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How To Create a Photo Manipulation with Your Own Photos and Textures

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Read Time: 12 min

In this tutorial I will give you some tips on how to take your own photos for the photo manipulation. You will learn, how to blend pictures, apply textures, create your own brushes etc. So let's get started!

Final Image Preview

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

Tutorial Details

  • Program : Photoshop CS and Higher
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Estimated Completion Time: Around 3 hours

Step 1 - Preparation for Taking the Photos

Usually tutorials start with a list of stock photos you should download. But today we'll make it differently. The only one thing you have to do is to take your camera outside and shoot your own images! Don't worry, it doesn't take much of your time and you don't have to be an awesome photographer.

If you want to take stock photos it's good to do it when it is cloudy outside because in this case you will have no strong directional light from the sun but nice diffuse light, which will be easy to change in your graphic program to fit with the global light of your photo manipulation.

When you're taking stock photos it's always a good to take it from different angles and directions because you never know what you will find useful for your photo. And it would be bad if you would have a perfect photo, but you would need it just rotated a little different.

Step 2 - Taking Photos for the Background

As I said before, take your camera outside and take the picture which will suit for the background. For this manipulation we need an easy background with not so much details on it. This absence of details helps the mood which we'll try be creating of a hopeless situation or feeling of loneliness or emptiness.

As you can see in the picture below, I used a simple photo of the concrete behind my house. A photo of some empty parking place,field or road would be great too. You can see the angle from which I took the photo.

Step 3 - Taking Photos of The Sky

This is very easy. Just wait for some cloudy weather (there will be a lot of cloudy days during autumn), open a window and shoot a few pictures of sky. Shaped clouds are the best because the sky will not be boring. It should be dramatical and this type of clouds is best for it.

On the picture below you can see what kind of sky I mean.

And below is an example of the sky which doesn't look as good.

Step 4 - Taking the Photo Texture for the Monument

It's very easy again. For the monument we'll use texture of some beaten wall - so just stand in front of some wall and shoot it :) It's good to stand directly in front of the wall because this way there will be no perspective distortion in the photo.

If you want to use exactly this texture (shown above) you can download the texture pack from my deviantArt page, but I recommend you shoot your own.

Step 5 - Taking Photos of People

This is the last step before we start to do the photo manipulation. Take your camera to a train station or another similar place where there is a big concentration of people. Be a little like a paparazzi, and shoot some of them. Don't worry if you're shy, you can shoot them from a distance (depends on the zoom of your camera).

It would be enough to have five or six types of people for what we'll be creating.

Step 6 - Preparing the Background

After you downloaded all necessary photos from your camera to the computer open Photoshop and drag the picture of the ground and of the sky into one document. Name the layer's appropriately as: "GROUND" and "SKY." Make sure that "SKY" is above the "GROUND." It's always good to name all the layers. This way you can orientate everything better in your PSD file.

Add a vector mask to the "SKY." You can find the button Add Vector Mask at the bottom part of the Layers palette. If you don't see the Layers just press F7 and it will appear.

It is better to use a vector mask instead of the Eraser Tool because this way all the steps you do are non destructive, and you can change them anytime. If you paint with a black color over the vector mask, then the picture disappears. If you want to have it visible again, the only thing you have to do is paint white over it.

After you have vector mask added to the "SKY," grab the Brush Tool (B), select a soft round brush, pick black for the color, and paint over the areas which should be hidden. Change to a smaller size of brush for more precise blending. You can also change the opacity of the brush to get a better result.

After this step, my manipulation looks like the image below. Yours should be similar, but it depends on your stock pictures used.

If your background doesn't look realistic you can try one of two tricks. At first you can use the Spherize Filter, which will help you to add more space into the manipulation. To use it go to Filter > Distort > Spherize... and set the Amount to a negative value.

The next thing you can do is transform the perspective. To do it go to Edit > Transform > Perspective and transform your "GROUND" layer as you need.

What I did in my manipulation is that I added texture to the ground to add more details. If you want to try it too, you can use the texture you took for the monument. Open the picture with texture, drag it into the manipulation, place it above the "GROUND" (you can also create a Clipping Mask from it), and name it "TEXTURE FOR GROUND." Now change the Opacity of the layer and also the Blending Mode. I just changed Blending Mode to Overlay.

As you can see the ground should have more cyan tones than it has now. To fix that add a new adjustment layer of Color Balance above the "GROUND" layer. If you don't know how to add an adjustment layer, then look at the image below.

Click on the button which is circled and select Color Balance. The button is on the same palette (Layers) as the Add Vector Mask button which we used a few steps back.

Set the Color Levels to: -6, 0, and +12 in Midtones and press OK.

I think it would be better if the whole background would be a little darker. To do that add an adjustment layer of Levels above the "GROUND" and "SKY." Set Input Levels to: 31; 0,85; 255 and press OK.

Step 7 - Creating the Monument

In this step we will create the monument. Open the picture of texture you took and drag it into your photo manipulation. Name the layer "MONUMENT." Resize it to proper proportions. To do that press Command + T, and hold Shift to make the picture smaller. If you hold Shift, then the width and height will have the same proportion as they had before.

