Collages, montages, and composites. Oh my.
All three of these terms are used to describe certain digital images. But what are the differences?
You might say, “Who cares?”
I certainly didn’t care until I was building this site. Then I realized that I didn’t know how to label or sort the various images that I have created over the years. So I did what you probably did, a Google search. Unfortunately I found lots of conflicting answers. So I decided to write this post, setting down my working definitions of collage, montage, and composite.
First, what all three have in common (at least in current usage). They are compositions created by combining multiple images.
In pre-digital days a collage (French: to glue) referred to objects glued to a substrate.
So in a digital collage the separate images are kept separate. Images are kept whole and placed next to each other, or overlap each other. For the most part the borders of the original images are kept intact. There is no attempt to make the composition appear as if it is one image. Rather it is intended usually as the juxtaposition of the different images.
In a montage there is some blurring of the lines (literally) between images. Edges might be removed. Images might be semi-transparent with different blend modes.
But there is little effort to fool the viewer into thinking the composition began as one image.
I use the term composite image to refer to a composition in which there has been an effort have the final image appear as if it began as one image. Consistent lighting, added shadows, harmonious color palette, simulated depth of field, and other techniques are used to sell the illusion.
The lines between these different types of multiple images are not as clear as I have implied. Rather there is a continuum. For example a figure might be extracted from one image and then overlap images in separate frames. That composition would lie somewhere between a collage and a montage.
So this is how I classify my images.