Friday, October 23, 2009

Tutorial: Photo Manipulation

Fun With Manipulation!

So, let's talk manipulation. No, not the weird "Do I dazzle you?" kind of manipulation, but PHOTO MANIPULATION!

It's really fun to play manip. But lettuce not fool ourselves, some of the most hilarious photo manipulations ever weren't intended to be funny.

They were just really shitty.

The worst manip I've seen this week is this:

Yeah. That's just... really awful. His head is frightening, and I know Angel insists that ROB JUST HAS AN EPIC HEAD (which, he does, to an extent), but guess what? It shouldn't be eating Bella, kwim? It's just bad. The positioning isn't proportionate to his shoulders and body and ewwww. Seriously, Summit, I need a fucking job and you need a fucking graphics designer. Call me.

Also, anyone else wondering why they're using a crescent moon all over NEW MOON? I mean, fucking hale, symbolism, people, get with it. Makes no sense to me, but idk... I digress...

Lettuce Talk Picture Hunting

If you plan to give manipulation a try, you'd be better be prepared to scour the internet high and low for the right pictures to use. For your base image, you want to find something high quality that won't get you sued. I personally frequent stock websites like or's stock image section.


I look for jean ads. Yeah, I know, but if you think about it, the models are already positioned for hotness, the lighting is always great, they are always really kinda artsy, and they're ADS. They're already public and even though I'm certain some copyrighting exists, you won't see Levi's emailing you anytime soon to request the image be removed. They have better things to do. Like find really anorexic bitches to hump all up on some ripped dudes.

Another option is using movie promos, photoshoots of other actors, or bands, or just... fuck. Get creative. Anything labeled "PROMO" is copyright flimsy. They want you to promo their shit anyway.

For this tutorial, I'm using the below Levi's image. It was chosen from a Twitter poll.

So, a little angsty E/B, yes?

Now we need to choose two corresponding images of Rob/Kstew to make this work.

The most important thing to remember about photo manipulation is this: The more work you have to do to make it look natural, the more unnatural it'll be. It doesn't matter how long you tweak and work to make it perfect, if you HAVE to keep tweaking, then it's all wrong.

Consider these.

1. Position.
This is obviously important. Is the model looking down or up? Left or right? Consider perspective and depth and how that will relate to your Rob or Kstew.

Here's a really shitty and quick sketch I did to convey position and depth. We need to find poses from our Rob and Kstew that mimic this, as much as possible.

You can rotate a head to a certain degree, but if you do it too much, you get this:

Now, at first sight, we don't know what's wrong with this, we just know it's kinda... off. Well, look at their hair. It has no gravity. Hair always falls toward the ground, unless it's styled otherwise. In this case, Bella and Edward were obviously taken from a picture of them standing. This is a nice photo, but that one thing ruined it. Well, that and the fact that the lighting is emanating from between their faces and not ambient but... that's next...

2. Lighting.
Nothing gives away a manipulation like lighting deviation, Sure, you can tweak a little, but the big shit matters. Consider where the light source is coming from and how bright it is, like the below examples illustrate.

So we see where the light source is coming from in these. They are fairly direct.

Fortunately, I have chosen a photo with more ambient, outdoor lighting. These are the easiest because, for one, most studio photoshoots do the ambient dealy. They're big on lighting. So more of the Rob/Kstew pics you find will be in this range.

3. Size.
Size does matter. You can't blow a picture up. Making it larger ruins the quality. So always get the biggest possible images when hunting. You can shrink later, if necessary.

The images that I chose to best suit the above base image are these.

These fit my parameters nicely! Now we just need to move them over to the base.

Step Lists Are Fun

Yeah, I'm using Adobe Photoshop for this. Sorry for all of you that don't/can't use it!

Click on the "Step" link to see a diagram of my Adobe panel for that step.

Step 1.
Open all images.

Step 2.
Desaturate all images. It's not even worth it to try to match color and tone for all. Just desaturate each one by clicking Shift+Ctrl+U (Win).

