How to Achieve Retro Instagram Effects with Levels or Tone Curves

Retro effects are one of the most popular ways to stylize your photo and give it a nostalgic feeling. There are many ways to create these effects but not all of them are as simple as this one. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to create your own retro effects with just one adjustment layer using a technique called Channel Contrast. You’ll also learn how to use Channel Contrast to analyze the color grading of other photos and use them on your own.

Video Tutorial

Download the Example PSD

See a comparison between a retro effect created with many layers versus the same effect with just one layer.

Photoshop Actions that Uses Channel Contrast

Here are some Photoshop actions that uses the same Channel Contrast technique. You can download the free versions to explore the numerous effects you can create with Channel Contrast.

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Create a Surreal and Magical Dream Bottle Landscape

In this advanced tutorial, you’ll learn how to create a magical bottle scene set against the backdrop of a surreal landscape by compositing and blending several stock images together using techniques of layer masks, adjustment layers, dodge & burn.

I’ll also explain how to work with shadows and lighting as well as with the Camera raw filter to enhance the details and achieve a dramatic result.

I’ll also show you how to extract the bottle from its background and make it transparent by using different blend modes.

You’ll also be learning effective techniques for adding ivies on the bottle to add a surreal & magical feel to the whole scene.

So, let’s get started!

Final Results

Tutorial Resources

Preview of the Final Result:

This is the final image that we will be creating.

Step 1

Create a new document with size 2000 x 2000 pixel. Activate the Gradient Tool by hitting G on the keyboard and choose Radial Gradient. Set the Foreground colour to #f5e0a3 and #8acded for the background.

Start to fill the document with the radial gradient by clicking, holding and dragging the tool to the direction as shown in the red arrow:

Step 2

Now we will add the skies stock.

Open sky 1 and using a rectangular marquee tool (M) select the shown part below. Copy (C) and Paste (V) it on the main document above the gradient layer as shown below:

Then, to brighten the sky a bit and apply a bluish tone, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels and creating a Clipping mask apply the following values to the Greens and the Blues channel:

Step 3

Next, apply a curves layer to further brighten the whole sky. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves, this time without apply clipping mask and apply the following values as shown below:

Open Sky 2 and select the following portion of the sky using a Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and paste (V) it over sky 1.

Then change the blending mode to Color Burn and reduce the Opacity to 35% as shown in the preview below:

After this apply a color balance adjustment layer over both the skies. Uncheck the ‘preserve luminosity’ and change the blend mode of this layer to Luminosity.

Step 4

Open the Mountain 1 background stock and copy it (C) and paste it (P) over the skies backgrounds.

Apply a Free Transform tool (Cmd/Ctrl+T), flip horizontally and transform it into the scene. Then apply a layer mask to it and using a low opacity brush of around 30-40%, mask the sky part as shown in the section below:

Add a levels adjustment layer in clipping mask. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels and apply the following values:

Step 5

Now open the second mountain stock and copy (C) it over the main document as a top most layer. Apply a free transform tool (Cmd/Ctrl+T) and scale it to fit into the main scene.

Add a layer mask to it and mask the area using a soft brush (B) with a low opacity brush of around 40-45% as shown in the selection below:

Create a Levels adjustment layer using a clipping mask to brighten and change the colour of the mountain background. Apply the following values shown below:

Then create a curves adjustment layer again in clipping mask to further enhance and brighten the scene.

After that apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the mountains slightly and blend in with the whole scene:

Step 6

Now open Landscape stock, we will make that as our ground. Activate the free transform tool (Cmd/Ctrl+T) and enlarge it to fit it into the whole scene. Then give it a layer mask and mask away the part using a soft, low opacity brush (35-45%) as shown in the section below:

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4 Useful Ways to Use Perspective Warp

The Perspective Warp tool is almost like magic. It lets you change the perspective in your image and can be used to rotate buildings and objects, make telephoto shots look like wide angle shots, and quickly straighten multiple objects in less than a minute. Read this tutorial and find out four useful ways to use the Perspective Warp tool in Photoshop CC.

Video Tutorial

Rotate a Building

The primary reason the Perspective Warp tool was created was to allow you to change the perspective of an object. In this case, we’ll use a building since it’s the simplest example. As you can see in this image, the building was photographed at an awkward angle. In hindsight, I should have took it from another angle. But thanks to the Perspective Warp tool, we can now fix this without going back there.

Here’s how to do it. First duplicate your layer by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+J then convert it to a Smart Object by right-clicking on the layer and choosing “Convert to Smart Object”. By converting the layer to a Smart Object, we can apply the Perspective Warp nondestructively and go back to edit the settings at any time.

Next, go to Edit > Perspective Warp. If you don’t see this, make sure that you have the latest version of Photoshop CC installed. If it’s grayed out, then go to Edit > Preferences > Performance. Make sure that the “Use Graphics Processor” option is enabled. Note that your graphics processor must have at least 512 MB of video RAM to use this feature.

