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Photo Manipulate an Exotic Snake Charming Scene

Photo Manipulate an Exotic Snake Charming Scene

Final Image

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

Step 1

Start by creating a new document (1000X1000px).

Paste in the Taj Mahal image from the resources section for this tutorial.

We want to improve the colors and contrast of our backdrop image, so apply a levels and color balance adjustment layer. Be sure to apply a clipping mask to all adjustment layers in this tutorial, unless otherwise specified, as we only want our adjustments to effect the underlying layer.

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

12 / 0.94 / 255

Color Balance Adjustment Layer Settings:

Highlights: +1 / +2 / -5
Midtones: +4 / +8 / -16
Shadows: -11 / +2 / -1

Step 2

If you look at our backdrop photo, the distance is very sharp, but the bottom area of the photo gets slightly out of focus as it gets closer to us.

I’ve highlighted this area in red below:

To fix this, select your backdrop photo and both adjustment layers (hold shift to select more than one layer). Hit option+g to place these three layers within a layer group.

Duplicate this layer group.

Then, with your duplicate group folder selected, go to filter>convert for smart filters. This way you can non-destructively apply filters to an entire layer group, which contains multiple layers.

With your smart filters in place, go to filter>sharpen>unsharp mask. This will allow us to precisely sharpen our backdrop image.

Unsharp Mask Filter Settings:

Amount: 240%
Radius: 0.7 pixels
Threshold: 0 levels

You can see below that this has sharpened our entire image. However, we only really wanted to sharpen the bottom corners of our image, in order to focus them. The rest of our image is now too sharp:

To fix this, apply a layer mask to your duplicate backdrop smart object. Use a large, soft black paintbrush to mask off all of this sharpened layer apart from the bottom corners (which we want to sharpen).

I’ve shown where this mask is applied using a red area below:

And here is the result. Now the entire backdrop is nice and sharp, including the bottom corners, which were previously out of focus:

Step 3

Download the ‘snake’ image from the resources section for this tutorial.

Cut it out from it’s background (this should be easy as it has a plain white background). Paste the snake into the bottom right of your canvas, keeping it really large, as we want this to be a giant sized snake!

Apply a levels and color balance adjustment layer in order to blend the snake better with our backdrop:

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

20 / 1.00 / 230

Color Balance Adjustment Layer Settings:

Highlights: +13 / +1 / -29
Midtones: +25 / +5 / -23
Shadows: +8 / -5 / -12

You can see the result of this below:

We want to extend the snakes tail to the left corner of our canvas, so simply copy/paste part of the snake’s body and position this in the bottom corner. Use the same adjustment layers to blend this area.

Don’t worry if there’s a gap in the middle, we’ll be covering this up!

Step 4

Download the ‘rocks’ image from the resources section for this tutorial.

Paste the rocks roughly into the bottom-center of your canvas, after extracting them from their background:

Apply a color balance and levels adjustment layer to your rocks layer:

Color Balance Adjustment Layer Settings:

Highlights: -4 / +5 / -4
Midtones: +9 / +6 / -12
Shadows: +1 / +4 / -12

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

45 / 1.05 / 236

You can see the result of this below:

Step 5

Paste in your ‘moss’ image from the resources for this tutorial.

Duplicate this ‘moss’ layer, hiding the original. You can see keep this original layer though as we’ll be making many more duplicates.

Select your visible duplicate moss layer and resize it to fit over one of the lower rocks. Then go to edit>transform>warp. Warp your moss to fit more to the shape of the rock, thus making it less flat:

Apply a layer mask to your moss layer, and then use one of the roughly, grungy default brushes that come with photoshop (ensuring it’s set to: black) and mask off the edges of your moss area. You want to smoothly blend your moss into the rock surface.

To help blend it further, reduce the opacity of your moss layer to around 90%.

