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How to Create a Galaxy-Inspired Self-Portrait Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

You can turn your selfies into cool digital art! And working with your own portraits is a fun way to learn more about Adobe Photoshop.

Today, you'll learn how to create this galaxy manipulation using one of my own photos and a few free stocks from Pixabay.

Get inspired! Find more incredible stocks and assets for your manipulations on Envato Market.

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used in the production of this tutorial.

1. How to Take Photos for Manipulations

I've always wanted to do a photo manipulation with one of my own pictures. And after ten years of working with Photoshop, I finally did it!

My general love for space inspired this piece. I once created this painting with a similar vibe, so I decided to use it as inspiration to help guide me towards a fun result.

Inspiration for galaxy manipulation
This painting is from one of my tutorials! Check it out here: How to fix color errors in Photoshop.

Plan out your photo shoot ahead of time with what you would like to wear and which way you'll be facing. I never really liked pictures of myself in profile, so I wanted to see how I could make it happen.

For this shoot, I used my Samsung NX3000 mirrorless camera. It has a super helpful LCD screen that allows me to see myself in the shot. Feel free to use your phone to take selfies or ask a friend for help. Just make sure there's enough lighting!

Samsung NX3000

Take several photos to get the best shot possible. I usually stick to my safe place for selfies, but if you learn your angles for picture taking and try to take risks, it can actually empower you and lead to awesome results!

Test shots for manipulation
We'll be using photo #2 for this manipulation

Need more help with photography? Check out these articles:

You can really build a photo manipulation from scratch just using a general concept and a few free stocks! Keep in mind this was initially made out of fun, so feel free to add more details to your own self-portraits.

Let's get started!

2. How to Manipulate Your Own Photo

I'm giving you free rein to do as you please with my photo. I promise I won't take anything personally, so take advantage of using it like any other stock.

This photo has already been edited to boost up the clarity and hair (and to save my precious ego). But I'll show you how I made the hair more voluminous for more style.

Galaxy reference

I knew I wanted to create a massive, stylish bun, but I didn't have enough hair to fill it out naturally. Instead, I'll take advantage of the Liquify Tool for amazing, glamorous results!

If you're working on your own photo, skip this step or add the edits you prefer.

Open My Picture or yours in Photoshop.

Next, go to Filter > Liquify.

Use a combination of the Bloat Tool (B) and the Forward Warp Tool (W) to stretch the hair. Increase the Brush Size to make sure it's wide enough to stretch out the structure of the bun.

Continue playing with the bun size until it's about the size of my head.

Use Liquify for hair volume

Hair stylists often pull the underside of the hair out for a fluffier look.

So let's do the same!

Use the Forward Warp Tool (W) again to pull the bottom side of the hair to the right. Balance the shape out for a full, natural appearance, or go crazy for a fabulous result!

Gif before and after
Here's the before and after.

Now on to the manipulation!

3. How to Add the Other Stocks

Step 1

Create a New Document in Photoshop. My final document comes in at 1262 x 1410 pixels.

Square-like compositions are usually great for Instagram and more!

Fill the background layer with black using the Paint Bucket Tool (B). Then Copy and Paste the edited stock onto the canvas. Position it towards the center.

Add the background and photo

Step 2

Let's remove the background from my photo!

Add a Layer Mask to the stock. Select it then paint black onto the mask to remove the background using a Hard Round Brush (set to 100% Hardness for a crisp, clean line).

Remove the background

Step 3

Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to decrease the size of the photo. Position it so that it's floating in the center of the black space.

Continue modifying the shape of the mask.

Remove the majority of the lower outfit and clean up all the edges around the hair and body.

Continue masking the photo

Remember the reference from before? I'm going for the same "bust portrait" vibe. An abstract shape like this will help us float the portrait in space more effectively.

Right-click the Layer Mask and select Apply Mask.

Step 4

Now let's add the rest of our stocks, starting with the planets.

Extract Mars, Earth, and the Moon from their photos. Using the tool of your choice (here I used the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M)), select the planet and then Copy and Paste each one onto New Layers.

Arrange the layers as shown below. Make sure that Mars is on a layer beneath the main stock so that it's situated behind me. This will create a sense of depth of field.