Once you have the Perspective Warp tool activated, click anywhere to create a grid. Drag the points on the grid to create a grid that covers the perspective of the building. You can also click on a point and use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move them around. Pay attention to the grid lines and make sure that they are parallel with any lines on your building.

Click anywhere on the image to create another grid. This time, drag one of the points towards the corner of the grid you created earlier. Release your mouse when you see two lines highlighted in blue. This will merge the points together.

Continue dragging the rest of the points towards the other corners of the building.

Next, switch to the Warp mode by clicking on the button in the options bar.

You can move the points around but it’ll usually skew your image which isn’t what we want.

Instead, hold the shift key and click on the middle line. This will straighten the line and make the two points link to each other. Now when you drag one point, the other will follow it horizontally.

Hold the shift key and click on the other two vertical lines.

Drag the points so that it fits your image.

You can complete the image by trimming off the edges with the Crop tool. If you get any

If you get any transparent spots, you can use the Healing brush tool to fill it in. You can’t use it directly on the Smart Object, but here’s how to get around it. Create a new layer then select the Healing Brush tool. In the options bar, checkmark the Sample All Layers option. Now you can click on a transparent spot and it’ll heal the area using the data from all your layers.

Here’s a before and after shot of the Perspective Warp tool.



Match Perspective

Another useful purpose for the Perspective Warp tool is to match the perspective of two images. For example, we found two images on – one of a truck and one of a road. The perspective is similar but not close enough for us to simply place the truck on the road. To fix this, we can use the Perspective Warp tool to change the perspective of the truck.

Using the Perspective Warp tool, draw two boxes around the sides of the truck. Hold the shift key and click on a vertical line that you want to move.

That’s all! This feature is great for photo manipulators who spend countless hours finding the right stock photo with matching perspective. There’s still some fixing required especially around the wheels.

To fix this, we can use the Puppet Warp tool by going to Edit > Puppet Warp. Click to create four points on the edge of the wheel then drag the middle two points upwards to align the wheels.

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Create a “Game of Thones” Inspired Photo Composite

Lately Game of Thrones season 6 has been aired! One of the most famous characters in it is Daenerys Stormborn. So let’s do an fanart for her! I loved her baby dragons. So I dediced to do an artwork of her with one of her baby dragons.

You will learn how to use fire and a lot about blending methods. Also you will train your painting skills by painting burning clothes and hair!

Final Results

Tutorial Resources

Step 1

Open up a new file 2248 x 3400 px in 300 dpi.
Make a new group called “Background”, give it a color and copy the desert scenery stock inside and put it at the bottom of your workspace on a new layer called “desert”.

Step 2

Select the heaven with the quick selection tool and cut it out with ctrl + x. Now open the rocky landscape image and place it on a layer under the “desert” layer. Put it behind the desert rocks and throw it bigger. As we will blur it out in the next steps it’s not necessary that it is very clear. Name it “rocks”.

Now use the Gaussian Blure filter on the “rocks” layer with 3 pixel to generate a depth effect.Turn the “desert” layer into a Smart Object by clicking right on the layer and choose “convert into Smart Object”. Also use the Gaussian Blur filter for our “desert” layer with 4 px. Invert the Smart Object Mask by clicking on the mask and than ctrl + i. Now paint the filter with a big soft white brush (500px, 50 % opacity) at the edges of the desert rocks to get a smooth gradient from background to foreground.

Step 3

Open the model stock image and select her and parts of the rock with the quick selection tool. You don’t have to be too careful with her hair, because later we will paint some strains in. Cut her out with crtl+x and close the image. Now make a new Group, call it “Model” and give it a color. Now make a new layer (“model”) and put in the cut out model. With crtl + t (free transform) put her right in the center of the image. Now give the layer a Mask. And with a big soft round brush and black color (500 px, 30% opacity) paint over the eges of the stone and let it “sink into the sand”. Than with the pipett tool take a sand color, make a new layer and set it to clipping mask, than overpaint the stone with the sandy color in “color mode”. Dublicate the layer and set the mode to “Soft light” at about 24% to give it more light. Above that layers make a new adjustment layer as clipping mask and choose curves. Throwing the line a little bit down will make the stone darker. On the layer mask remove the curve effect from her by painting with black color above her.

Step 4

Now we correct little things like giving the hair a smooth shape and bluring the edges to melt the stock with our background by using the blur tool. After that it’s time for painting the hair in. I recommend a graphic tablet for that, but if you are very good with the mouse it should not be a problem. For hair I always use Zoom close into the image crtl+ and make a new layer called “hair”. Use the Hair 5 brush with about 20% opacity and a small size of about 15 px. Now hold alt and take a hair color right at the edge. With that paint some strands in following the hair structure. Building your hair you always has to take colors from the hair and switch from darker to lighter. Using pure white you can paint in some highlights. You can paint those highlights also in her hair to give it more complexity. With a small brush and more opacity (4 px, 40%) you can paint some single hairs so it do not look so straight.

