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10 Techniques That Are Essential for Successful Photo Manipulation Artwork

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Read Time: 11 mins

Photo manipulation techniques can be difficult master, but not hard to experiment with. Once you get the hang of it, anyone can transport their dreams onto the computer screen using Photoshop. For beginners in this field, there are ten main points to consider in photo manipulation. Let's review these to help you make successful photo manipulation based artwork.


Photo manipulation techniques are used by many designers to create extremely creative works of art. It is enormously popular amongst most graphic designers who choose to use Photoshop. And the great thing is; once you understand the key focus points in photo manipulation, you can create anything you can dream of.

The wildest imagery to the simplest idea can be conveyed through Photoshop using photo manipulation. Let's review ten focus points for successful photo manipulation and review links to professional photo manipulation artists. These ten examples are in no particular order of importance.

1. Rendering Your Images

We all know that photo manipulations take various images (either stock images or ones you've photographed yourself) and merge them with others on a Photoshop canvas. Now let's say we are in need of a tree, and we need to cut it out and carry it to where we will use it for a manipulation. Well if that is the case then we will need to cut it out, but a tree is not the easiest thing to cut out, there are leaves, branches, and shadows that mess up ones rendering.

Most people who are familiar with Photoshop use the Pen tool to cut out there images, but if the image is incredibly hard to cut out then even the Pen tool will not help you. So you might consider using a program called Vertus Fluid Mask. This program lets you render out images in a matter of minutes using special masking tools that you can not find in Photoshop.

We can't have images in our photo manipulation that have rugged edges, or parts of it with an old background, so that's why I recommend using this program. Below are some examples of the results of rendering with the program.

2. Shadows

I will stress this more than once in this article so you can understand how important this is to a successful photo manipulation. When you're going to make one you want it to be as realistic looking as possible; and I don't mean realistic in the way that you see flying cars or magical dragons. I mean realistic in the way that every item has a shadow if it needs one and every item is proportional to everything else on your canvas.

Photo manipulations are made so that you can bring out things that would never happen in the real world. Shadows are our next focus and the second technique you should know before starting a photo manipulation project.

Below is a piece of art made for a slashTHREE art pack. It's a great examples of how shadows can add to the realism of your photo manipulation, even when it's a fantasy scene.

Look carefully at the image and notice that the airplanes have shadows under them. The paint brush, pencil, and the paint bucket all have shadows under them, which all add to the realism of the photo manipulation.

Now making shadows is a whole other discussion, but a simple way to make them is to duplicate your original stock that you need the shadow for. Then turn it completely black. Then add a Gaussian Blur to it. Then you can reduce it in size and put it in the correct place.

Artist: mOsk - Artwork: Afterlife

3. Proportion

Now proportion is probably one of the most important things a person has to grasp if he wants to do photo manipulations. You can not have your dog bigger than your house, or your horse bigger than your car.

If you're going to make a design that is extremely farfetched, than you have to make it look realistic and proportion makes a huge difference in how realistic your art looks. You have to remember where you want to place your images. Below is an example of great proportioning. You can see that there is a castle all the way in the back of the image and note how small it is.

You have to remember that images that are supposed to be far away have to be smaller than the ones that are closer to you. Notice how the second castle to the right is proportioned to look big but not too big because it is near the horses. The mountains are proportioned to be big enough to go in front of the castle. The trees are correctly proportional to the size of the horses. So remember that every image you use should be used in proportional harmony.

Artists: brodi and Phektion - Artwork: Equidae

4. Texture Use

Now textures don't necessarily add to the realism of your art, but they do add a nice kick to blend all your images together evenly. Blending is a huge part of photo manipulation, so textures are something you have to carefully pick out.

Textures add to the depth of your art. If you are trying to go for a photo manipulation that is dark and dirty looking you can use a rough ground surface as a background texture; or if you are looking for something smoother you can use paper, or a wall texture. There are many textures you can consider using for your art, and a website that has links to many textures is Blue Vertigo. They have links to many sites that distribute free textures.

Below is a photo manipulation with a grungy and dark feel to it. It uses a nice cracked surface texture. The three dimensional elements that the artist's used are about the same color as the texture, so they blend beautifully. Remember if you do not have a background for your photo manipulation, you should use a texture that will match the mood you are trying to set in your art.

Artists: nemuis and Destiny952 - Artwork: Wake

5. Picking Stock Images

Selecting stock images is the first thing you should do after you already have your idea. You have to remember that you can not always cut out every stock you have perfectly, as some stock images are sometimes just taken at bad angles, or have slight blurriness, so you wont be able to use them.

