Photoshop Tutorial – How to Create This Incredible Surreal Photo Manipulation of a Dancer in Photoshop

Learn how to use Photoshop to create this amazing photo manipulation using several clever techniques such as using the Liquify tool to bend twigs and branches. The most important part of this tutorial will show you how to use layer blending modes and the Shadow/Highlights adjustment to create an ethereal tone effect.


Preview of Final Results

Step 1

Create new document (File > New or Ctrl/Cmd+N)


Use the Paint Bucket tool (G) and fill with the color #A1A1A1. Then, add a black to white gradient map by going to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map.


Step 2 – Add Ground Layers

Add the ground layer (GROUND\IMG_6231). Scale the image using the Free Transform tool (Edit > Free Transform or Ctrl/Cmd+T). Now, I will change the shadows and light a bit. Because you never know how it will work with layers and which one will come later, you should convert your layer to a Smart Object. To do this, right-click on the layer and choose “Convert to Smart Object”. Now we are ready to use the Shadow/Highlights adjustment (Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights).

Note: Every layer name will have the same number as the ones in the tutorial resources.


As you can see, the details of the rock has increased with the Shadow/Highlights adjustment..


Now I will add a layer mask and erase parts of the image that I don’t want. Click on the “Add layer mask” icon on the bottom of your Layers palette.

image008 Info: Cienie / Podświetlenie mean Shadow/Highlights (Sorry about that, I use the Polish version of Photoshop)

Select the Brush tool (B) then paint with black on your layer mask. Usually, I just use the first default brush. You can change the opacity as needed. For this tutorial, I will only be using this brush.

Because the bottom of this photo is too blurry, I will add another ground layer. Add the next ground layer located in the folder Ground\IMG_6232. Using exactly the same step as before, I added a layer mask and painted on it with black.


Step 3 – Add Clouds layers

Now I will add some clouds using the exact same technique we did with the ground layers. Remember, you will get better results if you decrease your brush opacity; I usually work between 30-50%. First, I will add a new Gradient Map adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map). It will be the same gradient map as the previous layer so you can just duplicate the previous layer. To do this, select the layer then press Ctrl/Cmd+J to duplicate the layer. Move the layer to the top of your layer like shown in the image below.

  • CLOUD 6022 – Folder CLOUDS\IMG_6022
  • Blending Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • CLOUD 6011 – Folder CLOUDS\IMG_6011
  • Blending Mode: Vivid Light
  • Opacity: 100%

Copy Cloud 6011 then press Ctrl/Cmd+T to activate the Free Transform tool. Change the position and transform  then press Enter or double-click on your image to apply the transformation. Set the layers blending mode to Overlay and opacity to 100%.

  • CLOUD 6375 – Folder CLOUDS\IMG_6375
  • Blending Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • CLOUD 6371 – Folder CLOUDS\IMG_6371
  • Blending Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • CLOUD 6182 – Folder CLOUDS\IMG_6182
  • Blending Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%

Here’s what our layers look like:


Step 4 – Dancer photo

Right-click on the Dancer layer and click “Convert to Smart Object”. I added a layer mask and erased part of the shoe. This isn’t necessary because later the image will be dark enough and the shoe will be covered.

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