Combine stock images and use a combination of blending/lighting techniques to create this surreal flying brain in Photoshop! This tutorial will show you how to create your own background using multiple photos, blend images together, and apply a nondestructive dodging & burning to your image.
Preview of Final Results
Surreal Flying Brain Photo Manipulation Tutorial
First of all, this tutorial will be using a set of Hair Photoshop brushes by TrissteBrushes. You can find the download link to it in the tutorial resources below. You should install the brush before starting this tutorial.
You will also notice that this tutorial starts off with Photoshop CS3 then switches to CS4. Well, I was using Photoshop CS3 but my computer had some problems so I had to borrow my husbands laptop which only had Photoshop CS4. Please excuse me for this.
Create a new file with a width and height of 4000 pixels.
Open the Sky image. Copy and paste it it to your main document. To do this, Go to Select > All, copy (Ctrl/Cmd+C), switch back to your main document and paste (Ctrl/Cmd+V). Delete your background layer.
Use the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T or Edit > Free Transform)
Scale the image like shown below. Hold down the shift key so that the proportions are constrained while scaling.
Create a new layer above the sky layer (Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+N or Layer > New > Layer).
First, set your foreground color to white and background to black – you can do this quickly by pressing D then X on your keyboard. Select the Brush tool (B). Using a large and soft brush (1100px, 0 hardness), paint a curve around the sky like shown in the image below.
Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a blur of 250 pixels.
Set the blending mode to Overlay. Duplicate the current layer (Ctrl/Cmd+J) then set the opacity of the new layer to 60%.
Select both layers then right-click and choose “Create Clipping Mask”.
Open the Sea image then copy and paste it to your main document. To do this, go to File > Open to open the sea image. Go to Select > All then Edit > Copy. Switch back to your main document and go to Edit > Paste. Position this layer as the top layer.
Use the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T or Edit > Free Transform) to scale the image like shown in the image below.
Position the layer to the bottom of your document.
Now we’re going to create a selection of the sky. Select the Magic Wand tool (W) then set the tolerance to 50%. Click on the sky then press Delete on your keyboard to delete the selected area.
Now we’re going to dodge/burn the sky using a nondestructive editing technique. Create a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N or Layer > New > Layer) and position it as the top layer. Set the foreground color to #808080 (This is 50% gray). Fill the layer with this gray. Change the blending mode of this layer to Overlay then right-click on the layer and choose “Create Clipping Mask”.
Select the Burn tool and make sure that the range is set to Midtones and exposure to 100%. Paint over the mountain to darken it like shown in the image below.
Duplicate the layer (Ctrl/Cmd+J) then reduce the opacity of this new layer to 70%. The layer should be clipped to the previous layer as well – if it isn’t, right-click on the layer and choose Create Clipping Mask.
Open the Brain image then copy and paste it to your main document. Use the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T or Edit > Free Transform) to scale it like shown in the image below. Hold shift to constrain the proportions.
Create a cutout of the brain. There are many ways of doing this such as using the Lasso Tool (L).
Open the image of the model then copy and paste it to your main document. Use the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T or Edit > Free Transform) to scale the image like shown below then go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.
Create a cutout of the model like shown in the image below. Erase her right leg to around the knees.
Use the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T or Edit > Free Transform) to scale the model so that it looks seated on the brain.
Create a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+N or Layer > New > Layer) and position this layer below the layer of the model.
Select the Brush tool (B) then load the brush shown in the image below.
Paint the hair by clicking once anywhere. Make sure that your foreground color is black and brush opacity set to 100%.
Rename the layer to “Hair” then go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.
Now rotate and position her hair like shown in the image below. Once you’re done, you can duplicate the layer (Ctrl/Cmd+J) and resize it to add more hair. If you do this, make sure you merge both of the layers back together by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+E (with the top hair layer selected).
Create a new layer below the Sea layer. Set your foreground color to white then select the Brush tool. Using a soft brush (0% feather) with a brush size around 600 pixels, paint around the landscape like shown in the image below.
