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 woodshop. 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These grunge brushes are another excellent resource for messing up the place. Very high quality, high contrast, dramatic grunge effects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These textures are excellent for nondescript backgrounds or to cover over areas in an image that need a bit of concealment.
These scratched concrete textures are ideal to layer over a pristine surface, and then you can use a blending mode to combine the textures with the surface colors.
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.
Aren't Bokehs beautiful? Our photographer brethren shouldn't get all the fun of these breathtaking specks of blurry light!
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!
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.
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.
Craft your own sea all the way to the horizon with this high-quality water texture set.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A major component of photo manipulations is having a robust library of 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.
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.
A somewhat smaller, fuller, and greener tree works as a complement to the larger one.
This is a great option for a tree that has to work with a bright daylight scene as there is obvious shadowing. Just be sure it matches the lighting of the overall scene too.
Differing types of trees help to fill out the library. This willow tree is helpful to break up the monotony of the elms and oaks.
It's a mistake to assume all the trees in a scene will always be large and mature trees. It's better to include some young saplings too.
Hands are always a challenge. Often a figure in a photograph has their hands in just the wrong position to work. That's why having a library of alternate hand positions and gestures is helpful.
Smartphones are everywhere now. Having an isolated one to mock into a photo manipulation will be more helpful than you think.
And of course, having a combination of a hand and phone is just as helpful as having each one individually.
City skylines are a good way to add depth to a landscape and give the impression of distance. While this element is clearly 3D rendered, it can easily be used as a silhouette against a sky.
The iron bars, girders, and lattice work of this image means that it can be just as useful as a source for a destruction setting too.
Create easy low-angle cameras by putting the virtual camera into the grass.
Similar to the smartphone, a laptop is a ubiquitous object that can be found in almost any populated setting, whether it's for business or at a cafe.
Polaroid cameras are not as common anymore, but the paper photo frames they produce are still well recognized.
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.
Instead of just a blank background, this pack offers a colorful, textured setting that can complement the scene without taking attention off the subject.
This pack is a little more energetic and colorful than the other entries, but can be used for an exciting surreal piece.
Classic, white studio backgrounds. They will never go out of style.
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.
If you need dramatic background settings, there are few things more dramatic than a colorful sunset over the mountains.
To add even more drama, add more mountains! You can almost feel the rush of cold mountain air in this crisp, colorful mountain background.
On the opposite end of natural backgrounds, sometimes you just need the ocean horizon and sandy shore that this image offers.
Assigning a description of "dramatic" to this well-used background is a bit like cheating. But the classic red curtain on a stage is a staple background for any photo manipulation artist.
Big buildings on a colorful sky. When that's what you need, there's no substitute for the real thing.
This image is the urban equivalent of the red curtain. The great thing about the bland colorization of the bricks is that it makes it easy to add custom colorization to get the exact hue you need.
Outside in the park. Grass, trees, sunshine. You can already imagine the scene you can build with this image.
This collection of energy and electrical backgrounds is ideal for incorporating into science fiction settings.
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.
Moody and magical, this tutorial has some excellent atmospheric techniques to learn.
This effect is a frequent one for post-apocalyptic settings. Learn how to digitally destroy buildings.
Photo manipulation is one of the few 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.
The real value of this tutorial is showing how to incorporate the areas both above and below the water surface in a believable way.
Build a robot and bang it up with this tutorial on using rust and distressing effects.
Weather effects are fun and challenging. This tutorial shows how to bring the winter home by crafting some fresh falling snow.
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 fun and impossible scenes by putting elements together that reality keeps apart. Perform digital miracles with this parting of the sea tutorial.
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.
This course features some excellent compositing work and techniques to match several elements into a single cohesive scene.
Understanding light and shadow is a critical skill when crafting a believable photo manipulation. This course explores all you need to hone that skill.
Create grand, epic, surreal scenes with this course on advanced Photoshop techniques.
Advertisements have a very specific requirement for how the product should look. Learn how to work with those requirements in this course.
This course is an excellent primer on how to approach some of the basic tasks required for Photo Manipulation artwork.
Craft a fun caricature using the power of the transform, warp, and liquify features in Photoshop. Learn how with this course.
Controlling light in a photo manipulation project is about more than just shadow agreement. This course explores some creative applications of lighting effects.
Advertisements need to grab attention. Frequently that's through photo manipulation and retouching. See those techniques in this course.
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.
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.
What Other Resources Do You Use?
I've listed quite a few resources here. But there's even more out there. Let me know in the comments what resources you use for your photo manipulation work.