Create this intense photo manipulation with Photoshop. This tutorial will show you how to manipulate stock photos and turn them into this dark and surreal scene. A PSD is included with this tutorial.
Preview of Final Results
Dark and Surreal Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial
Avatar, the movie, gave us a beautiful imaginary world with inverted mountains and distinct creatures. We take it to the dark side and turn it into a surreal photo manipulation, inspired also by the Greek legend of Prometheus.
- Guy’s Face
- Inverted Mountain
- Blood Pack
- Drapery 1
- Drapery 2
- Shimmer Drapery
- Wall Texture
- Crack Texture
- Drip Brushes
- Bird 1
- Bird 2
- Bird 3
- Torn Cloth
- Torn Cloth 2
Step 1 – Starting with the Background Layer
We start off by taking the landscape scene as the starting layer.
Step 2 – Adding haze
Next, we duplicate the portion shown by red and similar cloudy areas and change the ‘Blending Option’ to Soft Light and lower the opacity a bit, to around 85%. We move this duplicated layer to the completely black areas like the mountains on the bottom. This creates a mild sense of haze and mist in the totally dark areas.
Step 3 – Using star stock
Next we open up a star stock, any common one would do as we are aiming for a hazy mystic look in the scene. You can even use a nebula stock. Really crank up the contrast of the star stock by either ‘Curves‘ or the ‘Brightness/Contrast’ adjustment layer and put it on ‘Screen’ Blending mode. Do not bother with the high saturation and distorted color as of yet, which we may have due to high contrast of the star stock, as we would later turn the scene into black and white. Here’s how the stock looks at ‘Screen’ blending mode, 100% opacity, high contrast.
We duplicate the star stock and erase all unwanted parts like the edges of the stock.
Now as we can see, the colors are totally messed up. So, we flatten the image and go to Image -> Adjustments -> Desaturate or press Ctrl+Shift+U. And here we have a not-yet-complete shady and surreal landscape. You could also just use a Black to White ‘Gradient Map’ adjustment layer on top of all layers on ‘Color’ ‘Blending Option’ to turn the image to greyscale.
Step 4 – Making the artwork wider
Now, in the age of widescreens, the aspect ratio of the image is not too appealing. So we extend the canvas size and make it wider, keeping in mind that the current image remains at the right most corner. To do this, press Alt+Ctrl+C to go to canvas size, click on the right arrow in the ‘Anchor’ field and increase the width. Now, to fill up the empty canvas on left, we would duplicate the background layer and erase the unwanted parts. In the following image, the lighter reds are the duplicated mountains and the darker red are the duplicates of the same mountain but inverted. The blue part is just the mirror image of the mountain, duplicated to give the inverted mountain more width.
Step 5 – Adding Clouds
To give the landscape a more dynamic look, we add clouds. We use the following stock since the lightning in the clouds in the stock is pretty varied and catches attention. First, we keep it on the right side and use ‘Darken’ blending mode and erase the unwanted parts. Then, we duplicate the layer and use the ‘Lighten’ mode on the left side so as to keep the right side dark and the center bright.
Here is the shown placement of the clouds stock on ‘Darken’ blending option.
Here is the same stock on ‘Lighten’ blending option.
Step 6 – More clouds and haze
Now, we use the aforementioned clouds around the right inverted mountain. You could also use cloud brushes. We then use the soft brush of a large size on low opacity to paint the darker areas with white color, on a new layer, so that the darker areas (most prominently, the inverted mountain on left) are more grayish and hazy.
Step 7 – Making the main rock
Now that the background is taken care of, we move onto the main focal of the artwork, the guy tied to the rock. Notice that the image is in grayscale. See step 3 to know how to turn it to greyscale. Draw out the shape of the rock as you want it as the base layer, I named it ‘Stone Layer’. We use clipping masks on all the further layers on the ‘stone layer’. First would be the stone texture from ‘The Wall’ stock. We use burn tool to create shadow in the marked region.
Step 8 – Darkening Main rock
Now, go to Image -> Adjustments -> Curves and use the following settings to darken the left side a bit.
Step 9 – Adding fabric folds
Now to create the fabric folds, we use various portions of the aforementioned drapery stocks. Position the stocks as shown in the pictorial representation and use the ‘Multiply’ ‘Blending Option’ on the torn cloth stock. The right side is not important at the moment so erase all unwanted parts on the left while leaving the right side as it is.
Now, use the shimery drape stocks on the left side on ‘Normal’ blending option. Next, we can use the torn cloth stocks on multiply to create a more rugged look to the fabric folds and give it more details.
Step 10 – Seperating right side of Main rock
Now we put a different texture stock on the right side, shown by the white, and darken it a bit using ‘Curves’ or ‘Levels’ blending option.
Step 11 – Adjusting drapery
Select the white drapery stock shown below and turn it to grayscale. Press Ctrl+I to invert the image and the result is shown below, marked 2. Use the ‘Curves’ adjustment layer with the settings shown in 3 to darken the cloth and get the result similar to the one shown below, marked 4.
Step 12 – Adding drapery on Main rock
Flip the resultant image of step 11 horizontally. Put this image on the right side, with ‘Darken’ ‘Blending Option’, positioned as shown below. Also, use another drapery stock shown below and position it as shown. Use burn tool to darken the portion shown below.
Step 13 – Cutting out the face
Now, open the face stock image. Use the ‘Quick Selection’ tool to select out the face from the background.
Press Alt + Ctrl + R or go to Select -> Refine Edge.Use the following settings to mask out the face better. Use the Refine Radius tool on the boundaries of the face to select out more details.
Lastly, erase out all the unnecessary details using the Eraser tool.
Step 14 – Cutting out the body
Using similar technique as used in step 13, select out the body/abdomen from the stock image.
Use the ‘Curves’ adjustment layer with the shown settings to increase the contrast a bit.
Step 15 – Compositing the Body on Main rock
Put the combined image of the guy onto the Stone. Position it as shown by turning it through ~19 degrees, with the abdomen in the middle of the right face of rock and the face coming out on the right side enough. Erase the side areas which are not required.
Here is a preview with and without the combined image of guy onto the stone.
Step 16 – Making the face mask
On a new layer, roughly draw out the veil/cover on the face so we could use drapery layers with clipping masks on it.
Step 17 – Adding drapery to face mask
Now, similar to what we did with the fabric on the left, we make the face cover using multiple drapery stocks.
Use the flowing gown of the lady from DazzleStock and position it as shown. Add a ‘Curves’ adjustment layer with the following values to increase the contrast and clip it to the face cover using clipping mask.