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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation
Design

How to Create a Surreal, Emotional Scene With Adobe Photoshop

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

In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a surreal, emotional scene featuring a woman carrying a cage. First we'll build the background using sky and grass images. Later we'll add the model, cage, trees and birds and blend them together using adjustment layers, masking and brushes. We'll use several adjustment layers to complete the final effect.

Tutorial Assets

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

1. How to Build the Background

Step 1

Create a new 2000 x 1800 px document with the given settings.

new file

Step 2

Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color and pick the color #e2ecef:

fill layer

Step 3

Open the sky image. Drag this image into the canvas using the Move Tool (V) and lower the Opacity of this layer to 90%:

add sky

Step 4

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) with the Opacity about 20-25% to reduce the sky's opacity and the clouds' visibility. We're aiming to create a soft, misty scene, so the sky's details should not be too obvious.

sky masking

Step 5

To create a soft look, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and change the Radius to 8 px:

sky gaussian blur

Step 6

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the sky. Change the Saturation value to -73:

sky hue saturation

Step 7

Make a Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase all around the middle and leave the light visible only on the middle right.

sky curves 1

Step 8

Add another Curves adjustment layer and reduce the lightness. Paint on the middle and leave the effect visible on some edges.

sky curves 2

Step 9

Open the grass image. Place it in the bottom of the canvas and use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) with the Warp mode to bend the middle area a bit to make a more interesting perspective.

add grass

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to remove the sky part.

grass masking

Step 10

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

grass color balance

Step 11

Add a Curves adjustment layer to darken the foreground. Use a soft black brush to paint on the background so it's still soft and hazy.

grass curves

2. How to Import the Trees

Step 1

Open the trees image and place it in the top of the canvas. Flip it vertically by choosing Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical. Change this layer mode to Hard Light 100%.

add trees
trees hard light mode

Use a layer mask to remove the hard edges and reduce the opacity of the trees in some areas, especially the area near the grass, to make them fade out into the sky.

trees masking

Step 2

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 3 px to the trees layer. On the filter mask, paint on some trees shown in the screenshot below to make them stand out from the blurred ones and increase the depth of field.

trees gaussian blur

Step 3

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value down to -82:

trees hue saturation

Step 4

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones values:

trees color balance

3. How to Add the Model

Step 1

Isolate the model from the background and add her to the middle of the grass. Use a layer mask and a hard black brush with a very small size (2-3 px) to trim the bottom of the model's dress to blend it with the grassy ground.

add model

Step 2

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

D  B new file

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 10-20%, to refine the light and shadow of the model. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode:

D  B results

Step 3

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value down to -67:

model hue saturation

Step 4

Add a Curves adjustment layer and reduce the lightness. Paint on the outer areas and the middle of the face so they won't be too dark.

model curves1

Step 5

Use another Curves adjustment layer to brighten the areas outside and towards the background. Paint on the front of her so it will not be affected by this adjustment layer.

model curves 2

Step 6

Make another Curves adjustment layer to reduce the model's contrast and give her a subtle, hazy effect (she is standing in the misty scene).

model curves 3

Step 7

Create a new layer under the model's layer. Load her selection by holding Control and clicking the thumbnail layer. Fill this selection with black and flip it vertically. Use Control-T to change the shadow's perspective a bit:

add shadow

Lower the Opacity of this layer to 25% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 12 px:

shadow gaussian blur

Step 8

Make a new layer above the model layer (non-Clipping Mask). Use a hard brush with the color #897068 to paint more hair for the model.

paint model hair

4. How to Add the Cage

Step 1

Cut out the cage from the white background and place it above the model's head. Use Control-T to rotate it to the right a bit to fit the head's perspective. Use a layer mask to blend the bottom of the cage with the head.

add cage

Step 2

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones settings:

cage color balance

Step 3

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the cage. Paint on the outer areas as it gets some hazy light from the background.

cage curves

5. How to Add the Birds

Step 1

Open the birds 1 image and isolate them from the background (no need to be so precise). Take different birds and add them around the cage, trying to make a flow, and to the trees area above. Change the Opacity of the bird layers from 30 to 80-90% to make them integrated better with the misty background. Add two bigger birds to both lower edges and apply a Gaussian Blur of 9 px to each of these layers.

add flying birds

Step 2

Select all the bird layers and press Control-G to make a group for them. Change the group mode to Normal 100% and use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate them a little.

birds hue saturation

Step 3

Add birds 2, 3, and 4 to the branches of the trees above. Lower the Opacity of these layers to 40%.

add more birds

6. How to Do the Final Adjustment

Step 1

Create a Gradient Map adjustment layer on top of the layers and pick the colors #e10019 and #004660. Lower the Opacity of this layer to 20%.

whole scene gradient map

Step 2

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones settings:

whole scene color balance

Step 3

Add a Curves adjustment layer to darken the edges. Paint on the middle too so it's still bright.

whole scene curves 1

Step 4

Use another Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness. Paint on the edges and leave the light visible only on the lower middle.

whole scene curves 2

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope that you've enjoyed my tutorial and learned something new. Feel free to share your ideas or comments in the box below—I'd love to see them. Enjoy Photoshopping!

final result
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