Press Command + T again and make the picture a little slimmer. Then go to Edit > Transform > Perspective and change the perspective so the monument will be slimmer on the top and wider on the bottom.

Add a Vector Mask to the monument. Now use a soft, round brush to make the bottom part of the monument softer.

At this point, my photo manipulation looks like the one below. You should have something similar, but again - it depends on your stock photos used.

Step 8 - Color Adjustment of the Monument

Now change the colors and contrast of the monument so it fits in with the rest of the picture. This step depends on what stock photos you took. For inspiration I will show you what I did.

The monument should be a bit darker and have more contrast for this look. Add a new adjustment layer of Levels above the "MONUMENT" and set Input Levels on 31; 0,79;255. Just for your information, the first value makes dark tones (shadows, etc.) darker. The second changes midtones. If you increase this value, then the midtones are darker. If you decrease it, then the midtones are lighter. The third value changes highlights.

Step 9 - Creating the Light Ray

In this step we will create a light ray on the top of the monument. Create a new layer above the "MONUMENT" and name it "LIGHT RAY." Now grab the Brush Tool (B), select a soft, round brush and choose a proper size (depends on size of your photo manipulation). Pick a very light color. It can be pure white or something a little more yellowish.

Paint one dot on the top of the monument and then one dot on the place where you want the ray to end. During the painting of the second dot hold Shift. It will paint you a nice line. Instead of this method you can also use the Line Tool.

Once you have the line you can press the button Add a Layer Style, which can be found in the bottom part of the Layers palette, and add an Outer Glow to the ray to make it look more realistic. In my case, it wasn't necessary.

Add a Vector Mask to the "LIGHT RAY." Now with a black, soft, round brush and low opacity, paint over the top of the light ray. It will look more realistic, as if the light is less intensive and it is far from the monument.

In the picture below you can see the manipulation with the light ray.

There should be some diffuse light around the top of the monument. To add it go ahead and create a new layer above the "MONUMENT" and name it "DIFUSE LIGHT." Grab the Brush Tool (B), select the same color as for the light ray, lower the opacity of the brush and make it bigger. Now paint a little over the top of the monument. In the picture below you can see what I mean.

Step 10 - Adding People

In this step we will add the people you shot with your camera. But before we do that let me say a few words about perspective. To add depth to the manipulation it's important to keep the rules of the perspective in mind. It's very simple - objects which are closer are bigger than those which are farther away.

The next important thing you should know when you're creating a photo manipulation is that objects which are closer are darker and more saturated. If you want to make this rule even stronger you can make closer object also sharper and with more details.

Open your stock photos of people, cut them out and drag them into the manipulation. Change the size of them, duplicate them a few times and start arranging them. You can flip (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal) them to have more variation. Arrange them as you below.

As you can see I added no people in the distance. It's because we will use a special brush which we'll create in the next step.

Step 11 - Creating the Brush

Creating your own brushes is very simple and can also be very useful. Open a new document and drag one layer with a man into it. Command-click on the thumbnail of this layer. It activates the mask of the layer.

Grab the Gradient Tool (G), pick a solid black color and fill the mask with black. Now use the Crop Tool (C) to crop the picture. You should have something like that shown below.

Now go to Edit > Define Brush Preset... Press OK in the window which will open and you're done. You have your own brush!

Go to your photo manipulation, Grab the Brush Tool (B) and select the brush you've just created. Pick a dark gray and paint people in the distance. Don't forget to make people smaller and lighter when they are further away.

You can create more types of brushes to have more variation.

Step 12 - Adding Shadows

There should be shadows under the monument and from people. To fix that add a new layer above all the layers and name it "SHADOWS." Grab the Gradient Tool (G), pick the color #808080, and fill the layer with it. Now change the Blending Mode of the layer to Overlay.

You have two options on how to make shadows. At first you can paint them with a black brush or use the Burn Tool. In the picture below you can see how the "SHADOWS" layer should look.

Step 13 - Adding Mist

Download some mist brushes (I used these) and install them into Photoshop. If you don't know how to install brushes, then look at this tutorial. Add a new layer under the "MONUMENT," name it "MIST," and paint a nice fog with a white color.

Step 14 - Applying Texture

If you want your manipulation to have a grungy look you can add some grunge texture, which you will download or (like me) you can use the same texture which you used for creating the monument.

Open the document with the texture and drag it into the photo manipulation on the top of your layers. Name it "TEXTURE." Then change the Blending Mode of the layer and also the opacity. I used an Overlay blending mode and Opacity of 30%, but you can experiment with different modes and opacities to get some interesting results.

Step 15 - Final Adjustment

This step depends on the photos you used again. For inspiration I will show you what I did.

I want the picture to be a little darker. To fix it, add a new adjustment layer of Levels on the top of the layers and set the Input Levels on: 0; 0,84; 255.

You can also add a vignette. Add one more Levels adjustment layer and now set the Input Levels on: 0; 0,55; 255. Grab the Gradient Tool (G), pick a solid black color, and fill the Layer Mask with it.

Now pick a white color, Grab the Brush Tool (B), and paint over the edges of the layer mask. It makes them darker.


Congrats! You're finished. I hope that you've learned something new in this tutorial. Experiment with taking your own stock photos, which you can use in your photo manipulations!

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