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Creating photomanipulations

Photomanipulation is any process in which we use traditional or digital tools to transform an original photograph. Even adjusting color balance and contrast may be considered photomanipulation, but serious photomanips are actually works where one combines few images into a composite. We manipulate images to get results we cannot get in real life. Results of heavy manipulations may be your friend's head on a body of a famous model, or a creepy creature from fantasy stories, fairies, Pegasus, Minotaur... anything you can imagine.

In order to create quality photomanipulations, you should be familiar with all the skills required for making blends. But, those will not be enough — you will rarely find just the photo you are looking for and probably you will have to recreate some pieces.

I must note that this is not a complete "how to" guide, for there is a lot more for me to learn, but I will show you how I do it with the knowledge I currently have.

Theme

Does this sound familiar? It should. You cannot create anything without knowing at least what you want to accomplish. Sometimes you'll go for one theme and then in the middle turn in a completely different direction — it's perfectly okay, but you must have a direction at all times. You may experiment, sometimes it can give good results, but it does not work for all people. Turn on your music player. Get some chocholate, cookies or snacks, and plenty of drink. Sit comfortably, for you will probably stay in this position for hours. Now let your mind work.

Preparation

It's great when you have a digital camera. I take mine wherever I go, because one can never know where he will find interesting details. If you don't own one, you should try free non-commercial stock photo sites, like Stock exchange, Morguefile or deviantART — don't forget to link back to original photographers afterwards!

Also, go get some brushes and textures you might find useful and when you have it all, you're ready. I have a fine selection of brushes and textures that can come handy.

Manipulating

I will try to explain some techniques I used on my work Perfect wife (EDIT: This work is no longer available in my gallery). I don't guarantee to remember everything, but I'll mention the essentials.

Step 1: Set up

I usually start from the backround. Here I used a texture of mine, which I desaturated and set on a layer called background. Then I opened a picture of me (since I don't have other models than myself) and played with its color settings, until I got something I liked more. Original image was really orange. I pasted it onto a new layer called head.

Photomanipulation step 1

Step 2: Getting rid of unwanted backgrounds

Now watch carefully, I'm about to teach you a trick. My image has a background that doesn't really fit in. Since it's light, almost white, I figured a way how to avoid precise cutting (I wasn't in a mood to cut hair by hair, really) — cut close to the edges, but not too close so you don't cut essential parts. I mean, I could simply cut off the light hairs, but it would look less realistic.

Photomanipulation step 2a

Now, try to make area around the dark object even more lighter. I used Dodge Tool Dodge Tool with Range set to Midtones, Exposure set to 50% and brushed around the hair. I caught some hairs aswell, but it didn't harm them too much. Then I set the Curves (Ctrl+M) to a shape you see on the image:

Curves dialog

Look at the image while you adjust curves, it should be recognizable, but with high contrast. When the area is light enough, but all important features are still visible, click OK. I desaturated it a little, and here it is:

Photomanipulation step 2b

Now, I cut out the face (caught some hair in aswell) and copied it onto a new layer:

Photomanipulation step 2c Layers

I did the same thing with white shirt collar, then I set the layer head's blending mode to Multiply. Now does this look neat or what? :)

Photomanipulation step 2d

If the background was dark, and the object was mostly light, you would do the same thing, only set the blending mode to Screen in the end. Feel free to cut each hair separately if you like, but this saves you much time.

Step 3: Deleting parts and applying textures

The essential tool in photomanipulation is the Clone Stamp Tool Clone Stamp Tool — with it you may re-paint some parts, using textures off other parts of the image. I will show you how I deleted features from the face. Select the Clone Stamp and repeat this: press Alt and click on a texture to be copied; Release Alt and paint over a part you want to replace. Do this with all the areas, changing Opacity at times, until you get something like... this:

Photomanipulation step 3

I did pay attention to where the light comes from, so the face does not look flat.

Step 4: Applying texture

I decided to give this face some wrinkled skin texture, so I used a macro photo of my palm, made it really bright and set it to Multiply. Then I manually (using the eraser tool) deleted unneccesary parts around the face. It helps if you set the layer style to Difference while you do it, you'll see edges of colored areas on layers below. Since the palm has some large wrinkles, I used the Clone Stamp tool again to replace big ones with subtle wrinkles. I only left one because it's on the mouth. This detail is not present on the original work.

Photomanipulation step 4

Step 5: Adding elements

This is the hardest thing to do — adding different images and applying them seamlessly. It's all a matter of heavy practice and experimenting. I wrote a tutorial on precise cutting so use one of these methods (or your own). For areas that cannot or don't have to be cut that precise, feather selection will do.

Green eye

In case of this eye, I selected it from its background which is also skin, so I will only have to blend in this skin with my own. After selecting the eye, I chose Select > Feather... — amount depends on how loose your selection is. I colorized the eye into a beige-brownish shade that fits the skin. I then set the iris color to blue-gray to accomplish somewhat cold look. The method to change color of something is easy — draw a colored blob on a new layer and set its mode to Color. You can notice how I also rotated the eye a bit to look in the same direction as the face does. I made a new layer in which I pasted only lashes and set its mode to Multiply, so they stand out more.

Photomanipulation step 5

Mouth, however required more transforming. This is original photo:

Sewer grate

First, the middle part was cut and pasted into the image. Using Free Transform (Crtl+T) first I resized the grate (hold Shift and pull those little square handlers), and then rotated it a bit into the right perspective. I reshaped it too so it's not a perfect rectangle, two top angles were brought a bit closer. You can do this by holding Ctrl while pulling an angle handler. The layer's mode was then set to Hard light and skin around the grate was darkened a bit using the Burn tool Burn Tool (Range: Midtones, Exposure: around 10%).

Photomanipulation step 5b

Chains required even more working. These are original photos:

Metal.. something Chains

First, choker was cut from its background and rotated to fit the neck. I duplicated the shirt layer and moved it on top so part of the choker is covered by it, but offcourse I deleted right part of the shirt because it's supposed to be behind the choker. After a lot of shading with Burn tool and highlighting with Dodge tool Dodge Tool both on the metal and the skin, it looks something like this.

Photomanipulation step 5c

Chain was cut, rotated and shaded/highlighted the same way. Unfortunatly, there was not much to be done about the light source on this one, since it was photographed in such a position. Now the important part was blending the two parts of metal together so they look melted into one piece. Again, Clone tool was used to cover cement on the edge with rusted metal texture.

Photomanipulation step 5d

Here's a capture of my layers:

Layers

Step 6: Final adjustments

Now, in the very end, I know how much space I used so I can crop the unneeded background. I desaturated the background, adjusted color levels on the flattened image, added borders and a bit of noise (using the Noise filter with very small values). Here it is — click on the image to see it in larger size and quality.

Photomanipulation finished

Enjoyed this tutorial? Read another Photo-manipulation tutorial: How to make a fairy in a bottle!



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