Now apply a color balance adjustment layer:

Color Balance Adjustment Layer Settings:

Highlights: +22 / -13 / -8
Midtones: +19 / +32 / -26
Shadows: -1 / +6 / -12

This is the effect:

Step 6

Repeat the technique of applying moss, applying it to the rest of your rock surfaces:

Step 7

Create a new layer called ‘bottom shadow’ and use a large, soft black paintbrush to paint in a shadow along the bottom of your canvas.

Reduce this layer’s opacity to 10%:

Step 8

Paste in your snake charmer image, positioning him so that he’ll be sat roughly on top of the rocks in your main composition:

We want to get rid of his background, so use your preferred extraction method. Personally, I love being non-destructive, so I used a layer mask to mask off his background.

Now apply a color balance adjustment layer to blend your man better with the rest of your piece:

Color Balance Adjustment Layer Settings:

Highlight: -13 / 0 / -8
Midtones: +4 / +13 / -15
Shadows: 0 / 0 / 0

And here’s the result:

Step 9

Create a new layer called ‘shadow under man’.

Use a soft black paintbrush at around 10% opacity to paint in shadow between the man and the rock. Make it look more natural, as if the man is sitting on the rock and casting a natural shadow:

Step 10

Download the ‘small snake’ image from the resources for this tutorial.

Extract it from it’s background and then paste/position it to appear to be coming out of the end of the man’s pipe:

Set this layer’s blend mode to screen:

Now apply a hue/saturation and levels adjustment layer:

Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings:

Hue: 0
Saturation: -100
Lightness: +23

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

53 / 0.77 / 198

You can see the result of this below:

Step 11

Our snake is looking a little too solid to pass as smoke right now, so grab your smudge tool, set to around 25% opacity and smudge areas of your snake to blend outwards like smoke.

This should create a much softer looking effect:

To add a little additional smoke, download the ‘smoke’ image from the resources for this tutorial.

Position it over your snake image:

Change this layer’s blend mode to ‘screen’ to hide the black background for the smoke and just let the smoke show through:

Step 12

Download your ‘jewel’ image from the resources for this tutorial and extract it from it’s background.

Go to edit>transform and use the distort tool to resize the jewel to rest on the front of the man’s turban. Make it much thinner than the original to give the impression of it being part of the man’s profile.

Then apply a hue/saturation adjustment layer to this jewel layer:

Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer Settings:

Hue: +95
Saturation: 0
Lightness: +2

Step 13

Create a new layer called ‘lens flare’.

Fill your canvas with black and then change it’s layer blend mode to ‘screen’. This will hide the black fill, but allow you to apply a lens flare effect non-destructively.

Go to filter>convert for smart filters. Then go to filter>render>lens flare. Apply a 50-300mm Zoom lens fare at 100% Brightness, trying to position your main flare over the end of the man’s pipe:

The image below shows this lens flare layer at ‘normal’ blend mode:

This shows the ‘lens flare’ mode at ‘screen’ blend mode:

Step 14

Create a new layer called ‘dodge/burn’. To dodge/burn your image non-destructively go to edit>fill>50% gray. Change your layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ to hide your 50% gray fill, and then use a soft, low opacity (around 10%) black paintbrush to burn your image, and a soft, low opacity white paintbrush to dodge your image.

You want to try and create a more unified light source. In this image we can see that the main light source is coming from the right of your canvas. So try to add highlights to the right edges of your objects, and shadow the left edges.

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

Step 15

To accentuate the highlights cast on your rocks by the sun, create a new layer called ‘rock highlight edge’.

Keep this new layer active, but in your layer’s palette option+click on your original rocks layer. This will create an active selection around the shape of your rocks.

This will allow you to paint just inside the edge of your rocks without leaking out onto the background.

Use a soft white paintbrush to paint in a highlight along the right edge of your rocks:

To make this highlight effect more subtle change this layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ and reduce it’s opacity to 30%.

Step 16

The left edge of our rocks is looking too light considering the lighting of the overall piece.

To fix this, create a new layer called ‘rock shadows’.

Use a soft black paintbrush (around 20% opacity) to paint shadows over this area of rock:

Step 17

Apply a final couple of adjustment layers, but this time DO NOT create clipping masks for them as you want your adjustments to effect your entire composition.

