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How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in Affinity Photo
  • By Nadine Spires
  • 12 Apr 2022
  • 20 Mins
  • Intermediate
  • Affinity Tutorials

How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in Affinity Photo

With this step by step tutorial learn how to create a surreal photo manipulation in Affinity Photo.

Today you will learn how to create surreal photo manipulation in Affinity Photo. Images are combined into one to create fantastical results. Wherever your imagination takes you, surreal photo manipulation gives you the freedom to create. In this tutorial you will learn various techniques to create a surreal world.

Mockup surreal photo manipulation in Affinity Photo

We will need a few images to create our final result. So we will be using this moon cycle photo pack, a nature landscape image and a cabin landscape photo. From the Plus Hub we are using this mountain night sky photo.

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Step 1 - Remove Photo Backgrounds

We will begin with our two landscape photos by removing the backgrounds

Remove Background from Main Image

Open your main background image in Affinity Photo. We then removed the background from the nature landscape image. The background was masked out so that we could work non-destructively.

Remove background in Affinity Photo

Mask out Background for Cabin

Now, drag + drop the cabin image into your project document. You can resize the image and reposition however you choose or follow our example below.

Drag and drop cabin image into Affinity

As you did with the nature landscape, remove the background using a mask layer. We left a bit of the grass in the foreground to make it easier to blend. Now, go to Select > Deselect once the mask has been applied.

Deselect cabin background image in Affinity

Step 2 - Edit the Background Mask

The great benefit of using masks as non-destructive layers is that you can edit them. Let’s blend the two images by using the cabin mask layer. Make sure to select the Mask layer, then click on the Paint Brush Tool on the left side panel.

At the top toolbar, change the Flow to 50%. On the right side under the Color panel, check that Grayscale is selected. Click on the black color circle. Now start painting on the grassy foreground of the Cabin image. Black conceals while White reveals.

You can easily switch between black and white by pressing the “X” keyboard shortcut.

Blend two images in Affinity Photo

With the Flow set to 50%, you can gradually paint away areas of the mask. You can even go over any jagged edges of the cabin for a smoother transition.

Add a New Pixel Layer

Now, in our photo, we have a bush on the bottom left side under the house. We want to remove this.

Remove unwanted element in image

Go to the Layers Panel, untick the box next to the Cabin image to hide it. Next, click on the Background layer (nature landscape). At the bottom of the Layers Panel, click on Add Pixel Layer. This will be placed above the Background layer.

Add new pixel layer in Affinity

Rename Layers

Let’s make things easier by renaming the layers. Double click on the layer name and rename it. The new pixel layer was renamed to Inpainting.

Rename layers in Affinity Photo

Step 3 - Use the Inpainting Tool

Make sure to select the Inpainting layer. On the left hand side, click on the Inpainting Tool. Then on the top toolbar change Current Layer to Current & Below. This tells the program to also use the information in the image below. We do this to keep the editing non-destructive in case we want to delete it later.

Change Inpainting layer settings Affinity

Once done, make the Cabin Image layer visible again by ticking the box.

Make layer visible again in Affinity

Step 4 - Edit the Cabin Image

Before we add the effects, we need to decrease the harsh light on the cabin. The Nature Landscape has neutral lighting due to the clouds, so we need to match this.

Since this step is a quick edit, we will use a destructive way. This means it will be applied directly to the image and not on a separate layer. Select the Cabin Image layer.

On the left toolbar, click on the Burn Brush Tool. If you don’t see it, click on the white arrow to open the options. Make sure the Flow is set to 50% or lower. Then paint over highlighted areas to darken.

Add shadows to cabin image in Affinity

Group layers by selecting the top layer, then holding Shift + clicking on the bottom layer. Now, right click > Group. Rename this group to Nature and Mountains.

Step 5 - Add and Edit Background Elements

Drag and drop in the Sky background. Then click on the Move to Back icon at the top. This will place it behind the grouped layer.

Move to back icon in Affinity

To stretch the background across the document, click + drag out the side node.

Adjust sky background in Affinity

Do the same with the moon element, Drag + drop into the document. But this time, use the icon Move Back One in the top toolbar.

Change order of moon layer

This will place it between the grouped layer and sky background. You can resize and reposition if needed. Turn on the Snapping in the top toolbar to see the guidelines.

Resize and reposition moon element

Add a Glow to the Moon

Let’s give the moon a glow. We have renamed our layer to Moon and have it selected. At the bottom of the Layers Panel, click on the fx icon to open the Layer Effects panel.

Tick the box for Outer Glow and select to open the options. We used the following settings.

