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The Released: Create a Dark and Surreal Photo Manipulation

The Released: Create a Dark and Surreal Photo Manipulation

In this tutorial i’m going to show you how to do a dark and surreal photo manipulation called “Released”. You will learn how to manipulate stock photos in a proper way, adjust light and shadow correctly, make a good use of adjustment layers and blending modes and more!

Final Image

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

Step 1

Open background stock. I crop the a part left side as shown below:

Step 2

We see a thing that bright cloud part looks a bit awry from center ( to the right):

From background, make a selection for this part with feather = 50 ( you can set feather depending on the size of your file):

Right click, choose Layer via Copy and we have a new layer with this part. Move this part to the right and add layer mask with soft black brush to hide rough edges:

Step 3

In this step we will darken cloud. Create a new layer on the top and take soft brush with color #696b68 to paint on this part, then set layer to Soft light 100%:

Make a new layer and use soft brush with color #919e8c, paint around the cloud, then put it as Multipy 50%:

Step 4

In this step we will brighten the part on the top of cloud. I want to make a look that light stream comes from above. So i take a new layer, use soft brush with color #fcf9cd and paint on this part, then set this layer to Soft light 100%:

Step 5

Create a new layer, use soft brush and color #878c82 painting on two sides of picture, then set this layer to Multipy 50%:

We see the left side is still brighter than right side so i use a new layer, same brush color and same mode ( Multipy 50%), paint on selected part:

Step 6

Now we will make the road in the middle glow. Create a new layer, use Polygonal Lasso Tool to make selection for it, set feather = 1, then fill it with white:

Apply Outer Glow :

Step 7

Make a new layer on the top, use soft white brush with large size ( about 150-200 px), paint on the road top with opacity 100% ( for center part) and opacity and flow 50% ( for the side part), then put it as Soft light 100%:

Step 8

Open crystal stock. Extract it and move it into our document, resize it and place it on the road top, name this layer as “crystal”:

As we see, the crystal does not look very transparent. There are some white parts caused from light in original picture.

To fix it, create a new layer above crystal layer with Clipping Mask, take Clone Tool ( make sure that Sample All Layers is checked on property bar), clone on white parts shown in previous screenshot:

Don’t worry if it does not look perfect as we will do some steps to make it look better.

Step 9

Create a Color Balance layer for crystal with Clipping Mask to add some light yellow tone:

This is result we get:

Step 10

Create a new layer with Clipping Mask. Set foreground to #fcfbf6 and take random lightning brushes, paint within crystal. Do it till you get desired look. Here is my result:

Step 11

Create a new layer ( with Clipping Mask) with Overlay mode and fill it with 50% gray:

Take Burn Tool with Midtones range and Exposure about 40-50% painting on the bottom of crystal as i want this part darkener.

You can see the result of using this tool with Normal mode and Overlay mode:

Step 12

Open pillar stock. I choose this stock as it has old look with form, light and shadow suitable for our picture and we can easily edit it. Isolate it from background, scale it and situate it as shown below:

Place this layer under crystal layer.

Add layer mask, use black brush with hardness about 20-30% to hide rough edges at bottom of pillar:

Step 13

Create a new layer above pillar layer with Clipping Mask. Take Clone tool and remove some parts on pillar as the screenshot below shows:

Step 14

Add a new Curves layer ( with Clipping Mask) to make pillar color fit background:

We have:

Step 15

To brighten the part of pillar which catch the light from background, i use a new layer with soft white brush painting on this part ( with opacity 100% and 50%) then set this layer to Soft light 100%:

Step 16

Open crystal ball stock. Cut it and place it on the top of pillar, then hit Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+U to desaturate it:

Add layer mask to eraser ball bottom to get a look this ball stuck with pillar:

Step 17

Create a new layer ( Clipping Mask) with setting like step 11. Take Dodge tool and brighten the ball bottom:

Step 18

Duplicate pillar layer and on under layer, choose Edit-Transfrom-Flip Vertical. Press Cmd/Ctrl+U to open Hue/Saturaion dialog and drag Lightness button to -100. Name it “pillar 1 shadow” and move it under pillar layer:

Lower opacity to 50%, apply Gassian blur with 2 px and transform it as shown below:

Step 19

Choose all layers of pillar ( except pillar 1 shadow) and crystal ball.

Hit Cmd/Ctrl+G to make group for them. Right click this group, choose Duplicate Group. On duplicated group, right click and click Merge Group. Duplicate it four times, resize and position them as two rows. Rename them “pillar 1″ to “pillar 6″. You can see how i ordered them in screenshot below:

Step 20

Duplicate pillar 1 shadow five times ( you can detete layer mask of pillar 1 shadow as we don’t need it). Place these layers under pillar 2 to pillar 6. Remember that the nearer pillar ( to the light from background ) the shorter and more visible shadow. So i use combine key Cmd/Ctrl+T to transform these shadows and change opacity of pillar 3 and 4 shadow to 70% and pillar 5 and 6 to 80%. Also add layer mask for shadows of pillar 3, 4, 5, 6 to blur or hide their top.

