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Create the Fiery, Dark Photo Manipulation ‘The Last Ride’

Create the Fiery, Dark Photo Manipulation ‘The Last Ride’

In today’s design lesson you will learn how to create a dark photo manipulation featuring a flaming, hell-bound horse.

This tutorial is a staggering 71 steps long and teaches you a huge amount of practical techniques for your wider design work.

Take a look at what you’ll be learning:

  • Blending multiple photographs to create an ominous background with real depth
  • Working with fire, smoke and sparks, and how to best manipulate them
  • Using masks effectively for blending purposes
  • Using complex extraction methods to construct custom textures and light effects
  • How to manage complex layer arrangements and work with smart objects

Final Image

As always, this is the final image that we’ll be creating:

Step 1

Start by creating a new document, width 1440px, height: 1200px, resolution: 72. Name it Last Ride.

Step 2

Now, let’s create the background.

Fill the background layer with a linear gradient ranging from #a0a09f to #464646,. This will be useful for blending the sky.

Step 3

Insert “Ground” image on the stage, name it Lava. Them duplicate the layer and set the blending mode to “Overlay”, opacity: 82% and fill: 91% as you can see below. Name this one Lava_overlay. Group this two layers and name it Ground. Should look like this:

Step 4

With group “Ground” layer selected, make a selection using your prefered selection tool, I use Lasso with feather 0px. Create mask on the group using this selection.

In order to modify the edge or refine it use any brush with moderate Hardness and paint the part you don’t desire.

Your layer mask should look like this: (Tips: to see it press Alt+click on the layer thumbnail).

The result:

Step 5

At the top of this layers add a new Levels Adjustment Layer. Set the following values:

5 0,82 215

Output Levels: 0 201

Step 6

Now we are going to add some highlights to make the lava layer more vivid.

First hide the background layer. Now, with Lava layer selected go to Select>Color Range and select the darker areas, Fuzziness: 7.

Step 7


Press Ctrl+J or with the selection tool active right click on stage and select Layer via Copy. A new layer appears, which you should name Lava L1. For the layer Blend Mode use: Overlay and set Opacity to 82% and Fill to 91%.

Now, right click on Lava L1 layer>Layer Style. Go to Color Overlay and for the Blend Mode use Linear Dodge (Add), Opacity 95% and #a00101 for the color.


Now with Lava L1 layer selected press Ctrl+click on the layer thumbnail to make a selection, then press Shift+F6 set value to 2 and press Ctrl+J, a new layer came up, name it Lava L2; set opacity to 78%. Go to layer>Layer Style. Select Color Overlay, for the Blend Mode use Vivid Light, Opacity 94% and #fff000 for the color, as you can see below.


Now with Lava L2 layer selected press Ctrl+click on the layer thumbnail to make a selection, then press Shift+F6 set value to 1 and press Ctrl+J, a new layer came up, name it Lava L3; set opacity to 67% and fill to 91%. Go to layer>Layer Style. Select Color Overlay, for the Blend Mode use Vivid Light, Opacity 94% and #fdfac2 for the color, as you can see below.

The result:

Step 8

Below the ‘Ground’ group create another layer group, named ‘sky’. Inside this new group insert the Mountain+Sky image. Name it sky back.

We need to adjust the sky color to make it darker. Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer above this with the follower’s parameters:

Hue: 0
Saturation: 5
Lightness: -9
Check ‘Colorize’

Step 9

In order to darken this layer create another Adjustment Layer, this time Curves, and use these values for the points along the curve line:

Point 1: 0 0
Point 2: 59 76
Point 3: 145 180
Point 4: 183 203
Point 5: 255 255

The left mountain is dark enough so modify the mask to exclude this mountain from the effect of this layer.

Step 10

Let’s replace this sky with a more appropriate image. So, below your ‘sky back’layer insert the “storm clouds” image and name this new layer ‘sky2′.

Add a mask to the sky backlayer and paint it to hide this sky and make blend with the new one; like demonstrated below, this is how my layer mask looks like.

The result:

Step 11

As you can see the right corner is empty so duplicate the ‘sky2′ layer and move it to the right corner to fill this black space. Add a mask and paint it to make it blend. The outcome should look like this.

Step 12

Over this layer add Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer. Set Brightness to -19 and Contrast to 18. This is how your sky group should look.

Step 13

This looks too pale so over this two groups add a Levels Adjustment Layer with the following values:5 0,58 221; and Outpul levels: 0 187.

Now the ground and the left front mountain are too dark so modify the mask to highlight this areas a little bit make it more realistic.

Step 14

Let’s create the horse!

