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How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in DesignScape
  • By Nadine Spires
  • 10 Jan 2022
  • 27 Mins
  • DesignScape

How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in DesignScape

Discover how to create a surreal photo manipulation in DesignScape with this tutorial.

Today we are going to show you how to create a surreal photo manipulation in DesignScape. We will be combining multiple photos together and blending them to make one. DesignScape is a browser based editing program available to Gold Plus Members. If you are not a member yet, sign up for a free 30 Day Trial of the Gold Plus Membership today!

Before After Surreal Image

We will merge the following photos into one image, a forest landscape, this dog sitting, and a photo of a butterfly. We will also be adding a summer Photoshop action as a final touch.

Step 1 - Remove the Image Background

Begin by opening the forest and dog images. We will first remove the background from the dog image.

We left a bit of the ground and Autumn leaves to help blend it better with the main forest image. With the dog image selected, go to Edit > Copy. Then click back on the forest image and Edit > Paste.

Remove background for dog layer

Repeat this for the butterfly image. Remove the background then copy and paste into the forest image.

Copy and Paste butterfly image

Step 2 - Edit the Size and Position of Images

Once both the dog and butterfly have been pasted, we need to adjust their positions.

Flip Dog Layer Horizontally

Select the Dog layer under the Layers Panel. Now go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontally. We then moved the dog image to the left corner. We have a tutorial on mirroring images in DesignScape if you want to learn more.

Flip dog layer horizontally DesignScape

Before we carry on, let’s quickly rename our layers to make them easier to identify. Double click on a layer’s description then rename it. We renamed our layers to Butterfly, Dog,and Forest.

Rename Layers in DesignScape

Resize and Reposition Butterfly Image

First, we are going totransform and scalethe current butterfly. We will then use that as our reference to create duplicates of the butterfly in the following step, To prevent pixel distortion, our first butterfly will be the biggest. The duplicates created will be adjusted to a smaller size.

Once you have scaled the butterfly to size and rotated it, reposition to where you want.

Resize and rotate butterfly layer

Duplicate Butterfly Layer

Under the Layers Panel, right-click the Butterfly layer and select Duplicate Layer. Resize and reposition this layer, but remember to make it a bit smaller, not bigger.

 Duplicate butterfly layer

Keep creating duplicates from the original butterfly until you have as many as needed.

Make multiple butterfly duplicates

We are going to group the butterfly layers. Under the Layers Panel, click on the topmost butterfly layer. Then hold Shift + click on the bottom-most butterfly layer. This will select all the layers in between. Do not include the Dog or Forest layer.

With the layers selected, go to Layer > Group Layers.

Group butterfly Layers

Step 3 - Blur the Butterflies for Perspective

Realistically, the butterflies won’t all be in focus. So we need to add some blur to a few. This will be a destructive action, so keep this in mind when you click OK to commit changes.

Click on the Move Tool, then select the smallest butterfly from the Layers Panel.

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and in the new window, input a value of 6.0 px. Choose another small butterfly, add the blur with a value of 4.5 px.

Continue to add a blur to the smaller butterflies with decreasing input values. The largest butterfly will be “closer,” therefore more in focus.

Add Gaussian blur to butterfly layers

Step 4 - Use Adjustment Layers

We now want to match the dog and butterflies to the forest background. We will use a few Adjustment layers to match brightness and contrast.

Add a Black and White Adjustment

Adding a Black & White Adjustment layer allows us to easily see the difference between images. This Adjustment is just a visual guide. Now we can adjust the brightness of both images to better match the background.

Go to the bottom of the Layers Panel and click on the circle that is half black, half white. This is the New Adjustment Layer icon.

Then select Black & White. You can also do this by going to the top menu, Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White.

Add black and white adjustment

The Properties Panel will open on the right. You can click the icon to close it out, as we won’t be changing any settings.

Here is the result. You can clearly see a difference between the dog and forest background.

Black and white properties panel

Apply Levels Adjustment to Dog Layer

Now add a Levels Adjustment layer to the Dog image layer. Once again, click on the New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Then select Levels.

