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  1. Design & Illustration
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Design

Essential Resources for Photo Manipulation Artists

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What You'll Be Creating

Adobe Photoshop is the premiere photo manipulation tool of our time—few people would dispute that. But do you need more to finely hone that craft? 

If we were to compare photo manipulation to carpentry, then photos and pixels would be the raw wood, and Photoshop would be the wood shop. But those individual tools used to shape and form the material into something special? Those saws, sanders, drills, planes, and routers? That's the equivalent of these resources. 

Let's take a look at some of the essential resources for a photo manipulation artist. Find more photo manipulation resources on GraphicRiver and Envato Elements.

Brushes

Brushes are one of the most used resources in Photoshop. There's no better way to add specific marks to an image in exactly the spot you want. Custom brushes are ideal for breaking an image away from the perfect computer-generated appearance and closer to something you'd expect to see in reality.

Nebula Brushes

With Nebula brushes, you can control the number of stars that appear in the sky with just a few short clicks. Rely on high-quality brush packs like this one because it's fully customizable. Just download the pack to get started with amazing Nebula brushes.

Nebula Brushes
Nebula Brushes

Smoke Brushes

Smoke is one of those naturally occurring elements that can be extremely difficult to paint by hand. But with a set of good-quality smoke brushes, you won't need to—just a single click can lay down a perfect column of smoke!

Smoke Brushes
Smoke Brushes

Cloud Brushes

Closely related to smoke brushes, cloud brushes can provide an easy means of crafting airborne vapor to create stunning landscapes. Be sure to use a good variety as obvious repetition will destroy the illusion.

Cloud Brushes
Cloud Brushes

Light Effects

Lighting effect brushes are a specialized set that may not be used regularly. But when you encounter the situation that needs them, it's a massive time saver to already have a set of brushes to use instead of needing to craft the effect manually.

Light Effects
Light Effects

Ink Scratches

Much of a photo manipulator's job requires adding realistic and believable wear and tear to a digitally generated surface. Having a set of dirty, scratchy brushes is just one way to make that task easier.

Ink Scratches
Ink Scratches

Bird Silhouette Brushes

If you are working on a landscape, or an image of something the size of a building, one of the best ways to communicate scale is to use bird silhouettes. But if you don't have to draw them, then it's easier and faster for you to get back to focusing on the primary subject. These brushes are excellent for that.

Bird Silhouette Brushes
Bird Silhouette Brushes

Dust Brushes

In the real world, dust surrounds us. In the digital world, it doesn't appear naturally at all. Use these dust brushes to add some of that dusty reality to your digital work.

Dust Brushes
Dust Brushes

Snow and Rain Brushes

Creating convincing weather effects can be a challenge if you are attempting to craft them by hand. But with this wide assortment of snow and rain brushes, the task is really quite easy.

Snow and Rain Brushes
Snow and Rain Brushes

Dirt Brushes

These brushes are a step up from the dust brushes and offer a selection of really dirty and grimy effects that can add a distressed appearance to any digital surface. 

Dirt Brushes
Dirt Brushes

Grunge Brushes

These grunge brushes are another excellent resource for messing up the place. Very high-quality, high-contrast, dramatic grunge effects.

Grunge Brushes
Grunge Brushes

More Grunge Brushes

These brushes are more subtle and refined. And unlike the other sets of brushes, these are expected to be used as more than just a stamp.

More Grunge Brushes
Grunge Brushes

Metal Sparks

When metal strikes metal, it often creates a spark. That's an excellent visual indicator that contact has been made. Use these brushes to easily craft the spark effect.

Metal Sparks
Metal Sparks

Fog Brushes

At first glance you might think that adding atmosphere is just a simple gradient. But, in reality, fog behaves much more like a flowing liquid. Use these fog brushes to give realism to your atmospheric work.

Fog Brushes
Fog Brushes

Electrical Lightning Brushes

These electrical brushes are great for when you need to create a lighting strike, or a ball of energy. They produce much more realistic effects than any filtering trick you can produce inside Photoshop.

Electrical Lightning Brushes
Electrical Lighting Brushes

Stroke Brushes

If you're hoping to incorporate more traditional art elements into your photo manipulations then this brush pack is definitely the way to go. It includes 30 Photoshop stroke brushes hand-crafted to simulate the look of real acrylic art.

Stroke Brushes
Stroke Brushes

Textures

Textures are similar to brush resources but are used slightly differently. Textures can generally cover more canvas space than brushes, and they offer the advantage of carrying color information while brushes don't.

