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How to Create a Minimalist La Llorona Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

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Read Time: 12 min
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Today, we will be bringing the infamous ghost from Mexican folklore La Llorona, otherwise known as the "Weeping Woman", to life using Adobe Photoshop!  

The lore goes that La Llorona killed her own children in a fit of grief, and then shortly after she killed herself. At the gates of heaven, she was challenged over the whereabouts of her missing children, and then not permitted to enter until she found them. Llorona is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching for her drowned offspring. You can hear her constantly weeping, hence her name "La Llorona".

To bring this ghost to life, we will be looking at how you can use multiple versions of stock from the same photo shoot effectively, along with how to create an intense, high-contrast, grungy color grading effect. Finally, we will be learning how to use gold in our designs to give our art impact while still keeping it minimalist!

What You'll Need

You'll need the following resources to complete this project:

Find more resources on Envato Elements!

1. How to Create a Grungy Background 

First, we are going to create a grungy base for our ghost to be placed in. I love using dust and hair particles backgrounds in minimalist pieces to add a slight touch of texture to a background, without being distracting. We want all the focus to be on our subject!

Step 1  

Create a New Document.


  • Size: 6054 x 7566 px
  • Resolution: 300 DPI

Drag and drop texture "01" from the "Dust and Hair Particles" texture pack. Enlarge the texture significantly using the Move Tool (V). 

Step 2

Add a Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to the enlarged texture. 


  • Radius: 30 px
Blur background Blur background Blur background

Step 3

Drag and drop texture "03" from the "Dust and Hair Particles" texture pack. Enlarge and place it over texture "01". Set the layer's Layer Mode to Lighten.  

Add a slight Gaussian Blur to the second texture. 


  • Radius: 10 px

Group all the background layers into a group named "Background".

final layers final layers final layers

2. How to Create a Ghostly Woman

Next, we will be creating La Llorona herself using four different stock images. However, as all of the stock images were shot in similar conditions, they will blend seamlessly together. 

When shooting your own stock images or looking for stock online, it's important to try to keep the lighting and image quality consistent throughout the different stock images!

You can do this by shooting all your stock at one time or by using stock images from the same photographer and photo shoot. 

Step 1

Place and size our first ballerina in the middle of the canvas. She will be the main body of our ghost. 

place modelplace modelplace model

Step 2

Duplicate the ghost's body, setting the duplicate to Lighten and bringing it above the original. Hide the "Lighten" layer.

Add a Layer Mask to the "Ghost Body" layer, masking out the background using a very large, soft, round Brush with black. 

Go in with a medium, soft to semi-hard round Brush and mask out most of the body, arm, and head. 

Brush Settings

  • Size: 400 to 1700 px
  • Hardness: 0 to 70%
  • Color: Black
extract model  extract model  extract model

Step 3

Turn the "Lighten" layer back on, adding a Layer Mask to it. Using the same large, soft, round Brush, mask out the background of the layer.

Do not mask out any of the body, only the background!

lighten layer lighten layer lighten layer

Why We Mixed Lighten and Normal, and Why We Didn't Extract Our Subject  

While normally we might use the Pen Tool or maybe the Lasso Tool to extract our subject, a soft round Brush works just fine as we don't need to be precise!

This is because the layer is set to Lighten, which will hide a lot of the background automatically as the image's original background was quite dark to begin with. 

However, that means that once we place objects behind our subject, the subject will appear to be see-through, which works well in this case! But we still want our subject to retain some level of solidity, especially in her body and face, which is why we added the Normal layer below our Lighten layer.

We mask back in the Normal layer on any portion of the ghost we want to appear solid. This is my go-to technique for ghosts! 

Step 4

Duplicate the "Lighten Layer", bringing the duplicate forward. Change the layer mode to Multiply. 

Add a Layer Mask on the "Multiply" layer, filling the layer mask with black by inverting it using Control-I. 

Using a medium, soft, round Brush set to a low flow, mask back in some of the dark "Multiply" layer, focusing on the face, inner arm, and body. Avoid painting on the background and on the outer limbs or cloth.

Brush Settings

  • Flow: 15%
  • Color: Black
multiply layer multiply layer multiply layer

Step 5

Repeat Step 4 with a second duplicate Multiply layer, only this time set the layer Opacity to 75%. Further darken portions of the ghost body and face just as before. 

Group the four ghost images together, naming the group "Ghost Body".

second multiply layer  second multiply layer  second multiply layer

Step 6

Duplicate the "Ghost Body" group twice, and Right-Click > Merge Group both groups so you have two copies of the ghost's body. Set both duplicates to Lighten. 