Add the planets

4. How to Create the Galaxy Look

Step 1

Now for some stars!

Mask away the milky way
  1. Copy and Paste the Milky Way stock onto a New Layer above the black background.
  2. Add a Layer Mask, and then use a Soft Round Brush to mask away the edges with black.

Step 2

Let's add more depth to the space background.

Shade the milky way
  1. Create a New Layer and Right-click to set it as a Clipping Mask to the Milky Way layer. Use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 60-100% Opacity) to paint dark blue #081a40 and black onto the clipped layer. Create shading similar to the result above.
  2. Set the Layer Blend Mode to Multiply, and then lower the Opacity to 70%.

Here's the result so far.

Result after shading

Step 3

Clip another New Layer to the same Milky Way stock.

Add some subtle lighting to the scene.

Paint some light
  1. Use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 10-30% Opacity) to paint light blue #a8b7e3 onto the left side of the canvas.
  2. Set the Layer Blend Mode to Hard Light and lower the Opacity to 30%.

Step 4

Let's work on the main stock again.

Feel free to retouch your photo as far as you need to for this step.

Here I added a little more light to my face, neck, and body, by using a Hard Round Brush (80-100% Hardness, 10-25% Opacity) and a light tan #efd2b7 color. Adjust the Layer Opacity as needed.

Add some light to the face and body

Step 5

We can recolor the main stock with a few Adjustment Layers.

Start with Levels.

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. Add the following values for the RGB, Red, and Blue Channels. Then Right-click to set it as a Clipping Mask to my picture.

  • RGB: 0, 0.90, 196; Output: 17, 210
  • Red: 0, 0.92, 255; Output: 0, 191
  • Blue: 0, 1, 179; Output: 35, 192
Add a levels adjustment

Here is the result, along with the layer setup.

Result after levels

Step 6

Apply more contrast and warmth to the photo.

Above the previous levels layer, Clip a New Adjustment Layer of Curves to the stock.

Adjust the curves for the RGB, Red, Green, and Blue Channels like the ones below.

Add a curves adjustment

Step 7

You're doing great, keep going!

Let's add some stars to the subject.

Copy and Paste the original Milky Way stock on a New Layer above the last one. Set it as a Clipping Mask to the main stock and use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to rotate the image counter-clockwise.

Add more stars
  1. Position the stars so that they cover me completely.
  2. Then set the Layer Blend Mode to Difference, adjusting the Opacity to 70%. Follow up with a Layer Mask to mask away the stars on the face and body with a Soft Round Brush.

We'll clip one last New Layer to the main stock. This layer will be used for more shadow.

Paint shadow
  1. Use a Soft Round Brush (50-70% Opacity) to paint an orange color #f3a279 on the right side of the hair and body. I'm following the light source from the original photo, so all our shading will coincide with it.
  2. Then set the Layer Blend Mode to Subtract and lower the Opacity to 50%. Refine the shadow even more with a quick Layer Mask.

Step 8

We still need to adjust the shading and coloring of the planets.

Let's begin with planet Earth.

Paint shadow on earth
  1. As before, set a New Layer as a Clipping Mask to the planet layer. Use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 60-80% Opacity) to paint dark blue #080e1b onto the right side of the planet. 
  2. Set this layer to Color Burn. 
  3. Follow up with another Clipped New Layer above it. This time, use a deep red color #120500 to paint more shadow.

Step 9

Now shade Mars.

Clip two New Layers to the Mars planet. Use a Soft Round Brush to paint deep red #1a010d shadow on the first layer, and purple #14051b on the second.

Paint shadow on mars

Step 10

Before we move on to shading the moon, let's tweak the colors of the scene first.

Add two New Adjustment Layers above the Earth layer. Do not clip these.

Here's the setup below for clarification.

Layer setup

Start with a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup.

Set the 3DLUT File to:

  • Fuji F125 Kodak 2395

Then set the Layer Blend Mode to Hue.

Add a color lookup adjustment

Boost the colors with a New Adjustment Layer of Levels.

Adjust the values for the RGB Channel to the following:

  • Input: 0, 1, 211
  • Output: 0, 255
Add a levels adjustment

Step 11

Now for the moon!