We want the Levels Adjustment to only affect the Dog layer. So we will use a clipping mask. On the Dog layer, right-click > Clipping Mask.

Clip adjustment layer to image layer

With the Levels Adjustment still selected, input the following values:

Black (shadows) point: 98

Gray point (midtones): 0.75

White point (highlights): 255.

We want to match the shadows and midtones of the dog to the forest.

Next, we adjusted the Output levels. These determine where the darkest and brightest pixels begin. We used the following settings:

Black: 0

White: 212

Edit Levels settings

If you click on the eye icon for the Black & White layer, you will see the difference the Levels Adjustment has made.

Add Levels Adjustment to Butterfly Group

Now, add a Levels Adjustment to the grouped Butterfly layer. Follow the same process as above. Add the Adjustment layer, then clip it to the grouped layer.

The settings for your photos may vary, but for the butterflies we used:

Shadows: 95

Midtones: 0.8

Highlights: 255

For the Output levels:

Black: 0

White: 197

Add Levels adjustment Butterfly layers

Change Blending Modes of Layers

When adjusting shadows, midtones and highlights, this can oversaturate the layer. To fix this, we need to change the blending mode of the Levels Adjustment layer for both layers.

Make sure you turn off the visibility of the Black & White layer by clicking on the eye icon.

With the Levels Adjustment, we only want the brightness to be affected, not the color. So, first select the Dog layer, then above the Layers Panel, click on the Blending Mode. Scroll all the way down and select Luminosity.

Change Blend Mode dog layer

Change the Blending Mode to Luminosity for the grouped Butterfly layer.

Now, rename the Levels Adjustment layer by double-clicking on the description name. Next, type in Brightness/Contrast. Do this for both Levels Adjustment layers.

Rename adjustment layers

Edit Color with Levels Adjustment Layer

We are going to use another Levels Adjustment layer, but this time it will only affect the color. We need to tone down the red in the dog and butterfly images.

Select the Brightness/Contrast layer for the dog image. Next, go to New Adjustment Layer > Levels. As before, right-click the new Levels Adjustment, then select Clipping Mask to clip to the dog layer. Make sure the thumbnail is selected and not the Mask.

Create second Levels Adjustment

Double-click the thumbnail to open the properties. Click on the Channels dropdown menu and select Red. Then, in the black point box, input 18. The value will depend on the image and what colors you are working with. You can add or remove from the Red, Green, and Blue channels as needed.

Use red channel in Levels

Rename this Levels layer to Color. Then repeat the same process for the butterfly grouped layer. This time, input a value of 30 for the black point.

Adjust Butterfly Levels layer

Step 5 - Edit the Dog Image

We want to fix the leaves at the bottom of the dog’s paws by using a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer.

Add Hue and Saturation Layer

Click on the Dog layer, then select Add New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Clip this Adjustment layer to the Dog layer. Now make sure the Adjustment layer thumbnail is selected.

In the Properties Panel, change the following settings:

Hue: 14

Saturation: -50

Add Hue Saturation layer

This will affect the entire image. To fix this, click on the Mask for the Hue/Saturation layer. With the Mask selected, press Ctrl + I to invert. The Mask will be filled with black, hiding the Hue/Saturation layer.

Paint on the Mask Layer

Go to the left side toolbar and click on the Brush Tool. If need be, click and hold over the Brush Tool to open the menu.

At the top toolbar, choose a nice size brush; we used 175 px. Change the Flow to 17% and leave the rest of the settings as is. You can click on the Brush dropdown menu to select a softer brush.

At the bottom of the left toolbar, you will find the Foreground and Background colors. These will be white and black boxes. Make sure to reset to black and white by clicking the small icon on the side.

Reset foreground background colors

With the Mask still selected, check that White is set as the foreground color. You can toggle between white (reveals) and black (conceals) by using the shortcut “X”.

Start painting over the area near the dog’s paws. We want to hide the red and reveal the Hue/Saturation layer.