Step 21

We will add a step to retouch pillars. There are some parts of them need to be darker or brighter:

Make two new layers with Multipy mode 100% and Soft light mode 50%. Take brush with color #d0cdb9 and paint on the parts which need to be darker ( Multipy mode) and which need to be brighter ( Soft light mode):

Step 22

To correct light and shadow of crystal balls, i use two new layers and brush with color #c2c2c2 painting on them. One is set to Multipy mode 100% and one with Overlay mode 70%.

The parts which are not lighted up must be darker and which are lighted up must be brighter.

Step 23

Now we will “decorate” cloud. Make a new layer, set foreground and background to #ffffff and #858786. Use Elliptical Marquee tool to draw a circle around cloud part and set feather = 50:

Choose Filter-Render-Cloud:

Still keep this selection, choose Filter-Distort-Twirl:

Transform it to be longer, narrower and change the mode to Soft light 100%. Add layer mask to eraser any rough parts you’ve noticed.

Step 24

New layer again, use lighting brushes with color #fcfbf6 painting under bright part of cloud:

Step 25

Create six new layers , continue with lightning brushes and color #fffee9. On each layer, paint a lightning brush and transfrom it to make a look that all lightnings and crystall balls are connected. Eraser extended parts and apply Outer Glow with default settings for any lightning brushes which does not have glowing effect. You can see my result below:

Step 26

Make a new layer on the top. Use soft brush with color #fffee9 painting on crystal and crystal balls as the screenshot below show then change the mode to Overlay 50%:

Step 27

Cut model and move her onto the road, downsize her to get the look below:

Duplicate model and so the same techniques done in step 18 to make her shadow. As we see, light from background come front in front of her, so her shadow must be straight and behind:

Step 28

Now our problem is solving light and shadow of model. As you see, light on model comes from right to left and it’s very prominent. So i choose method to remove all light of model first then add light for wanted parts.

Create two new layers above model with Clipping Mask and set to Multipy 100% and 80%. Use brush with color #5387ad painting on bright parts of her jeans to reduce light on them.

Step 29

This step is to do same purpose but for right arm ( light is very strong there). Create three layers ( with Clipping Mask) and choose brush with color #e2ccd0. I set the first layer as Normal mode 100%, two rests as Multipy mode 100% and paint on her arms to remove the light:

Step 30

On a new layer ( Clipping Mask of course), use brush with color #16151c painting on model hair and pull. Put this layer as Multipy 100%:

This is result we have till now:

Step 31

To make color of model fit background, i use a Selective Color with Clipping Mask:

Also a Hue/Saturation layer to reduce light of model again:

Step 32

To add light for model (we want light from in front of her) i use Inner Shadow with white color from Blending Options:

Step 33

We finished adding all elements. I use Gradient Map layer to change color of picture:

Change the mode of this layer to Overlay 70%:

Step 34

We will do a final step to make the light and dark of picture more impressive. Add a new layer on the top and use Radiant Gradient with default color ( black and white) :

Set this layer to Soft light 100% and add layer mask to hide the top of picture ( because i don’t want this part too bright):

Duplicate this gradient layer . On layer mask, use soft black brush to eraser the top part and eraser some of model jeans to remove the contrast:

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:

Thank you for reading this tutorial, I hope that you enjoyed it. If you want to view my other arts and tutorials you can look at my Deviantart page or follow me on Facebook.

Leave a comment


  1. Chris says:

    Great tutorial Jenny! I actually really liked the stock background, but your final product looks amazing! I love the twirl lighting effect in the sky.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, the background looks really great and inspiring :) . Thank you Chris, it’s really a pleasure for me to have your kind comments in all of my posts ;) .

  2. Eric Vasquez says:

    I agree that this is a wonderful tutorial! The outcome looks really nice and I like how you incorporated the lightning and also adding the pillars/columns really helps to lead your eye towards the center of the piece. Nice work =)

  3. coder says:

    hi there..
    This is an awesome tut.. thanks..
    But somehow the Step creating the Glow on the Street doesn’t work properly for me.. with the given setting i always have a double line there, and it never seems to get to a smooth outcome.. i changed values up and down, but result never loos like screenshot here..???

  4. Tom says:

    Awesome tutorial Jenny! I really like the colors and lighting in this piece, it’s really rich and has great depth. Nice work!

    • Jenny says:

      Thank Tom :) . Stock background really inspired me and i’ve been happy with what came out. I’m so glad you like it^ _ ^. Thank you again ;) .

  5. Nisha says:

    nice effects Jenny! i love the way u made the sky and the crystal effect is cool :)

  6. WOW! i really like your stuff is really cool and nice….
    well u did really good job on your stuff and it’s so creative..okay my friend is nice to see your example i really want to try it..okay bye and take good care.

  7. zc says:

    cool!I love it.Thanks!!!

  8. PEPS says:

    Amazing tutorial fantastic

  9. Muhammad Ahmed says:

    can’t even began to thank you

    dont have the proper vocab for that

    i greatly appreciate what you did there. This is like tons of years of experience that you gave us for free

    Hats off. thanks a lot.

    There may be many many more people who would have seen this , but didn’t care to write. Thumbs down to them. Learn to be grateful.

  10. Bobby says:

    Your work is wow! i love it!!!

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