Let's look at several examples of stock images that should be used in your manipulations. Let's also look at examples of those that should be used. First off a great place to find good free stock images is Stock.xchng.

So look below and see image 1, which should not be used because it is too blurry for our purposes. It is a fine photo for other purposes, but not photo manipulation. This image would be difficult to work with on top of a colored background or overlaying a texture.

Now if you are looking for a nice junkyard car image, number 2 would be perfect to use because it is very large and you can clearly see every angle and shape of the car. Plus this image would go perfect with a nice grungy texture background.

Next look at image 3. This image would be difficult to use. It would be a hassle rendering this blurry image, and even if you do, the cars are not seen that well. It's difficult to work with a blurry image in photo manipulations and it's better to pick sharp images.

Finally let's look at image 4. This is a clean image we can easily render and use for any kind of manipulation.

6. Color Blending

Not every image you use is going to match your background, your texture, or even your other images. So that is where color blending comes in. Things like Photo Filters and Gradient Maps are used in Photoshop to either add or take away color in your images. This either gives a certain image that little boost of color, or takes away that extra color. This helps the images blend with one another and most importantly form a nice coherent work of art.

An excellent example of color blending is shown below. We see many types of different flowers throughout the whole piece. Even with a large amount, they still blend very nicely to form a whole.

Colors like pink, white, yellow, and orange blend together easily. So that is what you should look for at first; colors that already blend. Then use Photoshop's Photo Filters or Gradient Maps to manipulate the colors of the images to blend well.

Artist: Fiorinox - Artwork: Spring

7. Emphasis on Detail

When creating a piece of art set one area as the main focus. You want to draw viewers eyes instantly to that spot. There are multiple techniques to do that. One way is to work on focusing attention on the most vibrant, colorful, or sharp area in the design.

A great example of emphasis on a certain part of a design in in the artwork below. The fire is the first thing that catches your eye. The fire is the most vibrant and brightest part of the image, so it instantly stands out. And that is exactly what you want, you want something to suddenly stand out when someone looks at your piece of art.

Artists: timic and eigeni - Artwork: Leave In Style

8. Combining Multiple Images

Images are like missing puzzle pieces, without them you can never fully complete the puzzle. So choose them carefully. You may need to look at multiple stock images before choosing the right ones for your composition.

You need to plan your composition. Before opening Photoshop, take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Then sketch our your design. If you're only doing a rough sketch, it takes about two minutes at the most. Consider where the stock images will go as you sketch. Decide the kinds of images you'll need to find.

An example of great use of stock images is below. I love this piece because you can see there are a variety of images used. Notice everything in the composition. Look at the background scenery, the flower, and cassette tapes for example.

There is a plethora of images in this artwork, but the composition maintains its coherency. In your design you can use a multitude of images, but they all have to flow properly, and be used to your advantage.

Artist: ishbu - Artwork: Dancers Odyssey

9. C4D Uses

Not everyone who uses Photoshop knows what C4D files are. So let me give a quick introduction to them. C4D's are 4D images made from a program named Cinema 4D.

They are often these abstract works. They can be used to enhance the feel of your work, and give it an even nicer look. Let's look at how C4D meets an image and blends beautifully.

The example below shows two ships on the verge of sinking. We have a deep and long background filled with an endless shot of sky and water. The C4D blends great with the boats and gives off a nice effect by making it look like it's coming from the ocean.

The use of C4D art or 3D renders can improve your photo manipulation. In this case, it gave it a nice futuristic and abstract effect that is difficult to achieve using normal stock images.

Artist: Exile - Artwork: At Worlds End

10. Enhancing a Stock Image

Now our last technique shows how to enhance a stock image to your advantage. Stock images are often plain. It is your job to turn them into something more attractive to the eye. This is where stock enhancement comes into play.

The example below shows how a simple bonsai tree can be turned into a towering oak. The final composition has more branches and level and interest. The stock has been transformed.

The designer took an image of a normal bonsai tree and duplicated it, changed sizes, manipulated its sides, and added more tree stocks. This made it look impressive. Notice the original stock shown below the cropped image of the composition - a dramatic difference.

Artist: pkw - Artwork: Eternal Inferno


Remember these ten techniques. Go over them a couple of times then trying to make another your next photo manipulation, as they are excellent points to consider. Do this and I guarantee that a great piece of art will come out this time. Focus on these points and you'll excel in photo manipulation art.

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