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Design a Surreal and Ornate Photo Manipulation

Design a Surreal and Ornate Photo Manipulation

Final Image

Here is a preview of the image that we are going to be creating:

Step 1

Start by creating a new document (600X700px).

Paste in your landscape photo, and position/resize it until it looks right to you.

Step 2

Now reduce this photo layer’s opacity to 45%, and use your mask tool to mask off the top of the photo (fading the tops of the trees using a large, soft black paintbrush within your mask).

Now apply a hue/saturation adjustment layer. Be sure to create a clipping mask for this adjustment layer, so it only directly effects the landscape photo layer beneath it.

Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings:

Hue: 0
Saturation: -60
Lightness: 0

Step 3

Now download the crumpled paper texture from the resources section for this tutorial. Paste it into your canvas, resizing as appropriate and then reduce this layer’s opacity to 25%. This should give a nice subtle texture overlay.

Step 4

Now paste in a couple of the Designious floral vector designs. Position these in the corners of your canvas.

Call these layers ‘floral bg’. Then reduce their layer opacities to 25%, and use a layer mask to subtly mask off areas of each vector design, blending them into your main background:

Step 5

Now create a new layer called ‘circle’. Create a large circular selection in the middle of your canvas, and fill it with a radial gradient ranging from 90294b to 631c34.

Then apply a layer mask, and using a grungy default brush, at around 15% opacity, mask off central parts of your circle:

Step 6

Now use your eye-dropped tool to find a rough color of your main cream background.

Create a new layer called ‘sketchy lines’ and then use a 1px, cream paintbrush to draw a lot of messy lines over your circle shape:

Step 7

Now we want to start adding floral details to the edges of our circle shape.

Start by pasting in an appropriate design.

Then go to edit>transform>warp. Use your warp tool to wrap your floral design to fit around the curve of your circle shape.

Now apply a layer mask, and mask off the bottom of your floral design, using a large, soft black paintbrush. This should let you seamlessly fade your floral design into your circle shape:

Now apply a color overlay blending option to your floral shape layer.

Color Overlay Blending Option Settings:

Blend Mode: Soft Light
Color: e70000
Opacity: 100%

Step 8

Now repeat Step 7, but apply several more floral designs to the edge of your circle:

Step 9

Now paste in the photo of a raven from the resources section for this tutorial. You can cut out the raven using whichever method you find easiest, personally I used the lasso tool, as I knew we wouldn’t be needed the background to the photo again.

Now apply a couple of adjustment layers over your raven photo. Be sure to apply a clipping mask to each adjustment layer so that your adjustments only effect your raven, not your entire composition:

Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings:

Hue: 0
Saturation: -100
Lightness: -10

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

36 / 1.00 / 253

Step 10

Now create a series of layers called ‘highlights’ whereby you drag out radial gradients over your raven, and use light/color to enhance your image.

You can see below, I used blue-transparent, orange-transparent and white-transparent radial gradients (each on a different layer). Then I reduced each layer’s opacity to around 10-20% and changed the layer blend mode to ‘overlay’. This gives a really subtle but attractive coloring to your image:

Step 11

Now create a new layer called ‘lens flare’.

Fill your canvas with black, and then change this layer’s blend mode to ‘screen’. This will hide the black, but allow you to apply a lens flare in a non-destructive way. Go to filter>render>lens flare and apply a 50-300mm Zoom, (100% Brightness). Try to position your lens flare where your raven’s eye is, bearing in mind that this may take a few attempts to position it correctly.

Once you’ve applied your lens flare, reduce this layer’s opacity to 80%. The images below show the layer at ‘normal’ blend mode, and then at ‘screen’.

This technique was recently explained in our popular article: 5 Incredibly Useful Non_Destructive Photoshop Techniques

Step 12

Now apply some text beneath your raven area, saying ‘flight’.

Font Settings:

Font Face: FatC (Download font here)
Size: 82pt
Color: 831d15
Kerning: 0

Then apply layer mask to your text layer, and use a default grungy paintbrush at a low opacity to mask off various areas of your text, giving a faded, grungy look:

Step 13

Use your marquee tool to create a rectangular border effect. Create a rectangle shape, and then fill it with d2d2d2. Then with your selection still in place go to select>modify>contract and contract it by 30px. Then hit delete, and you’re left with a nice border effect.

Now apply an inner shadow effect, in order to give your border a cool looking highlight.

Inner Shadow Blending Option Settings:

Blend Mode: Normal
Opacity: 100%
Color: ffffff
Angle: 120
Distance: 5px
Choke: 0%
Size: 7px

Step 14

Now go to edit>transform>distort and distort your frame shape to give it the illusion of perspective.

Create a layer beneath your frame layer called ‘dark borders’. Now use your lasso tool and gradient tools to create a number of sides to your frame, making it look 3D.

Now move your 3D frame to the top-left of your canvas. Create a layer beneath it called ‘dark behind’ and use a low opacity, large, soft black paintbrush to paint some shadows into this corner of your canvas. This will help give the illusion of depth as people look through your frame.