Blend mode: Normal

Opacity: 100%

Radius: 100 px

Intensity: 30%

Color: White

Add Outer Glow to moon element

Next, tick the box for Inner Glow with the following settings.

Blend mode: Normal

Opacity: 100%

Radius: 100 px

Intensity: 30%

Color: White

Select Edge

Add Inner Glow to moon element

Add Levels Adjustment to Sky Layer

We want to enhance the background by adding a Levels Adjustment layer. First, select the Sky layer in the Layers Panel.

Now, click on the half black/white circle bottom of the Layers Panel. Then select Levels. You can also go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels.

Add Levels adjustment layer in Affinity

Adjust the Gamma to 1.4 and Output White Level to 80%.

Edit Levels adjustment layer in Affinity

In the Layers Panel, right click the Levels Adjustment > Mask to Below. This will mask it to the Sky layer.

Step 6 - Blend in the Grouped Layer

First, click on the arrow to open the grouped layer. Then select the Cabin Image layer and add a Levels Adjustment. This will be placed above the Cabin Image.

We only adjusted the Gamma to 1.4 and Output White Level to 80%.

Edit grouped layer with levels adjustment

Next, add a Lens Filter Adjustment using the Adjustments icon. Click on the Filter Color box, select RGB Hex Sliders and input #03367A.

Add Lens filter in Affinity Photo

We can work on the tree line next as a small amount of halo is visible. Select the Nature Landscape layer then add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer. Set the Brightness to -35%.

Add Brghtness Contrast Adjustment layer

Invert the Adjustment layer with Ctrl + I (for Invert). As this is an adjustment layer, you can also use it as a mask. Select the Paint Brush Tool on the right, make sure that black and white are present top right.

We changed the following settings in the top toolbar.

Brush Size: 450 px

Opacity: 50%

Flow: 50%

Be sure that the Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer is selected.

Click on the White color circle.

Select white to mask in Affinity

Paint over the top of the tree line where there are halos. You can also paint a little further in and adjust Opacity/Flow to blend in better.

Remove halos from tree line

Step 7 - Add the Final Details

We are going to add some light to the windows of the cabin.

Use the Rectangle Marquee Tool

Add a new pixel layer above the Cabin Image. Then, on the left side toolbar click on the Rectangle Marquee Tool. Zoom into a window and click + drag out a rectangle that covers the window.

Don’t worry about accuracy right now. Next, go to Edit > Fill. In the Fill window change the Blend Mode to Difference. Click on the Color Picker box and use the HEX code #FFE021. Next, click Apply.

Create window detail for image

Under the Layers Panel, change the Opacity to 50%. Go to Select > Deselect to remove the selection.

Change blending mode of layer

Add Gaussian Blur

Place your cursor over the bottom right corner node until you see rotational handles. Now click + drag to change the angle. Add a blur by going to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur and use a Radius of 5 px. Click Apply.

Add Gaussian Blur to window detail

Resize the window detail so it fills the entire window. In the Layers Panel, right click > Duplicate then select both window layers and group. When you group, the Blend Mode will change to Passthrough.

Duplicate this group another two times. Place a group over each of the remaining windows. Adjust the Opacity if needed. Don’t forget to add a light to the window on the far right corner.

Add more window details In Affinity

Add Second Moon Element

If you want to take this surreal photo manipulation in Affinity Photo up a level, add a second moon. Simply duplicate the Moon layer and make it smaller. Add a Recolor Adjustment layer. Then adjust the Hue, Saturation and Lightness to your liking.

Recolor second moon element

Change Outer Glow Color

Remember to change the Outer Glow to match the color change. On the second Moon layer, click on the fx icon. In the Layer Effects panel, select the Outer Glow option to open the settings.

Click on the Color Picker box. Then click + drag the eyedropper over the second moon to sample the color. Once sampled, you need to click on the color circle next to the eyedropper to apply.

Edit outer glow color second moon

If you feel the image is too dark, double click the Levels Adjustment layer in the Nature and Mountains Group. You can then adjust the Gamma or other settings as needed. You can also double click on the Lens Filter then reduce the Optical Density to bring back more green.

Edit Lens Filter layer in Affinity

In the final step, export your surreal photo manipulation in Affinity Photo as a JPG image. Go to File > Export then select JPG or any format you choose. Click on Export, name your file and choose a location then Save.

Here is the final result.

Surreal Photo Manipulation in Affinity Photo

Well done on creating a surreal photo manipulation in Affinity Photo. Surreal photos are great for fun projects like storybooks, backgrounds, sci-fi and fantasy themes. We hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and can use what you have learned in future projects.

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