose your final nine and it helps to have some basic constraints.
One technique I use is to take a few images of the same thing in each orientation first, then decide and stick with it – color or black and white, low key or high key, the flowers will be pink but d different species, etc.
You will also need variety in your series, but not so much that each image stands on its own and is very different from the next. It’s a fine line, and you might find that your favorite image just doesn’t work in your series. This is when you have to be tough and only keep images that work together.
Bring a sense of order
Each image should stand on its own, but be stronger near other similar images.
Part of the skill is in order. Which image positioned next to which, then which on the next line works with the one above, beside or below. Sometimes a series can be made up of different aspects of a theme, and these can work best in three separate rows of three across or down.
I use Adobe Lightroom to make my selections, but there will be other programs that allow you to do the same thing. Let’s take a look at the process in LR.
Using Lightroom to select images
First, place your chosen 20-50 images into a collection in Lightroom. If you only have 20 images, select all images and click ‘N’ to display all 20 images on one screen.
If you have more than 20 images, cycle through them in batches of 20 until you narrow them down to 20 that you think will work while still leaving you enough choice for your final nine images.
Here’s a tip – If you hover over the bottom right corner of an image, an X will appear. Click that X to remove the images from your screen. They will still be in the camera roll below if you change your mind and want to include them again. You can do this with Ctrl/Cmd and clicking on the image.
With your last 20 images on screen (Ctrl/Cmd click each of the images, then click “N”), you may immediately notice one or two that stick out or don’t look right. Remove them from the screen by clicking on the X in the lower right corner of the image. Make sure you stick with the theme/concept and don’t get carried away because you like a certain image.
Drag images across the screen watching what appears to be working next to another image. Some just won’t work – get rid of them until you’ve whittled them down to 12, then be ruthless to collect your final nine.
If you can see the nine images on your screen as a 3×3 grid, it makes it much easier to position the final nine. Each image should work with the one next to it and those above and below, depending on where they are placed in the grid.
Once you have selected the last nine images in their correct order for a 3×3 grid, navigate to the print module in Lightroom. You’re not going to print your images (unless you want to), so you don’t need a printer. Instead, I use the print module to combine images onto a single page using a template. I can then save the 3×3 image grid as a single image for future use.
For all layouts I use an A4 page. I’ll use one in portrait orientation for square and portrait grids, and landscape orientation for landscape grids. The page orientation can be changed in “Print Setup” at the bottom of the left side panel.
I used 2/3:4/6 aspect ratio for both Portrait and Landscape sizes, but if your camera takes images at a different aspect ratio, you’ll need to play around with cell spacing and possibly the bottom margin to get the balanced layout.
At the top of the right panel, under ‘Layout Style’, choose ‘Single Image/Contact Sheet’. Uncheck everything that is checked under “Image Settings”. Next is “Layout”, and I chose “Inch Ruler Units”. This is what I used in the box at the bottom of page 42 to fill in the rest of the layout.
Then, under ‘Guides’, I check everything except ‘Dimensions’. Under “Page”, the only thing you might want to change once the images are in place is the background color of the page, although I usually keep it white. Check that nothing else below this in the right panel is checked.
When you want to create a new single image from nine images, click on the desired template under “User Templates” to display it on your screen. The images automatically populate the template, so they must be selected in the correct order in the Collections area of Lightroom as the order cannot be changed once in the print module.
Check that the images are in the correct order in your template, then at the bottom of the right panel, click “Print to file”. In the dialog choose where you want to save the 3×3 grid image, give it a name and save. It will be saved in jpg format, but be sure to remember where you saved the image. You can import it back into Lightroom and crop the excess margins, which is important on the square image because there are so many unnecessary blank pages.
I like the challenge of deciding on a specific theme and then going out and looking for those images that I think will make a solid set of nine. It gets me outside with a reason to do something I love and of course I always come back with unexpected images that often have nothing to do with my theme!
It may also be worth going through your image archive if you know you shoot a lot of, say, waterfalls, dead beetles, or flowers, and see if you can create a cohesive series. You might be surprised at the series you can create that you never knew existed.
Whichever way you choose to work, with new or old images, doing a series of nine will expand your range of skills from technology and composition to that indefinable, indefinable area of photography – aesthetics.
Final tips for organizing your streak of nine
- If there is an image with a strong color, it may work better in the center frame
- If some images have strong diagonals, they could be used as start and end, facing inwards like bookends
- If you have three sets of three closely related images, try placing them in rows of three across or down
- If you have five similar images, try placing them at the four corners and in the center.