Step 15

Now open up your feather photo in a new document.

To extract the feather from it’s background we’re going to use the color range method. This is fairly easy, as the photo is against a plain white background. Simply go to select>color range.

Then use your eye dropper tool and click on the white background. Click OK, and then go to select>inverse to invert your selection (leaving just your feather selected). Paste the feather back into your original document, using masking or the eraser tool to clean up any stray edges:

Step 16

Now duplicate your feather layer, and move/resize it to fit over your top-left frame. Use your distort tools to warp the feather, varying it’s original shape to add diversity to your composition.

Then use your mask tool to mask off the end of the feather, giving the impression that it’s disappearing into your frame.

Step 17

Now we need to blend our feather better with the surrounding composition. To do this, apply a hue/saturation and levels adjustment layer. For each adjustment layer go to layer>create clipping mask, to ensure that your adjustments only effect your underlying feather layer, not your entire composition:

Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings:

Hue: 0
Saturation: -100
Lightness: 0

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

19 / 1.00 / 241

Step 18

Now duplicate your feather again, this time keep it’s regular size. Apply the same adjustment layers again for this feather, reducing the saturation and adjusting the levels. Then go to filter>blur>gaussian blur and apply a 3.8px strength gaussian blur. This should help give the impression of depth, as the blurred feather appears to be closer to you.

Step 19

Now repeat these techniques, but creating many more feathers. Be sure to apply the correct adjustment layers for each feather, and vary the amount of gaussian blur applied to the larger feathers to emphasize the depth. Also remember to use your warp tool to vary the shape of the feathers, and help them to follow the wider contours of your piece:

Step 20

If you remember earlier, we applied some brightly colored radial gradients over our raven, and then reduced the opacity to around 10%, to create a nice, subtle lighting effect. Now repeat this technique, but cast the highlights over your frame in the top-left of your canvas.

The images below show the gradient layers at 100% opacity, and then at 20% opacity, ‘overlay’ blend mode:

Step 21

Now create a new layer called ‘dodge/burn’. Go to edit>fill and fill your canvas with 50% gray. This will allow you to dodge/burn your image non-destructively.

Change your layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ to hide your 50% gray, and then use a soft black paintbrush (around 10% opacity) to burn your image. Use the same paintbrush, but set to white to dodge your image. You can easily add highlights/shadows to your image in this way.

The images below show the dodge/burn layer at ‘normal’ blend mode and then at ‘overlay’ blend mode:

Step 22

Now apply 3 final adjustment layers. Do NOT apply a clipping mask to these layers, as you want them to effect your entire composition.

Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings:

Hue: 0
Saturation: -20
Lightness: 0

Gradient Map Adjustment Layer Settings:

Gradient: Ranging from ae8108 to 053141
Opacity: 15%
Blend Mode: Normal

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

20 / 0.94 / 236

Step 23

To finish, we want to sharpen the central part of our image. The easiest and most non-destructive way of doing this is to flatten your image, and then copy the flat image. Then undo this flattening and paste the flattened image in as a new top layer.

Then go to filter>sharpen>unsharp mask. Apply an unsharp mask with the settings below:

Unsharp Mask Settings:

Amount: 80%
Radius: 4.0 pixels
Threshold: 0 levels

Finally, apply a layer mask and use a large, soft black paintbrush to mask off the edges of this layer. This should mean that the only sharpened part of your image remaining will be your central area, containing your raven. This should bring focus and clarity to your overall composition:

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.

Download Source File for this Tutorial

About the Author:

Tom is the founder of PSDFAN. He loves writing tutorials, learning more about design and interacting with the community. On a more interesting note he can also play guitar hero drunk with his teeth.

Leave a comment


  1. MarkT says:

    This is cool, Tom, I like it. :)
    I always wonder about unsharp masks and what pixel radius to use; I admit it’s not something I have a settled view on, or much understanding of. What advice would you give in order to not make the result look surreal or (I’m searching for another word but can’t think of one) … abnormal?

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Mark! :) To be honest, I generally just experiment with unsharp mask settings, as they seem to vary for each composition. If you just play around I’m sure you’ll settle upon a pixel radius that you’re happy with. As a rule of thumb though, as with any photo retouching, you want your work to be ‘invisible’. In the piece for this tutorial, you can’t really notice that I’ve used an unsharp mask, unless you toggle between the original and the sharpened version. Just keep things subtle, and don’t overdo it.

  2. Eric Vasquez says:

    Really nice tutorial Tom! I love the final outcome and think it’s a very cool composition. I just wanted to add that when using Unsharp Masks that it is often best not to set the radius and threshold settings too high as it can become overdone. I think the goal is to bring additional sharpness or crispness into your image without going overboard.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks a lot Eric! :) I can’t wait to publish your next tutorial and see what the readers think. I agree with you on the unsharp masks though, for sure!

  3. Matos says:

    Clever tutorial !

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