Create a new group at the top of all layers, name it horse All. Open the horse image and with your favorite selection tool make a selection around the horse. Don’t worry about the finer hairs in the tail/mane, as these areas will be replaced with FIRE. Once you finish extract him and move it inside the new group, put it in the middle of the stage.

Step 15

Create a new Levels Adjustment Layer above horse layer, use the following values: 12; 1,00; 255; Output Levels: 0; 233. Right click on the Adjustment Layer and select Create Clipping Mask or click on the “clip icon”(this is important).

Step 16

Above this, create a Curves Adjustment Layer, use the following values:

Channel RED:
Point 1: 22 0;
Point 2: 135 127;
Point 3: 255 255;

Channel GREEN:
Point 1: 9 0;
Point 2: 135 127;
Point 3: 255 255;

Channel BLUE:
Point 1: 6 0;
Point 2: 131 127;
Point 3: 255 255;

Also make this one a Clipping Mask too.

The result:

Step 17

Now we’re going to create the tail. Above curves adjustment layer create a new group, name it tail and insert the “Flames2” image inside of it.

Using Free Transform>Warp deform it until get the desire position. Name it tale fire.

Change the blending mode to Screen, opacity: 78%. Also add a mask to add some fade effect to the end of the tale.

This is how your mask should look:

Step 18

Use the Smudge tool, strength 50% with a soft brush and grab up like show you on flames to get some out of focus effect.

Step 19

Now above this insert “Blue Smoke” image, name it tail smoke. Change Blend Mode to Screen, opacity 59% and Fill 86%. Add a mask and draw to hide parts out of the flame, should look like this:

Step 20

Now will add some sparkles. Open “Burning Campfire” image and with Rectangular Marquee Tool select the top where sparkles are. Copy and paste over tail fire’s layer. Transform it until get the desired position over the tale.

Step 21

Add a mask­ and paint on it until you hide the most part of the image letting just some sparkles visible, use different brush sizes and opacities. For blend mode select: Screen, opacity 72%.

And we’re done with the tail… for now.

The result:

Step 22

Open the Wood Texture on a new document. From here we just want to extract the dark areas, not the whole image. So go to Select>Color Range, Fuzziness: 83. With Sample+ selected click on different dark parts of the image until you get something near to the sample I show you here. Copy the selection to a new layer and arrange it to our document. Name it crackB.

Step 23

Using Free Transform Tool modify the size and position of the texture until you put it on the horse thigh. Add a mask and paint it to blend borders to skins, giving the idea that the thigh is crack.

The mask should look like this:

Step 24

Duplicate the layer and name it crackB_glow, set opacity to 63%. Right click on the layer>Blending Options> Once there we’ll add Outer Glow, Inner Glow and Color Overlay. Look for the image below to see each values. Group both layer and name it


Step 25

With too much light the result isn’t very realistic. To fix this you should mask the glow layer to hide the edges of this glowing area:

The result:

Step 26

Again open Flames 2 image but this time into other document, select the top left of the image, like I show you below; make a new layer from selection and arrange it into our document on the top of the “crackBack” group, name it fire Over.

Step 27

Set the blend mode of “fire Over” layer to Screen.

Add a mask to the fire to making the illusion that it is flowing through the cracks. The mask should looks like this:

Step 28

Now open the Blue Smoke on a new document and select the right part of it (see below). Make a new layer from selection and arrange it into our document on the top of the “crackBack” group, name it smoke. Using Free Transform Tool scale it until fit with the fire.

Step 29

Set Blend Modes to Screen, opacity to 88% and Fill to 85%. Also add a mask and paint the borders to make it blend with background. See the mask:

Step 30

Back to “fire Over” layer, smudge up the top of the image with a medium size brush.

Step 31

On the top of this group create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer, with a Clipping Mask.

Check the Colorize checkbox. Use the following values:

Hue: 24;
Saturation: 21;
Lightness: -3.

Step 32

The Horsehair.

Create a new group inside the “Horse All”, at the top, name it horsehair.
Open the crack texture on a new document and make a selection of the darken areas, like you did before with the wood texture on step 22. Set Fuzziness to 68. Make a new layer with this selection and don’t erase it, we’ll need it soon. Select the above left corner and paste it into our document, inside the horsehair group.

Step 33

Name this new layer horsehair normal. Position the layer over your horse’s neck, and then add a mask to it.

The result should look like this:

Step 34

Duplicate the layer and name it horsehair glow. Change opacity to 71%. Now you can do two things to add glow. Go to crackB_glow layer and Copy Layer Style and paste it on this layer or repeat step 24 and 25. My mask looks like this:

The result:

Step 35

Above this layer insert “Flames 1” image into our document. Using Free Transform Tool to scale it and wrapt to deform it as you can see below:

Step 36

Change the Blend Mode to Screen. Add a mask and using different brush sizes and opacities should get this:

Step 37

Use Smudge toll on red areas following the arrow, like I show you below. Mode: Normal, Strength 50%.

