Photoshop tutorials for professionals and beginners

Making Your First Photoshop Manipulation

The very first artwork is very special for any Photoshop enthusiast but getting a good result can be difficult especially if you don’t know where to start from. In this tutorial I will try to give you some tips and directions when making a photo-manipulation in Photoshop. I will show you my workflow and which are the steps that I  follow on all my manipulation works.

Final result

Stock images used

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This tutorial is specially made for beginners so we will only use two stock images. We will also use a few adjustment layers in order to blend the images (make them match the new imag) I will try to give you as many details as I can so I’m sure you can follow along.

A couple of basic concepts

Have a goal

It might sound stupid but before you start working it’s good to know at least what style of manipulation you want to make. That’s important because it will make things easier when it comes to searching for the stock images you need for your artwork.

If you need to, you can look for inspiration on places like deviantart, behance, shadowness…

So it’s a good thing to plan what you want to to, have a basic idea of how you want the final result to look like.

Work flow

This is what I do when I make manipulations and pretty much anything in Photoshop.

    1. First I work on the “physical structure” of the artwork: placing the background, objects, people and other elements that make up my artwork.
    2. After that I deal with the shadows if I have to.
    3. Third, I make color and contrast adjustments to each element to make them blend together and be uniform in terms of color and contrast. (usually I do this on each element after I place it on the canvas)
    4. As a final step, I deal with light effects and illumination and also with general colorization and other general adjustments.

This is just a basic guide that I follow almost naturally, and it’s my own personal style.We will apply this concept on this tutorial but after you got the idea you can do things however you want.

Remember that there isn’t a correct or incorrect way of doing things in Photoshop. Whatever works for your is ok, as long as you get the results you want and your happy with it. So let’s start.

Step 1

Open Photoshop and create a new document 1100px wide by 700px high. We will start working on the “physical part”, so open the background image of the train tracks. Copy it and paste it over your document. You can make is smaller using the Free Transform Tool (Ctrl+T) or from the menu Edit>Free Transform. I scaled it down to about 25% of its original size.

For this particular tutorial, I will use the “mood” of this background image as a guide when making the color and contrast adjustments to the rest of the elements that I will add next. I wanted to create something more romantic and this golden sunset is perfect, which is why I decided to use it as a base. So I will try to match the ambient color and luminosity of the other elements to match the background.

Step 2

Now that you have a base to work on, add more elements to it. Open the holding hands couple and remove the background. There are multiple ways of doing that but for now we will use the Pen Tool technique which is my favorite.

So select the Pen Tool (P) and on the Options bar activate the Paths option. Now start drawing a path around the contour of the bodies (see image below). When your done, with the Pen Toll still selected, right click and choose Male selection, when the selection is active, copy with Ctrl+C or from Edit>Copy. Now paste that over your background on a new layer.

Step 3

Now, we are on the third step of our guide which is color and contrast matching. Remember that I said I will use the background as my reference? So what do I need to do in order to make these people blend in with their surroundings?

There are several options and all of them involve using Adjustment Layers (I suggest you use adjustment layers whenever possible). You can use: Color Balance, Photo Filter, Gradient Map, Selective Color or even the Channel Mixer. The decision of which adjustment layer(s) you will use belongs to you but some options might be quicker than others.

In this particular case I used Photo Filter with an orange color because it’s the easiest one to use and for beginners I think it’s the right choice. You can experiment with other Adjustment Layers and see what results you get.

Remember that I only want to change the tint of the hands so I will have to use this adjustment layer as a clipping mask, otherwise it will affect the entire image, including the background which I don’t want because the background looks ok already. Also, don’t forget that you can change the blend modes of the adjustment layers. In this case I used the Color blend mode.

Step 4

Ok, now we can move on and start adding light effects. It’s important that you identify the light source on your images and you can do that by simply looking at the shadows or highlights on the stock images that you use. Once you do that it’s a generally a good idea that if you create some yourself, follow the direction of the existing ones. You can see a demo I made in this video tutorial.

In this example we have no shadows but we have light. Our main light source (the sun setting in the background) tells us how we should make the shadows and highlights. Luckily for us, we only have to worry about the highlights and since the light comes from the front, we must create the highlights on the edges of the hands and the bodies. Light effects like this, will make the artwork a lot more realistic and better looking.

A quick trick to do that is using Layer Styles: Inner Glow or Inner Shadow. I used Inner Dodge with the color #A18150, the Color Dodge blend mode and the Size set to 6px. On the video walkthrough I used Inner Shadow just to show you that you can do it that way too.

Step 5

You can give a touch or “romance” to this by adding dreamy light effect using the Brush Tool (B). So, create a new layer above all the other layers and name it glow.

Select the brush too and use a 500px soft brush and stroke once with the color #DF9B5D to create a soft orange dot over the couple’s hands. Then change the blend mode of the glow layer to Screen.

Step 6

We are now done with the light effects and the adjustments of each element (only the hands in this particular case) so we can move on to the general adjustments.

Here is where you decide how your final output will look by choosing which adjustment layers you want to use and how you will use them. I kept it simple and I used only one adjustment which is a Gradient Map set on Hard Light at Opacity 15%. See image 6 for more details.

So, as I said, this is pretty much the same process I follow for all my manipulations. With a bit of practice you will improve. Probably the most difficult thing to achieve (I say this because it’s a very common “mistake” I see) is making the adjustments look believable.

Most beginners pump the contrast and colors and they end up “burning” the image. Remember that sometimes less is more. So, I hope you found something useful on this article, I tried my best. It’s just a matter of practicing. Below you can download the PSD file of tutorial.

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