Texture Lights

Set the scene of your next underwater photo manipulation with this brilliant texture package. This pack includes 12 different backgrounds to make your work look truly unique.

Texture Lights Backgrounds
Texture Lights Backgrounds

Stone, Concrete, Plaster Textures

These textures are excellent for nondescript backgrounds or to cover over areas in an image that need a bit of concealment.

Stone Concrete Plaster
Stone, Concrete, Plaster Textures

Scratched Concrete Textures

These scratched concrete textures are ideal for layering over a pristine surface, and then you can use a blending mode to combine the textures with the surface colors.

Scratched Concrete Textures
Scratched Concrete Textures

Seamless Grass Textures

One of the challenges of filling an area with digital grass is getting the scale correct and still filling the expanse. These grass textures tile seamlessly so they can be set to a custom pattern and used to quickly fill a ground area without worry.

Seamless Grass
Seamless Grass Textures

Bokeh Textures

Aren't Bokehs beautiful? Our photographer brethren shouldn't get all the fun of these breathtaking specks of blurry light!

Bokeh Textures
Bokeh Textures

Urban Texture Vol. 1

Add a little urban texture to your apocalyptic environments. This set includes 15 high-resolution urban textures that are perfect both for photo manipulations and as interesting website headers.

Urban Texture Vol 1
Urban Texture Vol. 1

Natural Rock and Stone Textures

The textures created by natural rocks and stones are quite useful to break up a distractedly pristine surface. The fact that these tile seamlessly is icing on the cake!

Natural Rock and Stone Textures
Natural Rock and Stone Textures

Luxury Leather Textures

Similar to rock or concrete textures, leather textures are ideal for adding some surface textures. These Luxury Leathers are perfect for human crafted items like book covers or handbags.

Luxury Leather Textures
Luxury Leather Textures

Shattered Glass Textures

If you've ever attempted to draw out a shatter effect, you will realize just how valuable these textures are for creating realistic broken surface effects.

Shattered Glass Textures
Broken Glass

Water Textures

Craft your own sea all the way to the horizon with this high-quality water texture set.

Water Textures
Water Textures

Hand-Stained Paper Textures

This gorgeous set of hand-stained paper textures is a great way to add gritty realism to any paper or parchment elements. They are also excellent for creating an overlaying effect.

Hand Stained Paper Textures
Hand-Stained Paper Textures

Scratched Metal Textures

These textures are a favorite of 3D artists to use as materials on 3D surfaces. But they are equally useful for photo manipulation projects where you need to give an item a metallic sheen.

Scratched Metal Textures
Scratched Metal Textures

Light Grunge Textures

Whether you're recreating the look of destruction or just need to add a quick retro touch to your designs, a grunge texture pack will definitely satisfy any scenario. This pack, for instance, includes 10 high-quality light grunge textures that are perfect for your next project.

Light Grunge Textures
Light Grunge Textures

Actions

There is no bigger time-saving feature in Photoshop than Actions. If you've been using actions just as a way to make it quicker to resize images or change color modes, then you haven't even scratched the surface of the true potential of these tools.

Architekt 2 Photoshop Action

Turn your images into an instant work of art with this Photoshop action. This action creates electric futuristic effects in just a few quick steps. Simply brush over the area you would like to apply the effect, and then press play. It's that simple!

Architekt 2 Photoshop Action
Architekt 2 Photoshop Action

Premium Action Set

This huge set of premium actions contains some of the best finishing effects you will ever need. All at the touch of the Play button! Don't waste time trying to create your own high key or aged HDR effect. Just use an action and let Photoshop do it for you.

Premium Actions Set
Premium Action Set

Image Enlarger Action

Anybody who has done any extensive work with pixels understands the inherent limitations of the medium. Those limitations are no more apparent than when attempting to enlarge an image. That's why actions like this Image Enlarger can feel like sorcery. There are still limitations, but this action pushes those back beyond what was previously possible.

Image Enlarger Action
Image Enlarger Action

Soft Focus Action

Pair this Soft Focus action with the Bokeh brushes for a truly dreamlike effect that can make even a mediocre photo appear like something special.

Soft Focus Action
Soft Focus Action

Luminosity Masks

This valuable action doesn't do anything to the actual image. But what it does is build in controls to easily adjust specific tonal values within your image. This makes it simple to get seamless control over shadows, highlights, midtones, and more!

Luminosity Masks
Luminosity Masks

HDR Photo FX

The HDR effect has seen a bit of a downturn in popularity recently, but with 25 different effects at the touch of a button, this action allows for some fine, subtle HDR effects that are a great way to finish off your image.

