Photo manipulation from real to surreal

This tutorial describes how you can turn a normal photo into a surreal looking photo using Adobe Photoshop.


For this tutorial, I used a stock photo from http://www.sxc.hu. The tower, the sky and the crows of this photo already give a kind of surreal feel to it.

Step 1.
Open the photo in Photoshop and drag the background layer to the New Layer icon to duplicate the background layer. Click the small eye in front of the background layer to hide it. Your Layers palette should look like this:

Step 2.
We are going to remove the trees on the left of the tower by using the Clone Stamp Tool but first choose the Zoom Tool from the Toolbar and zoom in (300%) on the trees.

Step 3.
Select the Clone Stamp Tool from the Toolbar and choose a hard brush. Set the brush size to 27 pixels. Start at the top of the trees and work your way down.

Use the Clone Stamp Tool by positioning the pointer on an area that has similar colors in the background as you want for the spot you want to hide. When you found the right spot, click your mouse button while holding down the Alt button (your brush tip/ mouse pointer will change to a target), and go to the area you want to hide and click or drag. You now have cloned a part of the background over the trees branches, do this until you have removed all the trees.

Step 4.
On the following image I’m half way with removing the trees from the photo. You can easily change the size of your brush by pressing the [ and ] key.

Step 5.
Here is my result after using the Clone tool to remove the brushes.

Step 6.
I want to make the horizon even on both sides of the tower. To help me do that, I use a Guide. Select the Guide by bringing your mouse pointer to the horizontal ruler in your file, click your mouse button and drag down. (If you don’t see the rulers press Ctrl + R.)

Set the guide so it fits the horizon on the right side of the tower. To move the guide after you have placed it on your work you need to select the Move Tool .

Step 7.
Fill the space between the Guide and the horizon again with the Clone Stamp Tool and use for the edge a hard brush. Before you start using the brush set you foreground color to match the color of your work.

Here is my result:

Step 8.
Save your image.

Step 9.
Do the same with trees at the right side of the tower using the Clone Tool and your Brush Tool. As you can see I didn’t remove the wooden pole.

Here is my result:

Step 10.
Create a new Layer and rename this Layer Grass by double clicking on the Layer’s name. At the right side of the tower there is a part of grass we will use the Clone Stamp Tool to clone this grass around the tower. Because we want the grass to be on a new layer, you need to switch between the Background copy Layer and the Grass Layer. As soon as you have a part of grass on the Grass Layer you can use this for the remainder part of the image. I worked around the wooden pole, because I want to use it later.

Your layer palette should now look like this:

Step 11.
Select the Background copy Layer and use the Clone Stamp Tool to remove the grass on the tower.



Step 12.
Select the Clone Stamp Tool once more to remove some of the crows in the sky


Crows before


Crows after

Step 13.
Select the Pen Tool and the Background copy Layer and create a path around the tower.
After you have created a path, click your right mouse button and choose Make selection. Set Feather Radius to 1 pixels and check anti-aliased.


If you don’t know how to use the Pen Tool, read our tutorial Extract a selection from a photo and scroll down to the part 4 where I explain the Pen Tool.

Step 14.
Press Ctrl + C to copy the selection and press Ctrl + V to paste it on a new Layer. Rename this Layer Tower. Press Ctrl+S to save your work.

Step 15.
Select the Pen Tool and the Background copy Layer and create a path around the sky. After you created the path click your right mouse button and choose Make selection. Set Feather Radius to 0 pixels and check anti-aliased.

Step 16.
Press Ctrl + C to copy the selection and press Ctrl + V to paste it on a new Layer. Rename this Layer Sky.

Step 17.
Zoom in at the top window of the tower. You can see the sky thru this window. Select the Background copy Layer and the Pen Tool and create a path on the inside of the window.

After you created a path click your right mouse button and choose Make selection. Set Feather Radius to 0 pixels and check anti-aliased.

Step 18.
Press Ctrl + C to copy the selection and press Ctrl + V to paste it on a new Layer.


Step 19.
Make sure the new Layer for the window is on top of the Sky Layer and press Ctrl + E to merge the two Layers. Your Layers palette should look like this.

Step 20.
Select the Sky layer and set the Blending mode of this layer to Exclusion. The sky will turn much darker.



Step 21.
Select the Sky Layer again and press Ctrl + U to open the adjustment box for the Hue / Saturation settings. Make sure to check the colorize box. I want to give the sky a green touch and lighten up the dark bit of the sky a bit. I used the following settings: Hue 280, saturation 90, Lightness -6




Step 22.
Double click on the Grass layer to pop up the Layer styles box. Choose Color overlay. I want to give the grass a blue-ish look, so I used # 017E86. Set Opacity to 35%.

Step 23.
After applying the Color overlay on the Grass Layer I noticed I’ve skipped a small part by selecting the grass of sky. I moved around the Layers and noticed I missed a small part of the sky but by moving the Grass Layer above the Sky Layer it covered most of it, and the remaining part I covered by using the Clone Stamp Tool.



Step 24.
Set the blending mode for the Tower Layer to Overlay. The overlay mode doesn’t replace the base color but mix it with the blend color to reflect the lightness or darkness of the original color.

Step 25.
Select the Tower Layer again and choose Image from the Menu bar, choose adjustments and choose Photo Filter. Use the following settings: Filter green, Density 35%, and disable Preserve Luminosity.

Step 26.
Create a new layer and called it Touch up. We are going to use this Layer to touch up the edges from the tower and the crows in the sky and for the door in the tower. I used a soft brush with Opacity of 40% and the Clone Stamp Tool to do this. Use the [ & ] key to easily switch the brush size.

Step 27.
I grabbed an image of a crow from Yotophoto.com and used the Pen Tool to create a path around it. I made a selection and copied it into a new file. I size the crow down and paste it into on a new Layer. I placed the crow on the wooden pole and renamed that Layer Crow. Go to Yotophoto.com and seach for a crow, other bird or something else you think would fit in the image.

Your Layers palette should know look like this.

Step 28.
Repeat step 24 and 25 for the crow Layer. Use the following setting for the Photo Filter: Filter green, Density 25%, and disable Preserve Luminosity.

Step 29.
Create a new Layer a rename this Layer fog. Choose the Zoom Tool and choose fit on screen. Select a soft brush and set the brush size to 200 pixels, Mode to Dissolve. Set to foreground color to black. Use the [ & ] key to easily switch the brush size.



Step 30.
Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur. Set Radius to 10 pixels

Your Layer palette should look like this:

Here is my end result (click image to download photo)

This tutorial is created originally for 3Dvalley.com. You are not allowed to redistribute this tutorial in any form.

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One Response to Photo manipulation from real to surreal

  1. Rahul says:

    Hi ,
    Fantastic tutorial. I enjoyed a lot and learned a lot though I am architectural 3D modeller. If you have any free intersting tutorial like this , pls send me link on my e-mail address.

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