Clip a New Layer to the moon. Use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 50% Opacity) to paint soft black color for some shadow. Follow the upward direction of the arrow shown below.

Paint shadow on the moon

5. How to Finish the Manipulation

Almost there!

Here is how the manipulation looks so far:

Result so far

Next, we'll need to figure out the last few elements of this piece.

If you're working on your own photo, feel free to follow your own natural inclinations for lighting, colors, and detailing.

Step 1

Pump up the lighting for more intensity!

Create a New Layer above all the rest. Set it to Overlay.

Use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 60-90% Opacity) to paint white all over the scene for more light. Add a Layer Mask to refine it if needed.

Paint light with overlay

Step 2

Orbital rings aren't actually real, but they'll add another cool element to this manipulation.

Create two orbital rings
  1. Use the Ellipse Tool (U) to create two 2 pixel white orbital rings. Rasterize the shape layers and Merge them together.
  2. With the merged layer selected ("Rings"), go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, setting the Radius to 15 pixels. Lower the Layer Opacity to 60% and remove any unwanted areas with a Layer Mask.

Step 3

Let's add our last stock.

Make several extractions from the brighter sections of this Galaxy stock. I used the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to grab different sections of stars and stardust. Copy and Paste them onto New Layers positioned around the composition.

Set the first two (Earth and hair sections) to Hard Light and the second two (star sections) to Pin Light. Adjust the Opacity as desired and use Layer Masks to remove unwanted areas with a Soft Round Brush.

Add more stars to the composition

Step 4

This next step will require a bunch of Adjustment Layers.

I know, you're ready to finish, right? Let's try to run through them as quickly as possible.

Add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup.

Set the 3DLUT File to

  • FuturisticBleak.3DL
Add a color lookup layer

Next, add a New Adjustment Layer of Levels.

Add the following values to the RGB, Red, and Blue Channels.

  • RGB: 27, 0.94, 240; Output: 20, 255
  • Red: 0, 1.11, 204; Output: 0, 255
  • Blue: 29, 1.38, 226; Output: 51, 224
Add a levels adjustment layer

Step 5

Fill a New Layer with neon green #76ff39. Lower the Opacity to 10% and set the Blend Mode to Divide.

Add a neon green fill

Step 6

Keep going! You're doing so well!

Add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Balance. Adjust the values for the Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights to the following ones shown for a much bluer tone. Then set the Blend Mode to Hue.

Add a color balance adjustment

Next, add a New Adjustment Layer of Gradient Map.

Select the Red, Blue, and Yellow preset, and lower the Opacity to 10%.

Add a gradient map adjustment

The last New Adjustment Layer we'll use is Photo Filter.

Set the Filter to Violet and the Density to 52%.

Add a photo filter

Step 7

Now that we have the colors all set, we just need to do some light maintenance on the composition itself.

Take this opportunity to clean up any harsh edges or blend them with more shadows using a Soft Round Brush. Use the Brush Tool (B) to paint these areas, and hold the Alt key to select the colors you need from the composition.

On a New Layer set to Overlay, use a combination of violet #c6a2d0 and white to paint highlights onto the hair and planets. Keep the bright spots in line with our current lighting setup.

Add highlights to the scene with overlay

Step 8

Clean highlights are also an important part of this composition. On a New Layer, paint white highlights around the planets, body, and face. Make sure each planet gets a highlight on the upper left side.

Continue painting any areas you would like to sharpen for more appeal, and don't forget to add more white dots for stars wherever you'd like!

Paint white highlights

You might notice a slight blur to the final piece. I achieved this with a quick Tilt-Shift Filter, but you can opt to leave it out instead.

Now that you've finished your work of art, hang it on the wall! Check out how your self-portrait would look using this awesome Frame Mockup from Envato Elements.

Frame Mockup from Envato Elements

Check out the final result below!

All Done! Great Job!

You can create amazing photo manipulations using your very own photos. Take your time and have fun conjuring up fantasy compositions from scratch!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. How'd you do? Share your comments and results below.

For more photo manipulation tutorials like this one, check out these links:

Galaxy Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial by Melody Nieves
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