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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation

How to Create a Dark Surreal Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create a surreal photo manipulation featuring a man with a tree head. 

First, we'll create a background with field and sky and then add the model and do some retouching on him. Later we'll add the tree, cloud and lightning and blend them with the rest using adjustment layers, masking and brushes. After that, we'll paint the rain and raindrops as well as combining the leaves into the scene. We'll use several adjustment layers to enhance the final effect. 

Tutorial Assets

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

1. Add the Field and Sky

Step 1

Create a new 2000 x 1581 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:

new file

Step 2

Open the field image. Take the field only using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and drag it into the white canvas with the Move Tool (V):

add field

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a medium-soft black brush to soften the edge of the field:

field masking

Step 3

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation and set it as Clipping Mask. Bring the Saturation value down to -12:

field he saturation

Step 4

Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the field. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the darkness on the edges of the field:

field curves

Step 5

Drag the sky image into our main canvas and place this layer under the field one.

add sky

2. Add the Model

Step 1

Open the model image. Cut out the body only and place him in the middle section of the field:

add model

Step 2

Add a mask to this layer and use a very small medium-hard black brush to trim the legs area to make him look as if he's standing between the grass blades:

model masking

Step 3

Go to Edit > Puppet Warp to correct the legs pose a bit. The aim is to increase the space between the legs:

model puppet warp

Step 4

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the model color:

model hue saturation

Step 5

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

D B new layer

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 20-30% to reduce the light on the shoulders, and draw more details and wrinkles for the trousers.

DB result

3. Add the Tree

Step 1

Open the tree image. Drag the tree into our main document using the Move Tool. Place this layer under the man one.

Add tree

Step 2

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Master settings:

tree hue saturation

Step 3

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and adjust the Midtones values:

tree color balance

Step 4

Create a Curves adjustment layer to reduce the contrast of the tree. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to remove the effect on the top of the tree—it should be brighter than the rest (as it gets light from the lightning):

tree curves

4. Add the Cloud

Step 1

Open the cloud image. Take the cloud on the lower right with the Lasso Tool and set the feather radius to 15. Place this selection above the tree:

add cloud

Add a mask to the cloud layer and carefully remove the blue background using a medium-soft black brush. You can use a tablet pen to achieve a more accurate result.

cloud masking

Step 2

The light and shadow on the cloud don't fit the background. To correct it, create a Curves adjustment layer and reduce the lightness. Paint on the lower right of the cloud to make the effect visible only on the top left.

cloud curves 1

Step 3

Add another Curves adjustment layer to brighten the top right a bit. Paint on the left so that it isn't affected by this adjustment layer.

cloud curves 2

Step 4

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the cloud:

cloud hue saturation

5. Add the Lightning

Step 1

Drag the lightning image into our main document and place it in the space between the tree and cloud. Change this layer mode to Screen 100%:

add lightning

Use a layer mask to remove the edges and limit the lightning area within the cloud:

lightning masking

Step 2

Create a Levels adjustment layer and increase the shadow value. This step is to remove most of the background of the lightning.

lightning levels

Step 3

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value to -100:

lightning hue saturation

6. Make the Rain

Step 1

In this stage we'll be making the rain. Create a new layer on top of the layers and change the foreground to #ededed. Select a hard brush and press F5 to change the settings of this brush:

brush settings

Use this brush to paint random vertical lines inside the space from the cloud to the tree.

paint rain lines

Flip it vertically by choosing Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical:

rain line vertically

Step 2

Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur:

rain motion blur

Use a layer mask to remove some rain effects outside the cloud and tree area.

rain masking

Step 3

Duplicate the rain layer many times and decrease the distance of the Motion Blur filter on the duplicated layers, from 20 to -15, -12, -10 for example, and also reduce the size. It will create some depth and a natural look for the rain.

making more rain

Step 4

Create a new layer and use the same brush to paint the raindrops and splashes on the tree and shoulders. Vary the brush size to achieve a better result.

rain drops

Step 5

Create a new layer and grab several selections on the man's shirt using the Lasso Tool, setting the feather for it to 2 px. Fill them with the color #d2d1cb (picked from the shirt):

paint wet

Change this layer mode to Multiply 100% to create the wet effect on the man:

paint wet result

Step 6

Make a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #ededed to paint under the cloud, above the lightning area, to add more light to this. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.

lightning light

7. Add the Leaves

Step 1

Open the leaves image. Select a leaf and add it to the main document. I've placed it on the left and used Control-T with the Warp mode to bend it as shown below:

add a leaf

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

leaf gaussian blur

Step 2

Add more leaves to the scene using the same method. Vary the size and the blur radius to increase the depth of field.

add more leaves

Step 3

Make a group for the leaf layers and change the group mode to Normal 100%. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Master settings:

leaves hue saturation

Step 4

Add a Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness.

leaves curves

Here are the results after working on the layer mask. We're aiming to make the main light in the center, so you know how to mask off the leaves.

leaves curves masking
leaves curves masking result

8. The Final Adjustment

Step 1

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

whole cscene color balance
color balance result

Step 2

Make a Color Fill layer and pick the color #150231. Change this layer mode to Exclusion 100%:

color fill 1

Step 3

Make a Curves adjustment layer and increase the contrast:

whole scene curves 1

Step 4

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

whole scene photo filter

Step 5

Add another Curves adjustment layer to darken the scene more. Paint on the middle and the model to reveal the light there:

whole scene curves 2

Step 6

Make another Color Fill layer and pick the color #01080d. Change this layer mode to Subtract 100%.

color fill 2

Step 7

Duplicate this layer and change the mode to Normal 40%. Use a layer mask to paint on the middle to create a subtle vignette effect:

color fill 2 duplicate

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!

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