Position them so that there are extra arms reaching from the left and right side of the ghost. Flip them vertically and horizontally for more variation. 

Mask out any unwanted area of the bodies, being careful to make sure all the cloth blends seamlessly. 

add more arms add more arms add more arms

Step 7

Bring in another ballerina.

Add a Layer Mask and set the layer to Lighten. Mask out everything but the arms using a soft round Brush. 

add more arms add more arms add more arms

Step 8

Create and clip a Brightness/Contrast layer into the pair of ghost arms.

Brightness/Contrast Settings

  • Brightness: -53
  • Contrast: 61
bc settings bc settings bc settings

Step 9

Position another ballerina on top of the ghost body so that her skirt becomes the new bottom of our ghost. 

Add a Layer Mask and set her layer to Lighten. Mask out the subject and her background so that we only see her skirt. Being sure to blend the skirt carefully into the existing ghost's body.

Add a Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to the bottom of the skirt, if needed, using the Lasso Tool with a high Feather.  

add skirt add skirt add skirt

Step 10

Create and clip a Brightness/Contrast layer into the skirt we just created. 

Brightness/Contrast Settings

  • Brightness: -42
  • Contrast: 100
bc settings bc settings bc settings

Step 11

Repeat the above steps as many times as you want, adding as many arms as you want.

It's also a great way to add flowing cloth or elongate the veil. Remember to blend, blend, blend! But don't worry about blending color for now, just the edges!

I used one last ballerina on mine.

Group all of the ghost layers together, including the "Ghost Body" group, and name the new group "Ghost".

final layers final layers final layers

3. How to Create Dark, Grungy Color Grading

Next up, we will be applying a high-contrast color grading over our whole image. Usually, this is one of the last steps in my process, but due to the drastic change that occurs after the color grade is applied, we will be adding it now.

Keep in mind that these layers will be kept above all other layers from now on. All future layers will be beneath these layers! 

Step 1

We will be creating our color grade layers from the bottom up, using adjustment layers. 

Create a black-to-white Gradient Map adjustment layer to add contrast to the image. 


  • Gradient: Black to White
  • Layer Mode: Overlay
  • Opacity: 32%
add gradient map add gradient map add gradient map

Step 2

Create a Color Lookup adjustment layer in Moonlight to take away light and bring in some dark blue. 


  • 3DLUT: Moonlight
  • Opacity: 35%
  • Blend If: Adjust the Blend If toggles to what you see below to bring in highlights. 
blend if settings blend if settings blend if settings
blend if results blend if results blend if results

How Do You Use the Blend If Function?

Double-Click a layer to open up its Layer Style panel where Blend If is located.

Hold Control to separate and move the toggles independently of each other. Depending on which slider you move, you will be adjusting how much of the current layer shows on the Underlying Layer's highlights or shadows. 

Blend If is incredibly powerful, and I highly recommend experimenting with it!  

Step 3

Create a Color Lookup adjustment layer in Filmstock to add more contrast to the image. 


  • 3DLUT: Filmstock
  • Opacity: 39%
add color lookupadd color lookupadd color lookup

Step 4

Create a Color Lookup adjustment layer in FoggyNight to bring in a blue, foggy cast of color. 


  • 3DLUT: FoggyNight
  • Opacity: 50%
add color lookupadd color lookupadd color lookup

Step 5

Create a Color Lookup adjustment layer in Kodak 5218 2383 to further bring in color and contrast.

This option is only available in Photoshop CC. 


  • 3DLUT: Kodak 5218 2383
  • Opacity: 76%
add color lookup add color lookup add color lookup

Step 6

Create a Color Lookup adjustment layer in DropBlues to remove most, if not all, blue tones from the image. 


  • 3DLUT: DropBlues
  • Layer Mode: Color
ad color lookup ad color lookup ad color lookup

Step 7

Create a Color Lookup adjustment layer in TensionGreen to create a subtle wash of green over the entire image.


  • 3DLUT: TensionGreen
  • Opacity: 15%

Group all of the color grading layers together into a group named "Color Grade".

Lock the group using the Lock All function so that we don't accidentally click or edit any of the color grade layers while creating the rest of our image. 

final layers  final layers  final layers

4. How to Create Gold Leaf Sacred Geometry 

Gold is one of my favorite textures to use in minimalistic pieces as it adds so much detail and interest, without taking away from the minimalistic visuals!

You can also use the Goldish Kit. For Photoshop for a variety of gold effect!

Step 1

Drag and drop "Shape 3" from the Sacred Geometric shape pack. 

