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Solo – Photoshop Manipulation Tutorial

Solo – Photoshop Manipulation Tutorial

In this tutorial I will show you a few techniques that you can use in your fantasy photo manipulations. You will use the Dodge/Burn to create nice effects by enhancing the highlights and shadows of your stock images. I will also show you how to create realistic shadows using the brush tool. I’m using the same techniques mentioned in my Secrets of Manipulation series.


Stock images used

Step 1

Open the “Balcony” stock image in Photoshop and draw a path around the brick wall with the Pen Tool (P) and then delete the sky. After deleting the sky resize the document to 2000x1500px. Open the “Background” stock image and put it on a new layer below the balcony layer keeping the original size.

Preparing the background

Step 2

Open the girl with the violin stock and subtract her using the Pen Tool (P) or using Channels or even the Magic Wand (W). Paste it on a new layer above the balcony layer. I scaled her down to 43% of the original size.

Step 3

Before doing anything else, let’s make some color adjustments to the balcony and sky layers. The color adjustments will be made to fit the sky tone. In other words we must increase the blue tones so that the balcony blend in with the sky color. I suggest you always use adjustment layers because they are non-destructive but it’s up to you.

Increase the Saturation of the sky to +24. These are the adjustments that I made to the balcony layer: Saturation, Levels and Color Balance.

Saturation: +25, Levels: increase Highlights to 176, Color Balance: Increase Cyan and Blue values on Midtones and Shadows.

In order to enhance the edges of the bricks I duplicated the balcony layer and I applied the Glowing Edges Filter from Filter>Stylize>Glowing Edges. Change the blend mode to Screen and set Opacity to 50%.

Step 4

Now, make some colour and contrast adjustments to the girl as well. I made all the adjustments using adjustment layers as clipping masks. Duplicate the girl layer twice, right click them and activate Create Clipping Mask. One of the copies will be used for sharpening and the other one for softening the skin.

On one of the copies apply Unsharp Mask with 0,3px radius, Amount 215% and Threshold 3 levels. On the second copy apply a 2px surface blur and create a black mask for it to hide it. Then use a soft brush and paint on the layer mask to reveal only the blurred skin, the other parts of the body should remain sharp.

I also corrected the contrast and color of the girl using more adjustment layers. See image below.

Step 5

Add the crow, the owl and the rose and apply Color Balance to adjust their color.

Step 6

An essential element of any photo-manipulation are shadows. Good shadows can make a good artwork look awesome. There are multiple ways of creating shadows.

In this particular case you will have to make soft shadows because you don’t have a clear light source and there are no natural shadows on the scene to guide you. Soft shadows are made by hand using the Brush Tool (B). Use low opacity soft brushes to paint the shadows. Make sure you paint some shadows under the owl and the rose too.

You can see a demonstration of this technique in this video made by me.

Step 7

Now use the Dodge/Burn tool to give an artistic and nicer look to your artwork but I will show you how to use this tool non-destructively. Create a new layer above all the layers of your palette and name it dodge/burn. Fill the layer with 50% gray from Edit>Fill and change the blend mode to Overlay.

Use the a Dodge and Burn tools to enhance the shadows and highlights. Use a very low exposure, about 10%. This operation took me about 45 min. See image below.

Before and after the dodging and burning.

Step 8

Now start applying adjustments to get the final result. I created a stamp using the shortcut Shift+Ctrl+Alt+E and I worked on the new layer that was created and which I named Final. I also converted this layer into a Smart Object in order to have the filters applied non destructively.Then I duplicated the created layer and I named it Final adjustments and I decreased the Opacity to 70%.

Step 9

Let’s start the post editing work. Select the Final layer and go to Image>Adjustments>Shadows/Highlights expand the advanced options, reduce the Shadows and Highlights to zero and increase Midtone Contrast to 44 and Color Correction to 20. See image below.

Next, go to Filter>Render>Lighting Effects and apply the settings shown in the picture below.

Because you are now working on a Smart Object you can modify any of this adjustments at any time.

Step 10

Now select the Final adjustments layer which at this time should be converted to a smart object as well. With the layer selected go to Image>Adjustments>Variations and select More Cyan and click OK.

Still with the Final adjustments layer selected go to Filter>Distort>Diffuse Glow. Use the settings shown below.

Step 11

As a final touch I added a Gradient Map, changed its blending mode to Overlay and set the Opacity to 10%. See image below.


There are a few things I would recommend you when you’re making this kind of manipulations. Always use the Dodge/Burn tools to smooth out skin and enhance body parts and shadows and highlights in general. Also use non-destructive techniques whenever you can (adjustment layers, smart objects, etc.) Shadow are also very important, don’t forget about them.

One thing I also use almost always when making this kind of artwork is the Lighting Effects filter. It enhances an artwork in 99% of the cases.

Don’t worry about my palette layout, you have to have it identical to mine, that’s just the way I work, I like to have things organised in groups and named for a faster identification. You can work as you like.

Final Result Preview


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