Create a Surreal Advertising Photo Manipulation


Today we'll take inspiration from the surrealist art movement, which began shortly after the first world war. The influence of surrealism can still be seen today, especially in advertising campaigns – how many times have you seen a product depicted out of context, or in an extraordinary juxtaposition?

This tutorial demonstrates how to blend stock images to create an illustration that could be applied to anything from drinks machines to point-of-sale displays. Observing how light reacts in the real-world is a key factor when combing multiple photographs – all of which have different degrees of light, shadow and color. To pull off this effect, we'll make extensive use of Adjustment Layers as well as some advanced masking techniques.

Tutorial Assets

You'll find the label artwork within the "source" folder. The following free resources are also required to allow you to complete this tutorial.

Step 1

For the purpose of this tutorial we'll work at a reduced size to keep the download manageable. If you're creating print-ready artwork for point-of-sale or any other large format, it's vital to speak to your printer beforehand.

Create a new Photoshop file 2480px wide x 4044px high. Set the Resolution to 300px/inch, the Color Mode to RGB and the Background Contents as White.

Step 2

Open the desert scene. Duplicate the base layer and use the Patch Tool (J) to remove the small boats from the water and shoreline.

Note: When carrying out retouching it's always best to work on a duplicate layer – just in case you make any mistakes.

Step 3

One you're happy with the retouch layer, hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to Merge Down. Now place the layer into your project file and name it "Landscape". Press Cmd/Ctrl + T and Transform / position, leaving a small white margin at the canvas base. Ensure your Foreground / Background colors are set to black and white, then add a layer mask. Set the Gradient Tool (G) to Foreground to Background and choose the Linear preset in the Options bar. Now hold Shift and drag a short gradient as indicated to hide the sky.

Step 4

Over the next few steps we'll add more water to fill the bottom of the canvas. Use the Lasso Tool (L) to roughly select a left-hand portion. Hit Shift F6 to access the Feather window, enter 5px and click OK. Press Cmd/Ctrl + J to Copy the active selection a new layer and reposition as shown. Add a layer mask and use a medium soft-edged brush to blend the edges further. Repeat this to Copy and mask another layer for the right-hand side.

Step 5

Apply the same technique to add more layers, including some for the missing coastline.

Step 6

Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to sample a nearby water color, then paint on a new upper layer with a large, soft brush to fill the remaining gaps. For best results work at a low opacity to begin with and slowly build up the density. Also use the Eyedropper to sample different shades as you work, then mask any excess as required.

Step 7

When you're done, Shift-click all your floating layer thumbnails (apart from the "Landscape") and hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to Merge Layers. With the merged layer selected press Cmd/Ctrl + E again and click the Preserve button in the following window.

Step 8

We now need to make the water less muddy. Go to Select > Color Range, in the following dialogue box click on the water, then set the Fuzziness amount to 79 and the Range to 100%. Now choose Quick Mask from the Selection Preview drop-down menu, then use the Add to sample picker so as much of the water appears white in the preview box.

Step 9

After clicking OK, an active selection will now appear. Now Feather the Radius by 4px and click OK again.

Step 10

Copy the selection to a new layer, label it "Water duplicate" and disable its visibility for the moment.

Step 11

Clip a Color Balance Adjustment Layer to the "Landscape" and boost both the Green and Blue Midtone and Shadows.

Step 12

We want the adjustment to only affect the water and coastal vegetation, so use an assortment of soft-edged brushes on its mask as shown.

Step 13

Next, clip a Levels adjustment to the "Landscape" layer and copy these settings to increase the contrast.

Step 14

Later we'll be adding some snow capped mountains, so for this to work we need to desaturate the upper portion of the sandstone. Clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the same layer, set the Hue to 215, the Saturation to 15 and check the Colorize button.

Step 15

Modify the adjustment mask so the top half of the island looks like this.

Step 16

To make the color of the water a little more appealing, enable the visibility of the "Water duplicate layer" created in step 10 and reduce its Opacity to 52%. Now clip a Color Balance adjustment to it and change the Midtones, Shadows and Highlights as shown.

Step 17

Place the tropical water photo at the top of the layer stack and re-size to cover the existing water. Change the Blend Mode to Screen and name this layer "Blue water".

