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How to Create a Dark Emotional Photo Manipulation

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Read Time: 5 min

This is a tutorial with a simple idea: to create an emotional photo manipulation. Following this tutorial, you will learn how to blend different images to make a dark atmospheric background, modify the dress of the model, apply makeup, paint hair,  blend different objects in the background, and more - all to create a moody illustration. So, let's start!

Final Image Preview

Take a look at the image we'll be creating. 

Video Tutorial

Our video editor Gavin Steele has created this video tutorial to compliment this text + image tutorial.

Arranging the Stock Images

The photo manipulation in the tutorial was created using the following stock images:

Step 1

The first step is to create a new PSD. Go to File > New. I choose to work in CMYK color mode.

Step 2

The next step is to create a background. Drag the Autumn Leaves background picture into the new file. Duplicate the layer and arrange it like in the first picture. Add a layer mask and erase the edges like in the picture below so it will look natural. Duplicate the layer again, add a new layer mask, and erase the edges as shown.

Step 3

Add a Color Balance Adjustment Layer and arrange the levels to: -57, -56, +26, as shown.

Step 4

Now add an Adjustment Layer of Curves and choose 38 for the output and 27 for the input.

Step 5

Drag the Fantasy Forest picture into the file. Now add a layer mask and erase on the edges using a basic, black brush as shown.

Step 6

Go to the Autumn Leaves picture layer. Choose the Lasso Tool and insert a part of the leaves. Press Command + J . Arrange the new layer as shown.

Step 7

The next step is to cut-out the Melancholia Model. Open the picture with the model. Select the Pen Tool and cut out the model. When you closed the path right-click and Make Selection (Radius of 0 ) and then press Command + J.

Step 8

Drag the model into the main document and arrange it as shown.

Step 9

The next step is to remodel her dress, since it appears to be too short for this background. Grab the Pen Tool and cut-out a copy of the end of the dress.

Step 10

Arrange the copy as shown.

Step 11

Create a new Adjustment Layer of Curves and choose 32 output and 20 input.

Step 12

Fill the layer mask with a black color (Alt + backspace). Choose a basic brush, then with white color the shadow of the model as shown.

Step 13

Open the creepers from the Vines file. Drag them into the PSD file, and arrange them as shown.

Step 14

Now let's paint the hair. Create a new layer and pick the color you want to be the darkest and paint the shape of the hair. Next, create a new layer and with a lighter color paint some hair. Do this operation a few times on different layers and with lighter and lighter colors until you have the right result.

Don't do them on the same layer because if you don't like the result you have to erase all the hair. Once you have the right result, merge all the hair layers (press the Command button, select the layers, and then press Command + E). Next select the Burn Tool and put some shadows on the hair and select the Dodge Tool for the lights. Follow the images below for guidance.

Step 15

Go to the model's layer and select the Burn Tool. Apply some shadows on the model's dress.

Step 16

Go to the Adjustment Layers, create a Color Balance layer, and use these settings: 0, -19, -27. Fill the layers mask with black and with white color paint the creepers.

Step 17

Next let's paint the model's face. Create a new layer. Select a light color of the model's face with the Eyedropper Tool and with a basic brush (4 or 5 for Opacity) paint her face. Create a new layer and paint her eyes. Do the same for the mouth. Don't paint them on the same layer.

Once you have a satisfying result, merge the layers (press Command, select the layers you want to merge and then press Command + E). Use the Burn Tool for the shadows of the face and the Dodge Tool for the light.

Step 18

Drag and drop the Ravens as shown.

Step 19

Create a new layer to paint the ravens' wings and jewels, as shown below. Do the same with all the crows. For this, use a basic round brush with smooth edges.

Step 20

In this step, create a new layer and draw some shadows with a basic brush on the model's hand. This is a minor detail, but it's important because it makes it look natural.

Step 21

Create an Adjustment Layer of Photo filter with a Density of 25%.

Step 22

Create a Color balance layer with Levels: -18, +17, -19. Fill the layer mask with black. Paint with a basic, white brush on the model's figure.

Step 23

Create a Color Balance Adjustment Layer with Levels: +28, -13, and -27.

Step 24

Drag and drop some cut-out leaves into the file. You can use the "leaves.png" file included in the Plus download or an image of your own choosing.

Step 25

Command-click the layer with the leaves to select them. Create a Color Balance Adjustment Layer with Levels: +67, -22, and +19. Fill the layer mask with black. Paint the leaves with a basic, white-colored brush.

Step 26

Create an Curves Adjustment Layers with Output 17 and Input 11. Fill the layer mask with black. Paint on some shadows with a basic, white-colored brush, as in the picture.

Step 27

Use a new photo filter. Crete a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer with a Density of 25 %.

Step 28

Create a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer. Set the Opacity to 15 %.


Sit back and look at your emotional photo manipulation. The final image is below.

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