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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation
Design

How to Create a Magical Butterfly Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial I'll show you how to use photo manipulation techniques in Adobe Photoshop to create a fantasy scene featuring a magic butterfly. 

First, we'll build the base scene using three stock images. After that, we'll add the model and retouch her using adjustment layers, masking, dodging and burning. Later we'll paint more hair and add the butterfly. We'll create some magic touches for the butterfly using brushes and blending modes. We'll add several adjustment layers and paint the background light to complete the final effect.

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:

1. How to Build the Base Scene

Step 1

Create a new 1500 x 1436 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:

new file

Step 2

Open the railway image. Drag this image into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V). Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

add railway

Step 3

Press Control-J to duplicate this layer. Flip it horizontally by choosing Edit >Transform > Flip Horizontal. The aim is to copy the side rail on the right and paste it to the left. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to rotate it a bit to the left to make the small rail appear proportionally with the right one.

duplicate ralway

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Select a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to erase the right and the middle of the canvas, leaving only the indicated rail visible on the left.

railway masking

Step 4

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance to give a warm atmosphere to the scene. 

railway color balance

Step 5

Create a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the railway area, especially the side and the background. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the foreground as it's far from the light (we're aiming to make the main light source in the middle of the background).

railway curves

Step 6

Drag the forest image into the main canvas and use Control-T with Warp mode to bend the top of the image a little to fit the perspective of the background. Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

add forest

Use a layer mask to clean the ground and make the forest only visible on the sides and background.

forest masking

Step 7

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 8 px.

forest gaussian blur

Step 8

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Alter the Midtones settings:

forest color balance

Step 9

Make a Curves adjustment layer to darken the forest background. On the layer mask, use a soft black brush with a low opacity (about 15-20%) to paint on the far middle as we're aiming to make the main light source there (in a later stage of the tutorial). You can see the result on the mask and on the picture.

forest curves
forest curves masking
forest curves masking result

Step 10

Open the soil image (I've chosen image 5). Place it in the lower part of the foreground.

add soil

Use a layer mask to remove the hard edges and blend the soil with the ground. Try to make the blended areas smooth and natural.

soil masking

Step 11

Create a Curves adjustment layer on top of the layers and bring the lightness down a lot. Give the far middle, the foreground, and the midground some light using the layer mask.

soil curves
soil curves masking

2. How to Retouch the Model

Step 1

Open the model image. Isolate the model from the background using your own method. I've used the Quick Mask Tool (Q) to mask out the model and place her above the middle of the railway beside the edges of the underground section.

add model

Step 2

Add a mask to the model layer and use a medium-hard black brush to remove the lowest part of the hair. It'll be helpful for painting more hair in the future.

model masking

Step 3

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to reduce the yellowish cast on the model, especially the dress.

model hue saturation 1

Step 4

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer to give the model some warm color.

model hue saturation 2

Step 5

The model looks a bit too bright, so use a Curves adjustment layer to decrease the lightness. On the layer mask, paint on the contour of the model to reveal the light there, and also on the details of the dress to show the textures.

model curves
model curves masking

Step 6

Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray:

DB new layer

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 15-20% to refine the light and shadow on the model. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode:

DB result

Step 7

To make a shadow for the model, make a new layer under the model one. Hold Control and click the thumbnail of the model layer to load her selection.

load model selection

Fill this selection with a dark brown color (#15130f) and flip it vertically. Lower the opacity of this layer to 80% and use Control-T to rotate the shadow to fit the perspective of the model.

shadow rotation

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 2 px to the shadow to soften it and use a layer mask to clean the area below the ground and reduce its visibility below the arm on the railway.

shadow masking

3. How to Paint the Hair

Step 1

It's time for painting more hair as I want to bring more of a fantasy feeling to the scene. First, create a new layer on top of the layers and turn the foreground to a medium-dark red color (#64321f, picked from the model's hair). Set the brush's size to 40-60 px and paint the base of the hair you're imagining (I recommend that you use a tablet). I've painted the base following the perspective of the ground and make it go down underground.

hair base

Step 2

Use a darker color for the brush (#1a0f0d) to paint shade for the hair. It should follow the form and flow of the hair, otherwise the result would look very messy.

hair shade

Step 3

Paint a darker shade below the model using the color #0c0605.

hair darker shade

Step 4

Use a light color for the brush (#974e33) to paint thin strands of the hairs.

hair lighter strands

Step 5

Select two very light yellow colors (#cc6f4b and #efcc8d) to paint highlights for the hair on the forehead.

hair forehead highlight

Step 6

Create a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to give volume and smoothness to the hair, making it look more realistic and natural. Also, I've painted shadow and light for the small stick and grass on the left of the canvas.

hair DB
hair DB result

4. How to Add the Butterfly

Step 1

Open the butterfly image. Select one suitable for the posture of the model and place it above her face.

add butterfly

Step 2

Double click this layer, and choose Outer Glow. Set the color of the glow to a red one (#f14321).

butterfly outer glow

Step 3

Create a Hue Saturation adjustment layer and alter the Master and Cyans values. It's to desaturate and remove the cyan area on the butterfly's wings.

butterfly hue saturation master
butterfly hue saturation cyans

Step 4

Use another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the color of the butterfly a little.

butterfly hue saturation 2

Step 5

Add a Curves adjustment layer to make the butterfly much brighter.

buterfly curves

5. How to Create the Light and Sparkles

Step 1

Create a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #f38585 to spot over the butterfly. Change this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

butterfly glowing light

Step 2

Make a new layer and change the brush's color to #f3cf85. Press F5 to change the settings of the brush:

brush settings 1
brush settings 2
brush settings 3

Use this brush to paint sparkling spots around the butterfly, the model's head, the hair, and the background. Paint small spots for the butterfly and bigger ones for the rest. Hold [ and ] to change the brush's size while painting.

paint sparkles

Step 3

Hit Control-G to group the sparkles layer into a new folder. Change the group's mode to Color Dodge 100%.

sparkles color dodge mode

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to reduce the visibility of the effect on some areas of the background and the both sides. The fade effect helps to increase the depth of the scene.

sparkles masking

6. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

Create a Color Fill layer on top of the layers and pick the color #370303. Change this layer mode to Exclusion 100%. Use a soft black brush with a low opacity (about 10%) to reduce the dark red cast on the shadow area below the model.

whole scene color fill

Step 2

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights values:

whole scene color balance highlights
whole scene color balance midtones

Step 3

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #ec8a00:

whole scene photo filter

Step 4

Add a Curves adjustment layer to bring more darkness to the scene. The selected middle section shows where to paint on the layer mask.

whole scene curves

Step 5

Create a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #200e04 to paint on the far middle and both sides of the background. Alter this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%. You can use a layer mask to reduce or remove the effect on the unwanted areas.

background light 1

Step 6

Use the same brush to paint on the front of the model to give her some light reflection. Set this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%.

background light 2

Step 7

Change the brush's color to #ecd09b and paint on the light of the far middle of the background. Alter this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

background light 3
background light 3 overlay mode

Step 8

Make a new layer and use a brush with the color #f9edd5 to paint highlights for the middle area. Set this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.

background light  4

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope that you've enjoyed the tutorial and learned something new for your own project. Feel free to share your results or leave comments in the box below. Enjoy Photoshopping!

final result
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