Step 18

Hold down Option and drag the mask thumbnail from your initial "Color Balance" adjustment over the "Blue water" thumbnail to Copy / apply it to this layer. Now use some soft-edged brushes on the duplicate mask to soften the transition of the coastline a little more.

Step 19

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to this layer as shown, then reduce the Opacity of the "Blue water" layer to 31%.

Step 20

Import the first sky image as a new layer and re-size / position at the top. Fade the horizon with a Linear Gradient as before, then name the layer "Clouds 1".

Step 21

Now we'll blend the transition between the sky and horizon even further. Double-click the "Background" layer and rename it "Blue grad". Set your Background color to a slightly off white (# f4fbfe), then sample a mid-blue from the "Clouds 1" layer (I used # 62c3ee) as your Foreground color. Now Shift-drag a short Linear Gradient from the top down with the Foreground to Background preset.

Step 22

Place the second sky image as a new layer, Transform / position and label it "Clouds 2". Add a layer mask, then set your Foreground color to black. Shift-drag two Foreground to Transparent Linear Gradients on the mask to reveal just an inner band of sky. Now change the Blend Mode to Screen to eliminate the darker tones.

Step 23

Add the third sky image, re-size / position and name it "Clouds 3". Now apply the same technique to hide the bottom three quarters with a Linear Gradient mask.

Step 24

With the Gradient Tool (G) still active, click the arrow in the Options bar to open the Gradient Picker. Use the top-right fly-out menu to choose Special Effects, then click Append / OK in the following window.

Step 25

Highlight the Russell's Rainbow thumbnail, then activate the Radial preset. Add new top layer and label it "Rainbow". Now Shift-drag from the middle out to add the gradient. You can now enlarge / reduce and re-position as required. Add a mask, then hide the bottom half with a black to white Linear Gradient. Finally, change the layer Blend Mode to Soft Light.

Step 26

Highlight the top layer thumbnail, then Shift-click the base thumbnail to highlight all. Now use the fly-out menu (situated top-left in the Layers panel) to choose New Group from Layers, then in the following window label the group "MAIN SCENE".

Step 27

Open the bottle, then set the Pen Tool (P) to Paths in the Options bar. Zoom in and carefully plot a closed path fractionally inside the bottle shape.

Note: You can fine-tune your path at any time by pressing Cmd/Ctrl to access the Direct Selection Tool (A) to adjust individual direction/anchor points as required.

Step 28

Switch to your Paths tab and Cmd/Ctrl-click the path thumbnail to create a selection. Go back to your base layer, then Copy the selection to a new layer and disable the visibility of the original one. Re-name the copied layer "Bottle Multiply", then change the Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 91%. Next, clip a Color Balance adjustment and copy the following settings to increase the amount of Cyan and Blue.

Step 29

Now clip a Levels adjustment to the same layer to boost the contrast.

Step 30

Next, we need to re-color the bottle cap. Clip a Colorized Hue/Saturation adjustment to the same layer again and copy the following. Target the adjustment mask and press Cmd/Ctrl + I to Invert the mask to black, then use a small hard-edged white brush to carefully reinstate the adjustment to the cap.

Step 31

Clip a Levels adjustment, again to the same layer, then Copy the mask (as explained in Step 18) from the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer so again the adjustment is limited the cap.

Step 32

Place an empty layer at the top of the stack. Now choose Image > Apply Image. In the following window select Normal from the Blending pull-down menu and hit OK. The layer will now change to a composite from all the underlying ones. Name this layer "Bottle normal" and reduce the Opacity to 78%.

Step 33

Place, re-size and position the ice image over the bottle base, set its Blend Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 55% and label it "Ice". Add a layer mask and Invert it to negative. Cmd/Ctrl-click the "Bottle normal" thumbnail to create a layer-based selection and fill the new mask with white. Now use a selection of different sized soft brushes to hide areas as shown.

Step 34

The next stage is applying the label. We're aiming to replicate the appearance of a shrink label, where the graphics are printed directly onto a plastic sleeve that encapsulates the bottle.

Locate and open the "label.pdf" from the "source" folder via Photoshop, ensure the Resolution is set to 300 pixels/inch and leave the remaining settings as default.