Step 38

Now, open the “Blue Smoke” photo again and this time select the top part of the image, as shown below.

Create a new layer with the selection and move it to our document, put it over the horsehair fire.

Set Blend Mode to Screen, opacity to 91% and Fill to 87%. Also add a mask to blend it propertly.

The result:

Step 39

Go to the ‘tail’ layer group and duplicate the sparkle layer, move it up to the smoke horsehair.

Press Ctrl+T or Edit>Free Transform, right click on it and select Flip Horizontal.

Modify the mask to adapt it to the new position until you get this:

Step 40

Now, the front legs.

Create a new group inside the Horse All group, at the top of it.

Go back to the document where the crack texture is.

This time select the top right corner and grab it to our document, position it over the front legs inside the group you just made, and name it crack FL.

To add a mask to this new layer, press Ctrl+click on the Horse layer without deselecting this current layer.

Then with the Lasso tool active, select the option Intersect with selection and make a circle around the front legs. Once you have the desire selection go Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal Selection.

With a soft brush paint on the mask layer for get soft edge.

Step 41

Duplicate the layer and name it crack FL glow. Repeat steps 24 and 25. This is how your mask should ends:

Step 42

Adding fire to the front legs.

Open the “Flames 2” and now select the top of the image and arrange it into our document over the front legs layer. Using Free Transform Tool, flip horizontal and rotate to the right. Name it legs Fire.

Step 43

Change the blend mode to Screen and opacity to 84%. Add a mask, paint it like this one. With the Smudge tool grab on the red areas to the right like I show you below.

Step 44

Duplicate this layer, using Free Transform Tool make it a little bit smaller and flip vertical; modify the mask to give the effect that it is behind this leg. Move the layer below legs fire one.

This is the mask:

Step 45

Over “legs fire” layer create a Curves Adjustments Layer with the following values:

Point 1: 0 0;
Point 2: 24 42;
Point 3: 104 116;
Point 4: 185 209;
Point 5: 255 255;

Click on the Clipping Mask icon

Step 46

Over this layer insert the “blue smoke” image, set blending mode to Screen, opacity to 63% and fill to 86%. Also add a mask and paint it like I show you below.

Duplicate the sparkle layer and put it over smoke layer. Set screen for the blend mode, opacity to 72%. Also modify the mask to blend on this new position.

Step 47

Create a new group above, name it back legs. Repeat the step 40 but now on the horse’s back legs. Should get this:

Now repeat steps 24 and 25.

Step 48

Open the “Flame3” image and insert into the document, over the right back leg. Set Screen for the Blend Mode and opacity to 79%. Also add a mask to make it blend. Smudge the tops border of the fire.

Do the same for the fire for the other leg, but this time set opacity to 90%.

Step 49


Insert the “blue smoke” over flames layers. Set blending mode to Screen, opacity to 61% and fill to 86%. Mask it.


Duplicate the sparkle layer and place it over this smoke. Set opacity to 72%.


Use steps 47 to create a crack effect on the head of the horse. You can do it at your own. Try it! Should have ends like this:

Step 50

Let’s add an effect to the eye. Create another group, name it Eye. Using Elliptical Marquee tool, with Feather: 2 px and horse’s layer selected press Ctrl+J move the new layer into Eye group. Give the following layer Styles.

Step 51

Open “Flames 2” into other document and select the left top part of the image like I show you below. This part will simulate came out from the eye. Insert it at the top of the eye group. Rotate to the right. Set blend mode to Screen, opacity to 83% and fill to 80%. Also add a mask too.

At this point your image should looks like this:

Step 52

Let’s crack the floor.

Create a new group below “Horse all” group, name it ground crack. Open the Wood texture and repeat step 22 or duplicate the crackB layer and put it inside this new group, name it ground Crack. Use Free Transform Tools to make it fit between the leg and the floor. Mask it to get a result like I show you below.

Duplicate it, name it ground Crack glow and apply the effect described on step 24. Also modify the mask to make more credible the lights. Set Opacity to 64% and the Fill option to 83%.

Step 53

It still looks a little unnatural, so we will add some rocks and another fire growing through the lava. Now, above Horse All group, create a new one; name it stone & fire. Open Stones photos, select whatever you want, one big and one smaller. Put it into our document and resize it until they cover the horse’s hooves.

Step 54

Over this layer create a new Levels Adjustment Layer, use this values: 0 0,64 277; on output levels:0 80. Set opacity to 80%.

