Surreal Photo Manipulation Tutorial – YTD Exclusive

by . November 3rd, 2011

A surreal artwork, as its name suggests, is characterized by elements and situations that are dreamlike or out of this world. It would require someone to have a wide (or wild) imagination to come up with a Surrealist inspired concept. And it takes a whole lot of skill and practice to be able to execute these ideas into a great work of  photo manipulation using Photoshop.

With the help of YTD resident graphic artist Geno, we have come up with a step by step photo manipulation tutorial featuring  his latest surrealist inspired artwork. Follow our lead and recreate this cool example of surreal photo manipulation.

-The YTD Team





Stock Photos and Other Tutorial Assets



View Source



View Source


Picture Frame/Mirror 




Bird Cage



Step 1


Let’s start by creating a new document in Photoshop. Create new (CTRL+N).



Select U.S. paper then rotate the canvas 90 degrees (Image > Image Rotation 90 degrees CW).



Step 2


Drag the image of the girl to the canvas and isolate it using the pen tool. Set the feather to 1.5 pixels.




Step 3

Surround the girl with the image of the sea. Press CTRL+U and set your background (the sea) to -180 hue and -60 saturation. For the girl, set the saturation to -70. So it should look something like this.



Step 4


We will then use the dodge and burn tool to make the image pop more. Start by dodging all the lighter parts of the image  and make sure to adjust the brush size according to the size of the highlighted part. Use midtone, but limit the exposure to 5-10 percent. Just be patient and stroke it as if you were holding a real brush. Do the same for the burn tool and work on the dark parts of the image.



DO NOT overdo it! Ideally, this is how the artwork should like at this point.




Step 5


To make you work truly surrealistic, you have to play around with the image of the girl by liquifying it until it attains a deformed shape. Just experiment with the tools on the liquify section by going to Filter > Liquify and try out whatever tool you like (Bloat tool, Push left tool or Mirror tool).

You’ll also need to darken the girl’s image a little bit. Just drag the curves down a bit as shown in the image below.



By now, you should have the core of your artwork in place.




Step 6


You still have a lot of space to play with here. So how about adding some floating objects? Mirrors would be perfect.



Add details to each mirror. First, create a mirror effect for the eye using the polygonal lasso tool (press “L”). Just trace around the area you would like to reflect.



Duplicate it (CTRL+J) then press Transform (CTRL+T). Afterwards, right click and click “flip horizontal.”



Once more, right click it and choose “distort.” Fit the image inside the frame.



How about adding a creepy hand that reaches out from inside the mirror?



Again, lower the saturation to -60 and apply dodge and burn.



Lastly, copy a portion of the sky background and place it under the frame.




Step 7


Add yet more detail! Place a tiny keyhole on the girl’s forehead.  Position it right at the center of her forehead.



Name the image  “keyhole,” then double click that layer and check gradient overlay. Just follow the settings shown at the image below (click to enlarge).



Click “CTRL+J and CTRL+[” and double click that layer (keyhole copy). Check color overlay, color it white (“ffffff”), then uncheck gradient overlay. Press both the down arrow key and left arrow key twice and you’ll come up with this image.



To make the hole look genuine (and not resemble a giant mole), just draw a tiny hook like shape  inside the primary keyhole layer.



Double click that layer and copy the settings shown below.



Add a rotten apple on the girl’s head and repeat the dodge and burn method.




Step 8


Add a back light to the artwork.

Go to layers panel. Select the top layer and create a new layer (SHIFT+CTRL+N)–name your layer “backlight.” Choose a soft white brush, set capacity to 10-15 and start painting around the areas that you wish to illuminate.



This is how it should look like afterwards.




Step 9


For this next step, we will tweak the details a bit to make them blend with the dreamlike atmosphere.

Make the frame look like it’s melting. Select the smudge tool, set the strength to any percent you like and smudge the bottom edge of the frame while holding “shift” key. Holding the shift key will make a straight vertical smudge. Try to play with different brush sizes and strength levels to achieve best results.



Add ravens on the frames and liquify the hands to make them look they’re trying to grab something. Turn this dream into a nightmare.




Step 10

Make the artwork more gloomy.  Draw a teardrop underneath the girl’s eyes.



Go to  the layers panel. Set the fill to 0% and set the layer style to these settings. (click the picture to enlarge)



At this point, the teardrop looks flat. So we’ll have to add a glimmer effect on the edge of the teardrop by creating a new layer (SHIFT+CTRL+N). Click brush tool with 0% hardness. Hit CTRL+T, right click, then warp it to the shape shown below. Repeat the process for the right eye.



Finally, place a caged key parallel to the girl. As you may have realized by now, this artwork is full of symbols. But none will be as powerful as this final piece you have added.




Step 11


For the finishing touches, we’re going to tweak the colors of the artwork a little bit. Flatten image (CTRL+F) first then go to Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlights and follow these settings.



Duplicate layer (CTRL+J) then change the blending mode to “Soft Light.”



Go to filter > Other > High Pass and set the radius to 4 pixels. Flatten the image before going to Layer > New adjustment layer > Gradient map. Choose this gradient.



Just set the capacity to 7% and you’re done!

Again, here’s the finished product.



We hope you liked our Surreal Photo Manipulation Tutorial–the first of a series of tutorials we’re planning to publish here at YouTheDesigner.