Step 35

Drag it into your layered bottle file and name it "Label". Position centrally, then hit Cmd/Ctrl + T, Ctrl / right-click and choose Warp. Select the Arc Upper preset in the Options bar and pull the top central control point down to follow the contour of the bottle, then use the input fields to fine-tune it. Repeat with a modified Arc Lower preset to conform the bottom graphics.

Step 36

Temporarily switch off the visibility of the "Ice", "Label" and "Bottle normal" layers. Place an empty layer called "Bottle multiply 2" at the top of the stack and repeat the Apply Image command. Change the Blend Mode to Multiply and the Opacity to 45%, then mask from the bottle neck up with a Linear Gradient. Now enable the visibility of all layers, except for the

Step 37

No cold drinks packaging is complete without some drops of condensation, so place the water droplets image as an upper layer. Add an Inverted mask, then use some soft-edged brushes to gently blend as shown. Name this layer "Droplets overlay"

Step 38

Duplicate the "Droplets overlay" layer and rename it "Droplets Multiply". Double-click this layer to access the Layer Style window and Option-click (to split) both right Blend If sliders, then change the Blend Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 18%. Finally, set the original "Droplets overlay" to Overlay and modify the "Droplets Multiply" mask as required.

Step 39

To accentuate the water droplets a little, clip a Levels adjustment to the "Droplets overlay" layer and copy the following.

Step 40

You can now delete the original "Background" layer and place the remaining layers into a group folder called "BOTTLE". Add a mask to the folder, then create a layer-based selection from "Bottle multiply". Go to Select > Modify > Contract by 2px, then Feather by 1px. Next, click on the Add Mask button at the foot of the palette.

Using a single contracted folder mask eliminates any edge interference from layers contained within it.

Step 41

Drag the whole folder into your project file. Ensure the folder is highlighted, then position centrally and re-size to fit the width of the main rock structure.

Step 42

Next, we'll build up the island terrain. Add the first mountain range above both folders, re-size / squash horizontally and position centrally as shown. Name this layer "Mountain".

Step 43

Add a mask and Invert it to black. Now use an assortment of hard and soft brushes to paint back the mountain range and blend it into the desaturated underlying rock.

Step 44

Open the second mountain range, grab the Lasso Tool (L) and roughly select an area of grass and snow, then Copy > Paste as a new layer. Flip Horizontal to match the existing lighting and re-size / rotate as below.

Step 45

Access Wrap from the Transform menu and manually create an arched dome shape.

Step 46

Add a mask, then carefully merge the hard-edges into the mountains and shoreline. Name this layer "Green hills 1".

Step 47

We now need to modify the layer's color and tonal range. First, clip a Color Balance adjustment and boost the Midtone Green and Yellow.

Step 48

Next, clip Levels adjustment and modify the blackpoint and midpoint Input sliders to increase the contrast a little.

Step 49

Copy > Paste the bottom-right area from the third mountain range. Transform / position over the island's base and name it "Green hills 2".

Step 50

Use the same masking techniques to seamlessly merge this layer into the composition.

Step 51

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to the "Green hills 2" layer and copy these settings.

Step 52

Now clip a Levels adjustment to the same layer.

Step 53

Place this waterfall image at the top of the stack, label it "Stream" and position over the lower hills. Reduce in size, squash horizontally, then use a mask to blend it into the surroundings.

Step 54

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to the "Stream" and boost the Green and Blue Midtones to match the rest of the scene.

Step 55

Copy > Paste selections from Mountain four and Mountain one to build up / fill gaps, then mask as required. I've disabled the visibility of the non-relevant layers on the right for clarity.

Step 56

Next, add selections from Mountain two and Mountain three and position / mask accordingly.

Step 57

When you're happy with these layers, Merge them and name the resulting layer "Island patches". To keeps things tidy, place all your floating layers into a group folder called "ISLAND SCENE".

Step 58

Set the Gradient Tool (G) to 50% Opacity in the Options bar. Target the "Bottle normal" layer mask and Shift-drag a Linear Gradient to hide the bottom half to reveal more of the horizon.

Now use a soft brush on both the "Bottle multiply" and "Bottle multiply 2" masks to hide the left side of the bottle neck as indicated.

