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Photo Manip Deconstructed


Photo Manip Deconstructed Title PostWe talk a lot about ‘Core Skills here at SurrealPSD, the essential Photoshop tools and techniques used in the art of photo manipulation. Today we’re going to be looking at a new manip and breaking down the processes used to create it. The Core Skills are used in every facet of photo manipulation, from the very simple through to complex photo composites. Read on for the skinny!


Art of Sound

The piece we’re looking at was produced for a UK event promoter (Resonate, Bristol); it’s a mash-up of eras and styles, with a strong Sci-Fi aesthetic.

Photo Manip Deconstructed 1

The Stocks

I wanted to create some kind of audio-device but didn’t really know what approach to take, so I cruised many stock images online to see what jumped out.. Sometimes the process of photo manip is organic, and is spurred on by certain images that catch your interest.

These are the stocks that were used in the final piece, not counting the many failed ‘experiments’; stocks that were checked out but didn’t quite fit the overall piece:

Photo Manip Deconstructed 2Credits: Mechanical Parts by foxstox (DeviantArt)Airplane Gears by stockproject1 (DeviantArt)Engine by CMSeter (SXC)Gramophone Army by strwberrystk (DeviantArt)Old Record Player by vierdrie (SXC)Speaker by vierdrie (SXC)

You have probably noticed there is a sense of continuity in terms of the materials and colour tones of the stock images, which in turn produced an aged aesthetic to the overall work. A good understanding of stock photography is essential in photo manipulation, check out our guide to find out more:

>> Core Skills РSelecting Stock Photography


The Background

These simple backgrounds really draw focus into central objects, which could be the reason why I often go for understated / low-tech scenery.. The basic process involved using large soft-edged brushes and Gaussian Blur – with layer modes set to Overlay where necessary. For the full tutorial explaining the technique, check out the article:

>> Instant Backgrounds in Photoshop


Cutting out the Elements

When removing elements from stock images, I favour the Pen Tool for creating selections and performing background removals.. This under-used and seriously multi-functional tool allows you to work with clinical precision, and for those who favour the ‘hyper-real’ look, this tool is a must!

Photo Manip Deconstructed 3

Some of the extra stock elements that I didn’t use in the final image are also included in the above image. Much of the labour in this type of composite is cutting out objects, positioning, experimenting, and at times scrapping if necessary. The functionality of the Pen Tool definitely aids in this process, as well as producing flawless results..

>> Photoshop Pen Tool [HD] Video Tutorial


Compositing Skills: Lighting

Even though this particular piece doesn’t have a strong lighting aspect, there are still instances where basic lighting effects were used. When producing the illusion of realism, artificially manipulating the light by creating shadows or highlights is essential. In this instance there were highlights applied to the top of the gramophone player and outer rim of the record, as well as subtle shadows that would be cast by the various bits of machinery:

Photo Manip Deconstructed 4

Light is at the core of all visual arts, to take your work further why not investigate the physics of light and how certain techniques can be delivered in Photoshop:

>> Lighting in Photo Manipulation Part 1 (Introduction)

>> Lighting in Photo Manipulation Part 2 (Shadows)

>> Lighting in Photo Manipulation Part 3 (Highlights)


Colour Control

Ive recently started using the individual colour channels of a Curves Adjustment (Red, Green, Blue) to create colour-castes in my work.. Ive found that the results are more refined than using Hue / Saturation adjustments or other means. When implementing these types of adjustments, I always use Adjustment Layers – which allow ongoing editorial control and are ‘non-destructive’. Pixels degrade when applying effects directly to them, so working non-destructively is essential in the Photoshop workflow:

>> Core Skills: Photoshop Adjustment Layers



As a finisher to most of my photo manips, I apply an Unsharp Mask filter to sharpen the overall composition.. This basically picks out all the great little details and adds that extra ‘pop’ to a piece of work. Here’s a before and after to illustrate:

Photo Manip Deconstructed 5

To apply the same effect in your work, Select All (Ctrl/Cmd + A), Copy Merged (Edit > Copy Merged or Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + C) and paste the new merged layer at the top of the layer stack. Apply the Unsharp Mask to this merged layer (Filter > Sharpen > Unsharpen Mask).



I hope you find the deconstruction and it’s supporting articles useful. If you have your own ‘Essential Techniques’ in Photoshop, feel free to share in the comments section below.

Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter >> @Conzpiracy

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