HDR Photo FX
HDR Photo FX

Background Removal Pro

How much time have you spent trying to extract a figure or object from the background? Once you use this action, your answer will be "too much."  This includes two options: a rapid remover for white backgrounds and an intense remover for colored backgrounds.

Background Removal Pro
Background Removal Pro

Magic Retouch Pro

This action provides professional-level portrait cleanups at the touch of a button. This is hugely beneficial for working with model shots you want to comp into your photo manipulations.

Magic Retouch Pro
Magic Retouch Pro

Dispersion 2 Effect

This action is an update from the same author's original dispersion effect. This one works even better than the original and creates an energetic effect that would take hours to create otherwise.

Dispersion 2 Effect
Dispersion 2 Effect

Double Exposure Effect

The double exposure effect is enjoying quite a bit of popularity recently. It's not excessively difficult to produce by hand, but this action makes it extremely simple so you don't have to.

Double Exposure Effect
Double Exposure Effect

Dodge and Burn Action

There are so many methods for dodging and burning in Photoshop that it's hard to keep track of which one is currently considered the best. This action takes that guesswork out of the process.

Dodge and Burn Action
Dodge and Burn Action

Natural Post Processing Actions

This action is a no-nonsense method of providing very natural finishing effects like sharpening and color boosting. All with stops to provide easy means of tweaking the effect to match your needs.

Natural Post Processing Actions
Natural Post Processing Actions

Dimension Photoshop Action

Or use a Photoshop action to create awesome effects like this one. This Dimension Photoshop Action allows you to apply a surreal portal effect to your photos. Choose from eight different glass patterns to customize your effect fast.

Dimension Photoshop Action
Dimension Photoshop Action

3D Objects

A major component of photo manipulations is having a robust library of 3D natural objects to composite into a scene. Usually these are just regular ordinary types of objects that won't draw attention but can be used to populate a background.

3D Trees

Trees are always a great element to have on hand. The biggest problem is that if you repeat them too often it becomes obvious, so you need to have a good library of different types. This is great starting place with a very basic large tree.

3D Trees
3D Trees

Transportation

Whether you're building a manipulation around a fast car or a cute scooter, 3D objects certainly help to position your object in place. Add a little pizazz to your designs using realistic transportation models.

Transportation
Transportation

Backgrounds

Backgrounds are intended to be overlooked by the viewer. But for the photo manipulation artist, the background is just as important as the rest of the elements, possibly even more so as it sets the tone of the piece.

City Lights Backgrounds

The hustle and bustle of the big city is shown through this gorgeous bokeh background. And when that's all that you need in a manipulation, there's no substitute for the real thing.

City Lights Backgrounds
City Lights Backgrounds

Scratched Background Modern Grunge With Lighting

Instead of just a blank background, this pack offers a colorful, textured setting that can complement the scene without taking attention off the subject.

Scratched Background Modern Grunge With Lighting
Scratched Background Modern Grunge With Lighting

Web 2.0 Background Pack

This pack is a little more energetic and colorful than the other entries, but it can be used for an exciting surreal piece.

Web 20 Background Pack
Web 2.0 Background Pack

Space Backgrounds

Add a spacey mood to your set up with these pristine space backgrounds. This set includes 10 Nebula space backgrounds perfect for any creative project. Just drop them into Photoshop to get started right away!

Space Backgrounds
Space Backgrounds

Photo Studio Backgrounds

Classic, white studio backgrounds. They will never go out of style.

Photo Studio Backgrounds
Photo Studio Backgrounds

Clean Floor Reflective Background 

This type of background is mostly used for product shots but can also be used as reflection maps for shiny elements within a photo manipulation.

Clean Floor Reflective Background
Clean Floor Reflective Background

Powerful Backgrounds

This collection of energy and electrical backgrounds is ideal for incorporating into science fiction settings.

Powerful Backgrounds
Powerful Backgrounds

Brick Wall

This image is the urban equivalent of the red curtain. The great thing about the colorization of the bricks is that it makes it easy to add custom colors to get the exact hue you need. So download an awesome brick wall background today!

Brick Wall
Brick Wall

Tutorials

Along with the tools needed to create photo manipulation effects, it's important to have the skills to wield them. These free tutorials are a great place to start honing those skills.

How to Create a Misty Landscape Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop

Moody and magical, this tutorial has some excellent atmospheric techniques to learn.

How to Create a Misty Landscape Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop
How to Create a Misty Landscape Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop

Create a City Destruction Scene Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

This effect is a frequent one for post-apocalyptic settings. Learn how to digitally destroy buildings.