Step 59

Add a new layer called "Splashes" above the "Ice" and set your Foreground color to white. Now use an assortment of these water brushes to add some swirling movement within the bottle base.

Tip: You can flip and rotate your brush shape within the Brush tab to avoid repetition.

Step 60

Place a new layer called "Retouch" above all your folders. Set the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to Current & Below, then use an assortment of hard and soft brushes to repair any minor flaws. I've shown this layer in isolation on the right for clarity.

Step 61

Add a new layer called "White areas" at the top of the stack and use an some of these cloud brushes to paint some white mist where the bottle meets the mountain. If you overdo this step, just mask accordingly.

Step 62

Use the same brushes to paint additional clouds over the skyline on a new layer called "Extra clouds" and mask as required.

Step 63

Next, we'll apply a non-destructive dodge and burn technique to add shadow and highlight to the bottle. First, add a top layer and label it "Highlights / Shadows". Press Shift + F5 and select 50% Gray from the Contents drop-down menu. Now change the layer's Blend Mode to Overlay to render the grey invisible. From here Cmd/Ctrl-click the "BOTTLE" folder mask thumbnail to load white as a selection, grab the Brush Tool (B) and paint shadows and highlights using black and white respectively at 20% Opacity.

Tip: If you make a mistake and need to reinstate 50% Gray, set the layer back to Normal Mode and pick up the grey with the Eyedropper Tool (I), or use the Color Picker to set all three RGB fields to 128, then paint at 100% Opacity.

Step 64

At this point we need to cast a shadow from the bottle over the environment. Load the "BOTTLE" mask as a selection once more, then fill with black on a new upper layer called "Bottle shadow"

Rotate and position the layer content bottom right. Now press Cmd/Ctrl + T to access Transform, then Cmd/Ctrl-click the corner nodes to distort the shadow to follow the existing light source.

Step 65

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter 8.4px in the Radius field. Now Shift-drag a 45 degree black to white Linear Gradient (G) to fade the shadow into the island, then change the Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 30%.

Step 66

For a more realistic shadow, target the layer thumbnail and choose Filter > Noise > Add Noise and apply the following.

Step 67

Open the bird image, then add a new layer. Grab the Clone Stamp Tool (S) and set it to Current & Below in the Options bar. Now use a small soft-edged brush to remove of the object in the bird's mouth.

Step 68

When you've done, Merge the retouch layer. Now click the Refine Edge button in the Options bar and in the next window choose On Layers (L) from the View menu. Activate the Smart Radius button and set its value to 1.9px, change the Shift Edge amount to -22%. Check Decontaminate Colors with the Amount to 100% and ensure the Output To option is set to New Layer with Layer Mask and hit OK.

Step 69

When the refine Edge command is complete, you'll see a masked duplicate layer appear. Drag the mask thumbnail into the trash icon at the foot of the palette and hit the Apply button in the following window. Now drag the layer into your project file, position / re-size as shown and name it "Bird".

Step 70

Open the small birds image. Set the Magic Want Tool (W) to a Tolerance of 30 and uncheck Contiguous in the Options bar. Click to select the birds and Copy to the Clipboard.

Step 71

Paste the selection as new layer and label it "Small birds". Scale / position middle-left, then clip a Levels adjustment with the blackpoint Output slider set at 15 to distance them in the scene.

Step 72

In this step we'll add a small amount of overall sharpening. Repeat the Apply Image command on a new upper layer, then go to Filter > Other > High Pass, enter a Radius of 4px and click OK. Now change the Blend Mode to Overlay to render the grey invisible and name the layer "High pass".

Step 73

Activate Rulers (Cmd/Ctrl + R) and Guides (Cmd/Ctrl + ;), then drag / snap a central vertical guide to your canvas. Finally, use this font to add the copyline in black, then use the Character / Paragraph tabs to format it as shown.

Step 74

Screenshots of your illustration can now be utilized to create mock-ups to really impress your clients. In this example, I simply skewed the graphic over a photo of drinks machine, but the same graphic could also be applied to other advertising mediums, such as point-of-sale displays, shelf wobblers, or even outdoor advertising.

Conclusion and Scope

Why not expand on the techniques I've used in this tutorial and create your own surreal advertising imagery.