creating a photo collage in PSE {Part 1: Clipping Masks}

the best and easiest way to make a photo collage

Photoshop Elements is a pretty nifty application that allows you to do a tremendous amount of editing and playing around with your photos. In fact, it can do so much stuff that many people buy Elements (it’s pretty reasonably priced), open it up once, get overwhelmed, and never open it again. If you really want to learn Photoshop Elements, I recommend taking an online class (I loved the classes I took from Jessica Sprague). But if you’re not up for a class, check back here regularly because I’m going to start sharing screencasts and tutorials for Photoshop Elements.

This is the first of a two part (maybe three part?) series that will teach you how to make a photo collage, such as the ones on my gallery photo wall (shown below). Part two is now available here!


Most people who are unfamiliar with PSE (Photoshop Elements) approach making a photo collage the same way they’d do it with real, printed photos: they crop each photo into the size they think they want, then drop all those cropped photos onto a new blank file in PSE, then move them around until they look ok. But I’m here to tell you there’s a much better way: clipping masks. Clipping masks let you constrain your photos down to a smaller size without actually cropping or cutting off any parts of the photo. That means you can create a photo collage, but change the sizes of each photo as well as what portions of each photo you can see as you go along. This is lots easier to understand when you see it in action, so let’s bring on the screencast!

(You might want to expand the video to full screen so you can see exactly what’s going on in Photoshop Elements.)

If something’s confusing, let me know in the comments and I’ll update the post to explain it a little better if I can. And just in case you wanted to see more of “The Wheels on the Bus” from my little girl, here you go!

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

The wipers on the bus go swish swish swish…

The babies on the bus go waah, waah, waah…

The mommies on the bus go shh, shh, shhh….

The people on the bus go up and down…

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  1. 2

    Agnes says

    This was wonderful. I have a six month old and wanted to fill up a space in the living room with her pictures. Problem is I wanted al her pictures in one big fram. Now it has been possible because of this post. Thank you so much.

  2. 3

    autumn says

    Agnes – thanks for letting me know this has been helpful! I’ll be following up this post with part 2 soon – which will show how to use this technique with a more complicated photo collage. Thanks for visiting!

  3. 5

    autumn says

    Part two of this tutorial is now up – it shows how to make a more complicated collage. Check out the link at the beginning of the post – and thanks for your nice words!

  4. 6

    Carrie says

    Thanks for posting this. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to actually watch it now. But I’m definitely bookmarking it. I just found your second post about photo collages on The Blackberry Vine. I’ll watch that one, too. Thanks again!

  5. 7

    Carol says

    Is this tutorial for Photoshop Elements 10? I have the trial version and I don’t seem to have exactly the same tools that you do. I’m almost ready to give up using it. I haven’t found a simple tutorial on even how to just get started…so frustrating! (Thanks for your help!)

  6. 8

    autumn says

    Carol, Photoshop Elements can be frustrating! It’s such a powerful program that it’s very hard to get started all on your own – I’d definitely recommend taking a class if that’s a possibility. (I started out taking classes from – many are scrapbook based, but there are some basic photo editing classes as well.)
    To answer your question: I created the tutorial using Elements 6.0, but the main tools should be the same. Hit V to get your move tool, and U to get your rectangle tool. I found a helpful “cheatsheet” here:
    Good luck!

  7. 9

    Lesley says

    I can’t seem to see where to view the video for making the collage? I stubbled upon your blog tonight, which is fantastic!! But I would love to see how to make this collage.

    • 10

      autumn says

      Sorry about that, Leslie. Looks like when I switched some things on the blog the video disappeared. It’s back now 🙂 Thanks for letting me know!

  8. 12


    Thank you so much for this tutorial!
    I’m a newbie in using Photoshop and, after seeing some tutorials, I have to say, yours is the best around! Very clear and easy to follow! Thank you very much again!

  9. 14


    THanks so much for your clear explanation and demonstration of clipping masks. I’m using PSE6 and it worked perfectly!!! I have been struggling with using collage templates. Thanks to your wonderful tutorial I am able to construct my OWN template AND get those photos INTO the rectangles!! THanks again! hugs, Laura


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