Step 5

Let’s give her skin a smooth and painted like touch. For that covert the Model layer into a Smart Object (That will apply the mask to the model so you should be happy with the rock). With that use the Surface Blur filter with 15 px and 15 steps. It will look odd, but when we painted it only at the skin it will look good. Invert the Smartfiltermask and with a soft white brush paint in the effect (20 % opacity) only to her skin. On top of the layers (over the curve layer) make a new layer called “light”. Paint with a soft white brush and 20 % opacity some white light on her cheeks, nose and flat. Set it to “soft light” and set the layer opacity to about 65 % depending on how much you want the effect in. On a second light layer empazise the tip of her nose and some light parts with white soft brush in overlay mode and 20 % opacity.

Step 6

10. On top of the cliping mask layers set a adjustment layer with bright/contrast (7/19). Also we need to fit her more to the color tone of the desert. For that we make a new layer over the hair layer and set it to softlight, 42%. Use the pinsel and with alt use some sky colors to paint over hair. Empazise her egdes and see that her back has to be more lightful, because the sun comes from behind. Now make a new ajustment layer, color balance and invert it mask to paint it’s effect on our model with white on the black mask. The last light step is giving her a shadow. As you can see in our desert stock, the shadows fall long over the sand from right to left. So take with pinsel and alt a shadow color from the sand and paint with a middle soft brush from our model on the stone to the left image edge. Experiment with the layer opacity until it looks like the other shadows. Now dublicate the layer set it on soft mode and lower the opacity until you have a good result.

Step 7


Make a new layer and open Flames0005 from CGtextures. Place the image with Crtl + T around Dany and the rock than set the layer mode to screen. With free transforming and wrap turn the fire around the stone. Delet some of the right fire part, which just looks unreal with a small soft eraser. Now we build up some more fire on two layers under the big fire layer by using Flame0045 and Flame0016.Than make a new layer under the fire layer and with a big soft brush (385 px, 90% opacity) and black paint a “shadow” under the fire and set it to soft light. Play with the layer opacity until the fire really pops out of the image but looks realistic .

Step 8

Make a new group called “Burnt Cloth” and make a new layer. Now load the burnt paper brushes. Now go back to our model select all clipmask layers and with holding alt press Crtl + E. That will give us a summarized Dany layer without destroying the others. So you can already working on it, if you need to correct things. But for now make the layers under Dany invisible. Now on the new layer in the “Burnt Cloth” group take brush 78 of the burnt papers and paint it with 100% opacity and black color at the bottom of her skirt. With crtl + T you can set it on the place you want it. Set the layer mode to screen. Now select the ‘hole’ the burnt paper is making and cut it out on Dany’s layer by crtl + X. A little problem is that now you can see her leg behind the holes of the burnt cloth. So take a soft small brush 30 px, 76% hard and 18% obacity and paint some skin by using differnt skin tones of her legs on a layer under the Dany layer. Now go on and paint some more burning cloth around the edges, where the fire touches her dress. When we get on with it and come to the cloth on the stone, we need to do something similar to the step with the skin painting. Painting on the burning effect and erasing the cloth under it we take some of the stone with us.

Step 9

For that we make a layer “rock” above the Dany one, take the Clone Stamp tool and take some stone from the Dany layer by clicking left and alt together. With this we go to the “rock” layer and paint it in with the Clone Stamp Tool. On a clipping mask layer we paint in some shadow with black soft brush and layer mode soft light. No go on with the burning cloth. If you have painted all areas, where fire touches cloth we go to the last step. Take one of the huge dark brushes at the end of the pack and paint some darkening effect on the cloth around the burnt egdes. Variate with the opacity and set the layer on screen mode.

Step 10

. We are ready for the dragon!
Make a new group called “dragon”.
Open the dragon image and copy it in our document (crtl + a, crtl+v, crtl+c). Put in on a new layer. Resize it with the free transforming tool. Hold shift while you throw it smaller with the mouse – so the proportions of the dragons are fixed. Resize it until it fits very well on Dany’s lap (it’s still a baby dragon). The baby dragon makes some shadow, so we paint some in on a layer under the dragon and a soft black brush with low opacity (24%) in screen mode. Also he needs some ambient light to melt him with the scenery. So make a new cliping mask layer above the dragon, call it ambient light and take some sand and sky colors to paint them in soft light mode on the dragon. Also set a bright/contrast adjustment layer on top as clipping mask and increase the contrast of the dragon.

Step 11

We make the last adjustments to our image. So open a new group “adjustments” and place the firework0008 image above the fire. Resize it and on a inverted mask paint in some sparks. Dublicate the layer and by doing the same step again and again cover all of the fire. Set every fire layer to a SmartObject.
Now we make severall ajustment layers. First is a color balance with following settings:
middtones: +12, -5, -7; darktones: +13, +8; +7; lights: +5, -6, +11;
The next is a bright/contrast adjustment layer with 4 bright and 21 contrast. Than we make a selective color adjustment layer with yellow at -68, -15, -8, 0 and red at +35, 0, +1, +11;
Now we make a new layer and take the rectangular selection tool and thorw a rectangle around the edges of the image. Invert the selection with crtl + I and fill it with black color. Set the layer mode to soft light and with a gaussian blure filter smooth the edges.

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