Gradient Overlay Adjustment Layer:

Gradient: Default purple to orange gradient
Blend Mode: Normal
Opacity: 10%

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

9 / 1.00 / 238

Here is the result of these adjustments:

Step 18

Finally, to finish we want to sharpen our image just a little to make it clearer.

Go to layers>flatten image. Select your entire flattened canvas and then hit ‘copy’.

In your history panel undo this flattening, as of course we want to retain our original layers.

Then paste your copied flat image in as a new top layer.

Go to filter>convert for smart filters. Then go to filter>sharpen>unsharp mask. Apply these settings:

Unsharp Mask Settings:

Amount: 35%
Radius: 0.5 pixels
Threshold: 0 levels

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

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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. Logo Blog says:

    These are so fantastic! like this tutorial. it was so nice n easy to learn!

  2. Anton says:

    Thank you very much for tutorial with us such a very good job!

  3. nick says:

    Hey man, nice tutorial might use this technique in a couple of photo manip’s i try. Thanks mate.

  4. Brytech says:

    This is a great tutorial Thanks Tom for sharing it with us. I do have to ask however, why do tutorial writers insist on using images that we the learners have to pay for? Surely there are enough free images out there that the tutorial writer can use without referring us to images that have to be bought?
    I’m going to give this tutorial a try but I’ll be using free images. I won’t get the exact same result but it will be a challenge to see if I can get close and hence it will be another learning curve for me.
    P.S. The link for the rock image is not working.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Brytech.

      Let me try and give you a proper answer for your paid images question. Basically for years I only used free images, refusing to use images from any kind of paid website. However, after trying a few premium images I realized that they were far superior to 99% of the free images available. For tutorials I will always look for free images first, as I know this makes it easier for people. However, the range on free image sites is also smaller, so I often can’t find the right kind of image.

      Especially with photo manipulations the quality of the final piece often depends heavily on the quality of the images you’re using. Since I’ve started using more premium images my work has in my opinion become a lot better, allowing me to produce better tutorials. I’d rather find the perfect image to use, than settle for an average image from a free site.

      For the purpose of tutorials I hope that despite using paid images the techniques and workflows are still helpful to people. If people can’t afford or don’t want to buy the paid images used in the tutorial of course they can replicate the techniques using free images they might find.

      I totally see your point though, and I hope this helps explain. Thanks for pointing out the rock link btw, I’ll just go fix that now.

  5. Mike says:

    When I create new document 1000 x 1000, the pasted image is only half the size of the document. How do I get the image to fit.

    • Tom says:

      Hi Mike,

      If you’re referring to the background image you need to access the original image from the resources section for this tutorial. In this instance it’s a paid photo so you will either have to buy the image, or replace it with a free image of your choosing.


  6. Brytech says:

    Thanks for your reply Tom and I do understand what you’re saying about premium images. What I like to do though is follow a tuturial through to completion so that I understand what the tutorial writer is trying to achieve without having to pay for any images. I then try the tutorial again substituting my own images and experimenting with the various settings.

    Keep up the great work, your tutorials are amazing and the time you put into writing them is very much appreciated.


  7. John says:

    The idea is great Tom, I like the colors a lot but you should have blended the cobra better with the rest of the image. Keep up the good work!

    • Tom says:

      Thanks John. I’m always open to feedback and do I agree about the cobra. Always hard making a giant snake look natural, but it’s something I could have worked on. :)

  8. Raj says:

    Nice effort but the lighting in this scene is way off. You still have highlights which immediately border the shadow on the rocks. The man’s shirt has highlights opposite the light source, as does the snake which makes it look less realistic. This would be solved by adding an additional light source.

    • Tom Ross says:

      Thanks for the feedback Raj. I totally agree with you. This is one of our older tutorials, and the outcomes of our more recently lessons are frankly in a different league to this piece now. I hope you still got some good techniques from this tutorial though.

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