Create a City Destruction Scene Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop
Create a City Destruction Scene Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

Photo manipulation is one of the art forms that can really unlock the imagination of the artist. This tutorial is a prime example of how to capture those surreal visions with pixels.

How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop
How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

How to Create a Surreal Underwater Scene With Adobe Photoshop

The real value of this tutorial is showing how to incorporate the areas both above and below the water surface in a believable way. 

How to Create a Surreal Underwater Scene With Adobe Photoshop
How to Create a Surreal Underwater Scene With Adobe Photoshop

Create Unique Rust and Distress Effects in Adobe Photoshop

Build a robot and bang it up with this tutorial on using rust and distressing effects.

Create Unique Rust and Distress Effects in Adobe Photoshop
Create Unique Rust and Distress Effects in Adobe Photoshop

How to Add Realistic Falling Snow to a Photo in Photoshop

Weather effects are fun and challenging. This tutorial shows how to bring the winter home by crafting some fresh falling snow.

How to Add Realistic Falling Snow to a Photo in Photoshop
How to Add Realistic Falling Snow to a Photo in Photoshop

Create a Post-Apocalyptic Movie Poster in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign

Some of the best applications of photo manipulation techniques are found on movie posters. This tutorial explores how to craft one with striking results.

Create a Post-Apocalyptic Movie Poster in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign
Create a Post-Apocalyptic Movie Poster in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign

Create a Surreal "Parting of the Sea" Photo Manipulation

Create fun and impossible scenes by putting elements together that reality keeps apart. Perform digital miracles with this parting of the sea tutorial.

Create a Surreal Parting of the Sea Photo Manipulation
Create a Surreal "Parting of the Sea" Photo Manipulation

Courses

For more in-depth instruction of photo manipulation techniques, try these courses. The courses have the benefit of being video-based, and you can see exactly how the effects are produced.

How to Create a Surreal Scene With Photo Manipulation

This course features some excellent compositing work and techniques to match several elements into a single cohesive scene.

How to Create a Surreal Scene With Photo Manipulation
How to Create a Surreal Scene With Photo Manipulation

Using Light and Shadow in Photo Manipulation

Understanding light and shadow is a critical skill when crafting a believable photo manipulation. This course explores all you need to hone that skill.

Using Light and Shadow in Photo Manipulation
Using Light and Shadow in Photo Manipulation

Advanced Adobe Photoshop Techniques

Create grand, epic, surreal scenes with this course on advanced Photoshop techniques.

Advanced Adobe Photoshop Techniques
Advanced Adobe Photoshop Techniques

Advanced Photo Manipulation for Advertisements

Advertisements have a very specific requirement for how the product should look. Learn how to work with those requirements in this course.

Advanced Photo Manipulation for Advertisements

Photo Manipulation Fundamentals

This course is an excellent primer on how to approach some of the basic tasks required for Photo Manipulation artwork.

Photo Manipulation Fundamentals
Photo Manipulation Fundamentals

Fluid Photo Manipulation: Transform, Warp, Liquify

Craft a fun caricature using the power of the transform, warp, and liquify features in Photoshop. Learn how with this course.

Fluid Photo Manipulation Transform Warp Liquify
Fluid Photo Manipulation: Transform, Warp, Liquify

Creative Lighting Effects in Adobe Photoshop

Controlling light in a photo manipulation project is about more than just shadow agreement. This course explores some creative applications of lighting effects. 

Creative Lighting Effects in Adobe Photoshop
Creative Lighting Effects in Adobe Photoshop

Advanced Retouching Techniques for Advertisements

Advertisements need to grab attention. Frequently that's through photo manipulation and retouching. See those techniques in this course.

Advanced Retouching Techniques for Advertisements
Advanced Retouching Techniques for Advertisements

Mastering Blending Modes for Adobe Photoshop

Blending modes are a workhorse feature of Photoshop that can do what other features can't. All without fuss or ceremony. Learn their power here.

Mastering Blending Modes for Adobe Photoshop
Mastering Blending Modes for Adobe Photoshop

Selections and Masking in Adobe Photoshop

Nobody enjoys making difficult selections in Photoshop. It's even less fun when those selections turn out poorly. Learn how to make good selections, even of difficult elements, in this course.

Selections and Masking in Adobe Photoshop
Selections and Masking in Adobe Photoshop

What Other Resources Do You Use?

I've listed quite a few resources here, but there are even more out there. Let me know in the comments what resources you use for your photo manipulation work.

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