Place and size the circle shape behind our ghost's head. Size and clip a gold texture into the circle shape. 

add circle add circle add circle

Step 2

Create and clip a New Layer above the "gold texture" layer. Set the Opacity to 36% and the layer mode to Multiply. 

Using a large, soft, round Brush, paint dark brown on the bottom left portion of the circle, creating a shadow.

Brush Settings

  • Color: Brown #251008
add shadow add shadow add shadow

Step 3

Create and clip a second New layer above the "Shadow" layer. Set the layer to Screen. 

Paint a soft but bright yellow reflection on the upper-left half of the circle. 

Brush Settings

  • Color: Bright Yellow #e8c94c
ad lighting ad lighting ad lighting

Step 4

Drag and drop "Shape 26" from the Sacred Geometric shape pack, placing it above the previous shape. 

add ring add ring add ring

Step 5

Repeat steps 2 and 3, giving the new shape the same golden texture.

I personally reversed the lighting of the new gold shape, placing the light on the right side of the ring and the shadow on the left. This is to give the gold more variation, but you can make the highlights more uniform—it's up to you! 

add texture add texture add texture

Step 6

Group all of the gold layers into a group named "Gold". 

Create and clip a Gradient Map layer into the group. Create a gold gradient similar to what you see below.

Gradient Map Settings

  • Color 1: #87461c
  • Color 2: #ad6d16
  • Color 3: #ca9d40
  • Color 4: #e7d63e
  • Color 5: #fffbcb
  • Color 6: #ffffff
gold gradient map settings gold gradient map settings gold gradient map settings
results results results

5. How to Create Underwater Bubbles

To finish everything off and bring the La Llorona theme together, we will be adding some underwater style bubbles.

While you can paint your own bubbles, you can also use these premade Colorful soap bubbles! They might not seem very horror-like, but we will change that!  

Step 1

Open up the Colorful soap bubbles PSD, and drag and drop the whole "Wiggling Bubbles" group full of bubbles onto our La Llorona canvas. 

Make sure the "Wiggling Bubbles" group is above the "Ghost" group, and shrink the bubbles substantially!

Set the group to Screen. 

drag in bubbles drag in bubbles drag in bubbles

Step 2

Use the Move Tool to position each bubble around the canvas individually. 

You can copy, paste, flip, enlarge, and shrink the bubbles as needed. Variation is key, so try not to make any single bubble look the same! 

arrange bubbles  arrange bubbles  arrange bubbles

Step 3

Create and clip a Brightness/Contrast layer into the "Wiggling Bubbles" group. 

Brightness/Contrast Settings

  • Brightness: -150
  • Contrast: 100

Next, to get rid of 100% of the color of the bubbles, create and clip a Gradient Map layer above the "Brightness/Contrast" layer. 

Gradient Map Settings

  • Color: Black to White 
ad adjustment layers  ad adjustment layers  ad adjustment layers

To add even more bubbles, without having to copy and paste each bubble individually, try the trick below! 

Step 4

Duplicate the "Wiggling Bubbles" group, along with its clipped adjustment layers. Bring the new group above the original group. We want to keep our two types of bubbles separate!

Merge the duplicate group and its adjustment layers together, making sure to reset the layer mode to Screen. 

Flip the merged bubbles both horizontally and vertically, along with shrinking them down. Place the bubbles where desired—I placed them in the upper right-hand corner.  

If you find that your bubbles aren't bright enough, duplicate their layers!

add more bubbles add more bubbles add more bubbles

Step 5

Repeat step 4 until satisfied! I added two new sets of bubbles, for a total of three. Again, try to avoid making the bubbles look repetitive! 

Use the Eraser Tool on any of the bubbles that look out of place. 

add more bubbles add more bubbles add more bubbles

Step 6

Finally, add some depth by creating foreground bubbles. 

Start by repeating step 4.Significantly enlarge the new bubbles, positioning them on the right side of the canvas. 

Add a Filter > Blur > Shape Blur to the bubbles to remove any pixelation caused by enlarging the bubbles.

Shape Blur Settings 

  • Shape: Circle 
  • Radius: 25 px

Group all of the merged bubble layers together, naming the group "Merged Bubbles". You should have a "Merged Bubbles" group and a "Wiggling Bubbles" group!

add foreground bubbles add foreground bubbles add foreground bubbles

We've Done It!

Using stock images that were shot in the same lighting conditions ensures seamless blending and creates a much more cohesive image. Adding an intense, high-contrast, horror-inspired color grade will only further bring all of those different stock images together, creating a single piece of art! 

As always, keep experimenting with different techniques, and don't forget to post your version below, along with any questions, comments, or critiques!

final result final result final result

Looking to learn more? Why not check out the following awesome photo manipulation tutorials:

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