Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Making the Headbadge Collage

In the recent post about this blog's 2nd anniversary, I mentioned the head badge collage that makes up the blog's background "wallpaper" image. Here it is:

I know that some people might be interested in how something like that is done, so let me devote a post to the process I used.

I suppose that a photo editing program like Photoshop would be a good choice for a project like this, but to be honest, I've never really gotten the hang of Photoshop, and it isn't necessarily a program that a lot of people would have unless they had a specific need for it. But Microsoft PowerPoint, which comes as part of MS Office, is a pretty common program, is easy to use, and has some capabilities that casual users might not be aware of.

My screenshot images below mostly come from the Mac version of PowerPoint, though I've used both Mac and PC versions. They look a little different - slightly different layout, etc. - but most of the basic commands and tools are the same (even if you might find them in a different part of the screen).

Step One - Insert a Photo:

You can take photos yourself, or download them off the internet. In this case with the head badges, a general Google search can turn up lots of examples. Searching for head badges for sale on eBay can turn up lots, too. If you're using downloaded images, save them to your hard drive so you can use them in PowerPoint.
The first step in creating a collage is to find the "Insert" tab, then select "Picture." That will bring up your browser, where you can select the photo you want to use. 

In the PC version of PowerPoint, the tools for inserting pictures are in a different location. You'll use the same basic procedure, though. As another option, whether you are using the Mac or PC version, you can also find "Insert" on the menu bar at the top of the screen. Click on it, and scroll down the menu for "Insert Picture."

Here's the first picture I'm going to insert in my sample project:

A photo with a clean, plain or neutral background like this one is ideal. If the picture has a "busy" background with colors or patterns, or if there isn't a lot of contrast between the background and the edges of your main object, the next step will become a little more complicated (but not impossible).

Step Two - Remove Background:

Here, my first photo is inserted. When you double-click on the photo, you will bring up some picture formatting tools on the toolbar. For this step we want "Remove Background."

On the PC, the tools for Background Removal are in almost the same place. Again, the actual process is pretty similar.

When you select "Remove Background" you'll get this box around your photo. Adjust the box around the part of the photo you want to keep. The parts highlighted in purple will be removed.

Because the background on this photo was so neutral, and the contrast was so good, the background was eliminated very cleanly, with no adjusting necessary.

Step Three - Rotate and Re-Size:

Now is a good time to re-size, rotate, and position the first picture. Click on the photo so you can see the box around it, and the little "drag" handles. Dragging the little green handle at the top allows you to rotate the picture to a different angle. Dragging one of the corner handles re-sizes the picture without altering its basic proportions. Avoid the handles on the straight parts of the box -- those will "stretch" your photo and alter the proportions.

Step Four - Add Another Picture:

Using the same process as above, I've inserted another picture. I'll have to go through the same processes as shown previously to remove the background.
The background on this head badge photo will be a little trickier to remove. The background is red, but there are also red details in the badge. I'll have to tell PowerPoint what to keep and what to remove, as it may try to remove too much.

When the "Remove Background" tool is selected, you can go in with the point of the cursor and fine-tune what parts get removed, and which parts are kept. In this case, the program was having a hard time distinguishing between the red background, and the red details in the head badge that I wanted to keep. The little "plus signs" are where I had to tell PowerPoint to keep those details that it was trying to remove. It can get a little painstaking. Zooming in can help you pick out the details.

Step Five - Position the New Photo:

The background has been successfully removed from the Fuso head badge photo. Now I can position it where I want it in my collage.
Just like before, I can re-size and rotate my next head badge photo. Now that I have two photos, I can also play around with the overlapping. The default is that the last-added photo will appear on top, but I can change that if I want to. Right-click on the photo you want to re-position, which brings up a menu. Find "Arrange" then select "Bring to Front" or "Send to Back."
From this point, you can follow the same procedures to add more pictures, adjust them, position them, and keep going until you get the collage you want.

Final Step - Save Your Picture:

As long as you want to keep adding photos, and making adjustments to your work, just keep saving the PowerPoint presentation as you normally would. But when it's completely done, you'll want to save it differently than the default setting. You want a picture file - not a presentation/slide-show.

When your collage is finished, and you want to save it as a picture, pull up the "Save As" option under the "File" menu, click on the "Format" window and scroll down through the options. You can select .JPEG, or .GIF or some other picture file-type.

There we go - the finished product.
I've used the same basic procedures outlined above to make other "composite" pictures for the blog. Here are a couple others:

This was used in an article about my first set of hand-built wheels:
A Bike Geek's Dream.
This over-the-top-ridiculous composite was made for an article about spontaneously combusting bicycles. Caution: This Bike May Self Destruct. I used parts of about four separate photos.

It's also worth noting that I added arrows and text to my instructional screenshots above using the same basic tools in PowerPoint, then saved them as .JPEGs.

Okay - not exactly a typical Retrogrouch post, but it may prove useful. Thanks for indulging me.


  1. Powerpoint. I never would have guessed!

    1. Yep -- you can actually do a lot with it, but most people only know the basic "slide-show" things.

  2. You can do basic animation in PowerPoint, too. Surprisingly powerful and convenient if you don't mind the occasional workaround. Good stuff for teachers!