Add Raster Mask to Dog Layer

Some areas on the Dog layer need to be blended more. Select the Dog Layer, then click Add Raster Mask at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

Make sure the Mask is selected, click on your Brush Tool, and check that Flow is at 17%. Change the foreground color to Black using the shortcut “X”. You can choose a medium-sized brush; our brush was set to 90 px.

Now start painting over the bottom of the Dog layer. Look for any sharp, defined edges that haven’t blended in.

Add Mask to dog layer

Step 6 - Add Highlights and Shadows

For a more realistic look, we will add highlights and shadows using a non-destructive method.

Group the Layers

First, group the Adjustment layers with the Dog layer. Select all four layers, then go to Layer > Group Layers.

Group dog layers in DesignScape

Rename the group Dog so we can easily identify it. Do the same for the butterfly group and rename Butterflies.

Group Layers renamed

Add a Gray Fill Layer

Select the Dog group layer, then at the bottom click on New Layer. On this layer, right-click > Clipping Mask. Now go to Edit > Fill, and in the options, change Fill to Gray.

Rename this layer to Highlights Dog.

Add gray fill to dog group layer

The Dog layer will be filled with gray. So we need to change the blending mode to Overlay.

Paint in the Highlights

Select the Brush Tool on the left side. Make sure the foreground and background colors are set to black and white. We selected the White with the following settings below:

Brush: 150

Blend Mode: Soft Light

Opacity: 30

Flow: 30

Smooth: 100

Begin painting over the right edge of the dog to add some light. This is the direction the light is coming from. Concentrate more on the face as the light is higher up. Painting over the same area will increase the brightness.

Add highlights to dog layer

Paint in the Shadows

As we did with the Highlights, add a new layer and rename Shadows Dog. Clip to the Dog group layer, fill with gray, and change to black. Using the same brush settings, paint along the left edge of the dog. Add shadows where you think they are needed.

Add shadows to dog layer

Repeat Step 6 to add shadows and highlights the Butterflies group.

Step 7 - Apply Dreamy Effect Action

We have reached the final step of our project. Here we are going to flatten our image and use a Photoshop action. But before you do, be sure you are completely done with your project, as this will combine all the layers.

If you want to edit further, it’s suggested that you first save this project as a PSD file that can be edited later on.

Flatten the Image

Under the Layers Panel, click on the topmost layer to select. Then hold Shift + click on the bottom-most layer to select all layers in between.

Flatten Image in DesignScape

Now right-click > Flatten to combine the layers into one. Depending on the number of layers, this may take a few seconds.

Use the Actions Panel

Next, click on the Actions icon to open the panel. We have already uploaded our action to DesignScape.

Click on the folder Summer Dreams Action Collection. Scroll down until you reach the category Artistic Styles.

Now click on Styles | Dreamy Beach, and lower down, click on the Play icon. Allow a few minutes for the action to be applied, and a notification with directions will appear. Read the directions, then click OK.

How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in DesignScape 34

This is how the image will appear after the action has been applied.

Photoshop action result in DesignScape

Edit the Action Layer

The Blend Mode is currently set to Pass Through. If you cycle through the modes, you can get some unusual results. We chose to stay with Pass Through and edit the mask.

Edit the Mask of this new layer in the same way you did with the Adjustment layer masks. Use the Brush Tool, then choose a soft brush by clicking on the Brush size. Change the Opacity and Flow to 30, then choose Black as the foreground color.

Select the Mask, then paint over where you don’t want the action applied. Use White to paint back if needed. The effect can also be adjusted by lowering the Opacity.

Change Opacity of Action layer

Add Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer

At this point, if you prefer a moody look, you can leave the image as is. However, you may want to lighten the image and remove some contrast. Go New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast and change the settings as needed.

We set our Brightness to 25 and Contrast to -25.

Brighten the image in DesignScape

To save your image a JPG, go to File > Export as > JPG, then select your settings.

Here is the final image that we have created.

 Create surreal photo in DesignScape

You have just created a surreal photo manipulation in DesignScape. How cool is that? With these steps, you can create the most amazing images. There are no limits to what you can create with DesignScape.


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