Rename this layer to “White Glow” then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the radius to 43 pixels then click OK.
Duplicate this layer then drag the new layer above the Sea layer. Make sure it is clipped to the layer below – if it isn’t, right-click and select Create Clipping Mask. Set the blending mode to Soft Light.
Activate the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T or Edit > Free Transform). Scale the image like shown below.
Select the first Dodge/Burn layer.
Use the Burn tool (B) to burn the area shown in the image below. I used a brush size of 1300 pixels with the range set to midtones and exposure at 100%.
Select the layer with the model. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance. Apply the settings as shown below.
Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Apply the settings as shown below.
Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter. Apply the settings as shown below.
Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast. Apply the settings as shown below.
Select the four adjustment layers (Hold Ctrl/Cmd to select more than one layer) then right-click and choose Create Clipping Mask.
Go to the Brain layer then press Ctrl/Cmd+J to duplicate the layer. Change the blending mode of the new layer to Multiply.
Select the Dodge tool then set the range to Highlights and brush size to around 1000 pixels. Paint the front of the brain to brighten it up.
Select the Brain Copy and Brain layer (Hold Ctrl or Cmd to select multiple layers) then merge the layers (Ctrl/Cmd+E).
Now we’re going to create two iron bars for the handle. Create a new layer then move it to the top. Name this layer “Iron”.
Select the Rectangular Marquee tool then create a selection like shown in the image below.
Select the Paint Bucket Tool (G) then fill it with black. Press Ctrl+D to deselect.
Now we’re going to apply some effects to the iron with layer styles. Go to Layer > Layer Style > Bevel & Emboss. Apply the settings as shown below.
Create a new layer under the Iron layer. Select the original Iron layer then press Ctrl/Cmd+E to merge this Iron layer to the empty layer. We have only one layer again.
Select the Eraser tool then with a hard brush (7-0100% feather), delete the bottom and top areas of the iron so that it looks like it fits in the models hands.
Dodge and burn the layer a bit. Burn the part next to the hand and hole of the brain and dodge the middle of the iron to lighten it a bit.
Press Ctrl/Cmd+J to duplicate the Iron layer. Now we have two bars. Use the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T) to scale and position the iron rod like shown below. Delete the unnecessary parts of the iron just like what you did earlier with the other iron bar.
Create a new layer above the Brain layer and name it “Shadow”.
Select the Brush tool (B) then using a soft brush, paint under the model like shown below.
We’re almost done! Let’s apply some more adjustment layers for the whole image. Select the Brain layer then apply the adjustment layers in the order shown in the image below.
Here’s how your layers should look.
Select the Sea layer then use the Blur tool at 50% strength to blur the top of the mountain.
Now go to Layer > Flatten Image.
Editors Note: This tutorial suggests to flatten the image which will merge all of your layers into one. Instead of flattening the image, you can convert all the layers into a Smart Object. To do this, select all of the layers then right-click on the layer and choose Convert to Smart Object.
Press Ctrl+J to duplicate the layer. Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Apply the settings shown below.
Reduce the opacity of the new layer to 55%. Select the background layer then press Ctrl+J to duplicate it. Select the top layer then press Ctrl+E to merge it.
Press Ctrl/Cmd+J to duplicate the background layer. Go to Filter > Other > Custom. Do not change anything – just click OK. Lower the opacity to 20%.
As you can see, the sharpening effect is very strong. Reduce the opacity to 20%. Press Ctrl+E to merge the layer.
Create a new layer then fill the layer with black.
Go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare. Apply the lens flare shown in the image below.
Change the blending mode to Screen then position the light behind the model. You can use the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T) to see the bounding box of your layer which may help you see where it is moving but this isn’t necessary.
Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius to 43 pixels then click OK.
Press Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+U to desaturate the lens flare. Use the Free Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd+T) to scale down the lens flare. You can also reduce the opacity to 60% if you’d like.