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How To Create A Uniquely Surreal Photo Manipulation

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to create a surreal head image using standard photo manipulation techniques. You’ll learn how to cut a head and fill it with a wood texture, increase the depth of field, enhance colors and more.

Landscape @48326118

Wood texture @12531402

Crack @40636303

Leaves @21176255

Final Image

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Step 1

Create a new 1200×1000 px document in Photoshop and fill it with white. Drag the sky image into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V).


Step 2

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance and change the Midtones settings:


Use a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the sky. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the top left of the sky.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Step 3

Place the landscape in the bottom of the canvas and use a layer mask to remove the top of its sky.

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the radius to 6 px.


Step 4

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Bring the Saturation value down to -60:

Add a Curves adjustment layer to brighten and give some hazy effect to the landscape.


Step 5

Isolate the model and place him in the lower half of the canvas. Use the Lasso Tool (L) to select a part of the head and right click it, choose Layer via Cut. Move this part upward to create a space between to parts of the head.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog
How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Use the Lasso Tool to grab the lower area of this cut and click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Press Ctrl+I to invert the mask and we have this result.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog
How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog
How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Step 6

Select the model and the cut layer, hit Ctrl+G to make a group for them. Change this group mode to Normal 100% and make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Reduce the Saturation value to -18:


Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones values:


Step 7

Make a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the right of the model. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to mask off the left and the shadow areas .

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Use another Curves adjustment layer to darken the left a bit. Paint on the right and the light areas using a soft black brush.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog
How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Step 8

Take a part from the wood texture and place it under the lower part of the head. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) to grab a selection as shown below and then click Add layer mask icon.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Make a Curves adjustment layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Reduce the lightness and on this layer mask, erase the top as it’s illuminated by the light from the background.


Create another Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness. Paint on the lower selection so it won’t be affected by this adjustment layer.


Step 9

Add another wood texture to the upper of the head top using the similar method.


Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken this part. The selected area shows where to paint on the layer mask.


Step 10

Place the crack image over the model section and use a layer mask to hide the areas outside the skin.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Add more cracks to the face and skin using different parts of the crack texture.


Step 11

Create a group for the crack layers and make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to de-saturate the texture.


The cracks look too dark so use a Curves adjustment layer to fix it. On this layer mask, mask off the left and the shadow areas and give the effect a more natural, contrasted look.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog
How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Step 12

Make a new layer above the crack group, change the mode to Overlay 100% and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones, Exposure about 20-25% to refine the light and shadow on the crack texture and skin.


Step 13

Open the wood texture image. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) to make a circle on the texture surface.


Press Ctrl+J to paste the selected part into a new layer. Load the selection again and go to Select > Modify > Contrast and change the Contrast By to 70. Click Add the mask icon to get the result below ( I hide the background layer to make you see more clearly). Press Ctrl+I to invert the mask.


Use the Move Tool to drag this circle above the lower cutting head and use Ctrl+T to make it much narrowed to fit the perspective of this part. Place this layer above the crack group.


Duplicate this layer and move it upwards to the upper cutting head part.


Step 14

Make a group for these layers and add a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the left of them.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Step 15

Cut out the tree and place it onto the head area. Use a layer mask to clear the unwanted details, make the tree  growing up from the head.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Select different branches to add more to the head area. Use layer masks if needed to hide the uneccesary parts, make it look clean and natural.


Step 16

Make a group for the tree layers and use a Color Balance to change the tree color:


Add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer to change the light and contrast of the branches.


Step 17

Right click the tree group, choose Duplicate Group. Right click it again, choose Merge Group. Load this selection and fill it with black, move it under the tree group. Use Ctrl+T to change its perpective to fit the light direction. I turned off the tree group to make you see the result more clearly.


Lower the opacity to 50% and use a layer mask to remove the unwanted details, make it stay only on the head.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and change the radius to 2 px to soften the shadow:


On a new layer, use a soft black brush with a low opacity (about 30-40%) and the size about 2-3 px to paint the missing shadow parts for the tree.


Step 18

Isolate the leaves from the background using the Magic Wand Tool (W). Add different leaves to the branches on the top of the head.


Add more leaves around the head and the tree and apply the Motion Blur with different values. Feel free to distort the leaves with this filter and add dynamic to your own scene. Make some bigger leaves at the edges of the canvas to increase the depth of field. Here is an example of one settings of the Motion Blur filter I’ve used.


Step 19

Make a group for the leaves and use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change their color:


Use a Curves adjustment layer to increase the lightness. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the left side of the leaves (it should be darker than the right):

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog
How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog
How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Step 20

We’ve finished adding the elements, now it’s time to change the color.  Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on top of the layers  and bring the Saturation value down to -13:

Add a Color Fill layer and pick the color #02182b. Change this layer mode to Exclusion 100%.


Make a Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors #220b02 and #9abdaa. Alter this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.


Create a Color Balance adjustment layer to enhance the final effect.

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

Final Result:

How to create a surreal photo manipulation using Photoshop tutotial 123rf blog

And that’s it for this tutorial! Something different to add to your portfolio, and if you can’t get it on the first try, try again! You’ll love the effects of this image, guaranteed=D

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