Step 55

Below the stones layer insert the “Burning Campaign” image. Set blend mode to Lighten. Add a mask for a better blending with the crack.

Step 56

Between the Levels Adjustment Layer and stone layer, create a new one, name it glow. Here we are going to give some fire light to stones because the fire. Use #bca040 to cover top of the stones and the ground between; #f37908 for the top of the stones. Change the layer blending mode to “Soft Light”.

Step 57

Now we’ll add some details to the background.

First will add a fire and smoke column far in the left mountain. Open in other document the Smoke Tower image, select the smoke and insert it into our document inside of a new group named “fire column” that you should create above Horse All group.

Step 58

Now we’ll add 3 different Adjustment Layers to blend this column to the background. All this layers will be CLIPPING MASK LAYERS (remember to do it, on layer Right click>Create Clipping Mask).


Brightness: -113; Contrast: 52;


Values: 14; 0,67; 255;
Output Levels: 0 255;

Black & White

Reds: -8;
Yellows: 61;
Greens: 24;
Cyans: 51;
Blues: 17;
Magentas: 53;

Step 59

Now will change this grey light for another one more like fire. To do it, with the smoke column layer selected, go to Select>Color Range; fuzziness: 51 and sample the grey part of the column; hide all other groups could be helpful. With the selection made create Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and the selection become your mask. Also this is a Clipping Mask too. Input the following values and put the layer at the top of this group:


Hue: 16;
Saturation: 31;
Lightness: 13;
Colorize: Checked!

Step 60

Now add a mask to this group, and use a soft paintbrush to mask the edges of the smoke to make it blend more naturally with the environment.

Step 61

Insert “Flames 2” image into the top of this group, use Free Transform Tool to resize and position it over the smoke column.

Add a mask, and fill it with black to hide the flame.

Then, using a splatter brush, 59 pixels in size, paint with white on the mask to reveal some parts of the fire, but not all of it.

Step 62

Create another group on the top of the others, name it fireball. Open again the Stones image and select a big rock or use one of your own stock. Bring it into this new group, name it stone ball. Go to Filter>Blur>Motion Blur… use 30º for Angle and 16 for Distance.

Also add a Levels Adjustment Layer, use this values: 0; 0,47;255 and make it a clipping mask.

Step 63

Over this Adjustment layer insert the “Fireball” image. Resize it to fit with the stone in the sky. Apply the same blur that you apply to the stone in the previous step. Set blend mode to Screen, opacity to 73% and fill to 86%. Add a mask to it, with a soft brush and low opacities paint on it until you get something like this.

Step 64

Let’s add some smoke to it.

This time insert the “Grey Smoke” image at the top of this group and align it with the stone and fire fall line.

Set ‘Multiply’ for the blend mode. This smoke doesn’t cover all area so duplicate the layer 4 times and move it to different positions to make a tail of smoke.

Then select the four layers and merge them together (Tip: with the 4 layer selected>right click>Merge Layer).

For this new layer set ‘Multiply’ for blending mode and opacity 90%. Then, duplicate it again.

Step 65

Duplicate this group and move it to the left, over the smoke column. Resize it to smaller. Set the opacity of the group to 77%.

Step 66

Let’s add some details to the floor creating a shadow for our horse and a glow for the fire.

Go to “Lava” layer and using Burn tool burn the area below the horse.

Step 67

Now the Glow. At the top of Ground group; create a new layer set Overlay for blend mode and 80% for the opacity. Using a big soft brush paint the area under the fire of the legs and the tale. Use #f8c837.

The result:

Step 68

Final details

At the top of all layers and groups insert “flames 2”, name it front fire, resize and rotate it to make it fit with the tale. Set Screen for the blending mode and 78% for the opacity.

Duplicate the layer and rotate it to the left, almost 45º.

Step 69

Combine these two fire layers and convert them into a Smart Object (Tip: Right click on layer > Convert to Smart Object).

Set Screen for the blending mode, 92% for opacity and 92% for fill.

Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, set 4,5 for Radius.

Then go to Filter>Blur>Motion Blur, set 77 for Angle and 20 for Distance.

Step 70

For a better effect fill the mask of the Smart Filters with a black to white gradient. Also add a mask to this layer for better blending with the tale.

The result:

Step 71

Insert the “Blue Smoke” and transform it to fit with this fire who came to us. Set Screen for the blending mode and opacity to 50% and for fill 85%. Also add a mask, should look like this one.

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I added some further sparkles, which are optional.

I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.

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About the Author:

Hi, I’m a young graphic designer from Cuba. I love play with Photoshop creating most kinds of designs, especially photomanipulation. I’m always learning to improve myself.

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  1. Unaiz says:

    Great Job! Thanks for this brilliant Tut… :-)

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