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How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial
FEBRUARY 22, 2013

Lern more about Photoshop CS6From Photoshop Daily: How to create a surreal Photoshopped image. Recreate this breathtaking surreal image using Photoshop. Before starting this project, try finding an assortment of stocks and resources. The aim here is to create something fantastical while maintaining a level of realism.

But don’t be afraid to deviate or experiment with your own ideas. This tutorial is for intermediate users with excellent knowledge of using the tools provided in Photoshop. We recommend using a graphics tablet to speed up workflow.

Build the basic layout
Our model is from Dreamstime (image no: 13151452). Begin by clipping the model with your preferred extraction method, before pasting her into your background (we are using a pre-composited background from Dreasmtime, image no: 9324588). Cut out the mushroom to use later. Using a graphics tablet, paint over the moon and mushroom by selecting similar tones.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Retouch the model
This step requires some experimentation to achieve the surreal colouring. Create a gradient with three to five colours of your choice and set it to Radial. On a clipping mask (Cmd/Ctrl+Opt/Alt+G) click and drag out a gradient over the model. Set the blending mode to Lighten. Duplicate this layer, change some hues (Cmd/Ctrl+U) and experiment with blending modes like Soft Light.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Finish retouching and add elements
After the colouring portion, take the original image of the model and place it over the other layers. Add a Filter>Other>High Pass around 10-20px and set to Soft Light. We also added adjustment layers and painted on a layer mask to reveal vital details. We also clipped out the mushroom from the original background and placed two more back into the scene.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Begin blending
We need to blend everything more accurately into the surroundings. Select a soft-edged brush (100 to 200px, 20% Opacity) with the colour set to ‘#161c24’. On a clipping mask, begin to paint over the elements so they appear more backlit. Adjust the opacity and blending mode as needed. Create a clipping mask and paint in some brighter tones for rim lighting around the outside of the elements. Using the Color Picker, select various hues in the piece and paint over the woman and mushrooms. Set the blending mode to Soft Light. Be sure to paint in a rough shadow underneath the woman.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Paint the grass
Take a small hard-edged brush (10 to 20px) and use the Color Picker to sample tones from the grass around the model’s feet. Slowly paint around the feet to mimic the surrounding grassy areas. If you don’t have a tablet, try the Dune Grass brush in the Default set to generate an easy workaround. Use this technique for around the mushrooms and any other elements we add later on. Implementing these fine details adds to the overall image. Do it in many areas so the level of detail and blending is evident.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Add mountains
The background looks a bit dull and flat, so we’re going to add some faded mountains to bring a sense of depth and add to the surrealism of the scene. Create a new layer just above the background and add in your mountain stock (we used Dreamstime, image no: 1252648, but there are other options on the disc too). Add a layer mask and use a Soft brush in black at around 20% Opacity to start blending it. We set the blending mode to Vivid Light in this case, but experiment as you see fit.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Liven up the sky
The sky here is also very bland, so let’s bring in some more prominent clouds. The key is to simply find a cloud stock with a good contrast between the sky and clouds (again, there are options on the disc and we used Shutterstock, image no: 63948211). Use Cmd/Ctrl+L for Levels and drag the sliders around to maximise the contrast. Once it looks good, simply set the blending mode to Screen and bring in a layer mask to blend them in more seamlessly. The screenshot here shows the clouds before applying the Screen blend. We will add more details using this technique later.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Surreal sparkle touches
On the original composite background used, we clipped some of the simple sparkles coming from the original mushroom. To create more streaks, simply take the Smudge tool at 5 to 10px, 90% Strength and hold Shift to pull up some more vertical lines. Add in more sparkles by adding a Scatter to a 4px brush in the Brush palette and set the Count to 1 as seen in the screenshot. If brushing on black background, set to Screen or Color Dodge blending mode to achieve the desired effect.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

To build on the surreal look, use the Polygonal Lasso tool to cut out the bun from her hair and copy that layer. Here, we placed it on top on a new layer to give the impression of longer hair being tied up. To blend, use a 3px brush and Opt/Alt-click on a tone in the hair. Slowly brush some strands back in to remove the choppiness from the cutout. We also added a small branch in her hair from a Dreamstime vine (image no: 1238379). There are also some leaves images on the disc.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Push the details
We cut out a frog stock (there are some samples of the disc; ours is from, image no: 554538) and employed some of the same blending techniques. Make sure to darken the back of it using Hue/Saturation and adjust the lighting so it hits the edges. Since it’s up front, add a slight Gaussian Blur at 5-7%. Draw in some grass again around the frog and other new elements to improve blending. Also explore some of the colouring techniques on them used early to add to the overall feeling. Also added during this stage is the dragonfly photo of our own and a blurred vine up front (10 to 15%) from Dreamstime (image no: 1313045).

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Painting layers and atmosphere
Let’s paint in some mist and more sparkles using the supplied brush set. The key is to add some touches to the atmosphere that seem a bit empty or lacking. The set works well with a tablet due do its variation. No need to use blend modes here, just select white for your Foreground colour and carefully paint more details. They can easily be used with a mouse as well. The screenshot shows the painting layer on a black Background as well.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

In order to blend the model a bit more with the surroundings, gather various vine and foliage stocks to place around her. We also painted some simple thin branches in a couple tones of brown and added leaves to them. Don’t worry about making it perfect since errors in small elements aren’t very discernable. Position them so it flows around her body and looks more elegant rather than messy. Also be sure to create a shadow underneath in the right spots to add some dimension to the foliage.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

Adjustment layers and finalising
Last, we need to add some drama to the image using adjustment layers. Using your preferred method, first add some contrast. In this case we used a Curves layer. We added some blue tones using Color Balance, brought out some warm highlights with selective colour, and also a black/white Gradient Map set to Luminosity among others. A PSD marked as adjustment layers is included on the disc in order to obtain all the adjustments made on this final image.

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

How To Create A Surreal Image - Step-by-Step Photoshop Tutorial

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