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Making blends in Photoshop

If you have read my other Photoshop tutorials, then you know how to extract images, and how to use and create brushes and patterns. This is essential knowledge if you want a quality blend. Note that this tutorial only shows you some possible techniques — it's not the exact way it must be done. Experimenting is what blending is about. Note that on more complex blends, you probably won't even remember later which techniques you've used.

This is the third, and hopefully the final version of tutorial. Skip the prologue.

Before I begin, I must state this: photo manipulation and blends are not synonyms — in fact, blend is a type of photo manipulation, where images are being edited in such way that their edges are seemless, they overlap, and it usually has a merely decorative purpose as a banner, header or wallpaper. In 90% of cases this image is filled with text — (website) name, lyrics or some other text connected to the theme.
On the other hand, "real" manipulations have more meaning to it: people usually try to create scenes they cannot photograph, like fantasy creatures and sceneries, interesting situations etc. Those manips take much more time, since precise cutting is required, and there's no room for blurry areas (unless it's part of the story) — either the image is perfect, or the manipulation is not realistic enough. To learn how they are made, read my tutorial on creating photo manipulations.
Conclusion: altough every blend is a photo manipulation (if it uses photos), not every photo manipulation is to be called a "blend".

Theme

It's very important to have a theme in mind while you're attempting to blend something. If you're not sure what you're doing, you may just get lucky and do it right, but photo manipulation doesn't have much to do with luck, it's more affected by experience.

If you want something lovely and full of fluffy cute stuff, or maybe you want an elegant autumn look, or something vector and high-tech — you have to know it before you start. Mixing styles makes you look clumsy and unsure of what you're doing.

I have decided to make something dark and creepy. I'm not quite sure, but I can tell it will be in dark colors with a sinister feel to it. Now that I know this, I can easily prepare all I need.

Preparation

This involves searching the Internet and your hard drive to find everything you might use in your blend. I have my own photos and brushes to use, but in case you don't there are plenty of good stock resources out there, like Stock exchange, Morguefile or deviantART — don't forget to link back to those resources afterwards!

I found a few images that might come useful, and I loaded some of my brushes into Photoshop: Old papers II, Moth dance, Frail ivy, Spider webs... (all avilable here) I think that's it. My textures folder is opened, in case I need some.

Retouching

You will rarely find just the perfect image. Or maybe the image is okay, but colors are dull. With some easy steps you can turn your image into exactly what you need. Here is my original image:

Stairway

I can tell it's got potential, but there's just too much color and brightness on it for what I had in mind.

After decreasing the brightness to about -60, and increasing the contrast a bit to +6 (Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast...), I also decreased the saturation (Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation... or press Ctrl+U). Then I duplicated the layer (Ctrl+J) and used a blur filter on the top copy: Filter > Blur > Radial blur..., I chose Zoom method and value 10. After that, I set blending mode of the top layer to Overlay (see image).

Blending modes

In the end, I flattened image (Shift+Ctrl+E) to a single layer. If you're working on a large blend, you might end up with 20 layers or even more, and if your computer is a bit slower (like mine -.-) you might wait for some actions longer so it's a good practice to flatten layers whenever you can. After these steps, my image looks a little closer to what I wanted:

Stairway

Adding more images

I decided to add this image of an eye to my blend.

Green eye

One thing you have to be careful about when working with more images is making sure they will look good together — they should not look like two photos cut out from the magazine and glued next to eachother on a piece of cardboard — unless offcourse, that's exactly the look you were going for. But this is usually not the case. You have to blend images together so that nothing distracts the eye.

You can blend images using blending modes, but this will work only for certain color/brightness/contrast combinations, and usually you'll have to do some extra work. If you have carefully cut the image from the background, this will be less of a problem. With easier manipulations, you can skip the tedious cutting and just use the brush or eraser tool to delete unnecessary parts. Or, you can use Polygonal Lasso tool Polygonal Lasso Tool and feather selection (Select > Feather) for a certain amount of pixels.

I have used all 3 methods combined, added some lighting effects (simply by brushing with white color on a layer in between) and got a very good result. It would have been better if I was more careful, but since this is just a tutorial the result doesn't matter much. As you may notice, I added some more ivy leaves to both walls since the original had too much black areas.
I also added more stairs: I selected existing stairs (on the bottom layer), pasted them on a new layer (Ctrl+V), and transformed them (Ctrl+T) — I dragged the corner handles while holding Shift, this resized the stairs and kept their original proportions. Here's my work so far:

blend - step 1

Adding textures

Some premade textures can give your image a better atmosphere — I used one of my linkware textures, adjusted colors and contrast, copied it on the top and set layer's blending mode to Overlay.

blend - step 2

Applying brushes

I love making and using brushes. You have to be careful so you don't overdo it, though. In the beggining you may not know the best amount that will work. You will get better with some practice.

Since my image was pretty much full of details, I only added some ivy and webs in black color to make walls stand out less. I'm sorry to dissapoint you, but nah... I just don't feel like brushing now. I also desaturated image a bit, since I thought colors were too vibrant for a dark atmosphere I'm trying to create.

blend - step 3

Being nearly finnished, I should add some text — in the lack of inspiration for a better purpose of this blend, I invented a band and the album name, cropped the image to square dimensions and added "parental advisory" sticker so now I have an imaginary stereotypical metal album cover :) I just noticed I have a typo, but since I closed Photoshop it's too late for fix. Nevermind. In case you wonder about the font, it's "A theme for murder", downloaded at daFont.
I adjusted colors a bit, and I'm done. Hope you enjoyed this tutorial, click on the image to see it in full size and quality.

blend final

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