Step 3.
Cut out Rob. We're doing him first (that's what she said), so we want to whip out our path tool (diagram) and start clicking around the parts of his head that we need (that's what she said). We won't need the hair cut out because the backgrounds are both conveniently white (I swear, I totally didn't plan that).

Step 4.
Make Selection. Right click inside the path you created and choose, "Make Selection." (diagram). You can then make certain you have the first Rob layer selected in your layer's palette (diagram).

Step 5.
Get out your "Move Tool" and then drag Rob's face over to the base image (diagram).

Step 6.
Flip him. Obviously, he needs a horizontal flipping (that's what she said). We do this by going to "Edit>>Transform>>Flip Horizontal"

Step 7.
Putting Rob in His Place. We're going to lower the opacity on Rob's head to 50%, so we can still see the image below him. Then, we're going to use our "Move Tool" to position him correctly. Click the option to "Show Bounding Box" to rotate and shrink the image if necessary. In this case, it is.

Step 8.
Lining Him Up. You can use the base's and Rob's nose, lips, jawline, and or ears as reference for placement. For this one, I used face outline, nose, chin, and ear to position it.

Now we have this:

Step 9.
Blending Him In. We're going to make a layer mask by clicking "Create Layer Mask" at the bottom of the palette.

Step 10.
Using a small paintbrush, we're going to begin painting black on our mask to hide the white stuff we don't want (that's what she said).

Step 11.
We may need to lower opacity to get the stuff by the girl's head. I used a bigger, softer brush for this.

Ahh. that looks better, but it's still pretty obvious, yes? This is because we need to consider shadows and highlights.

Step 12.
Add Shadows. Get out your "Burn Tool" and choose a soft round brush (I used 69px because it makes me giggle) and, being certain your Rob Head is selected and NOT your layer mask still, burn the edges of his jaw like so (diagram). Really consider where shadows would naturally fall given surroundings. Here, her head is an obvious shadow producer.

Step 13.
Add Highlights. In this case, we're only going to use the "Dodge Tool" to fix that hair smudging. See the following settings and locations that best suit it.

Now that looks pretty damned natural, yes?

Step 14.
Now we're going to repeat steps 3 and 4 on our Kstew image by using our path tool to select her hair and face.

Step 15.
Drag her over to the base canvas, just like we did with Rob.

Step 16.
Flip her horizontally, again, exactly like Rob.

Step 17.
Set the opacity down to 50% and use your "Move Tool" to scale and rotate stew's head to match the base model's.

Now we have:

Step 18.
Kstew's hair isn't as big at the top as our base model's. We must get rid of the base model's hair by clicking off visibility for kstew, making a new layer, and using the color picker to determine what our background color should be. In this case, it's just white, and rather easy. In other pieces, you may need to use the clone tool instead of painting. For this, we're just painting white over the model's hair.

That's better.

Step 19.
We need to erase parts of her neck and hair to blend the image into the background.

Step 20.
Add shadows by using your "Burn Tool" once again to darken her neck and the left side of her face.

Step 21.
Yeah, so I made the head a little bigger because once it's on the body, we can use our eyes to guage how natural it looks. A good tip at this point is to flip your entire canvas horizontally. Sometimes you'll stare at it too long and grow comfortable with things that should look uncomfortable. It's an opposing view to the same image. I just tweaked the size a bit.

Step 22.
I just don't like her hair. It's all flat and BLAH. I want more hair! Big hair! But how we just get more hair? Simple. Duplicate the head layer, select the bottom-most head layer in the palette, and move it around a little. Since it's behind the actual head layer, you'll see the edges of her hair peek out when you move it. I moved it up a little, and to the right. It gives her a nice little... crown bob... thingy... whateverthefuck they're called. I repeated this again with the hair at her neck.

That's about it, folks. Now you have a good manipulation.

What are you going to do with it?

Well, you can add some color, firstly, it's okay. I like to apply actions to mine because I'm lazy in that way.

Download this action file
follow the instructions in the diagram to load them.
(Credit to

Done? I'll give you a second.


Step 23. Go to "Layer >> Flatten Image" to flatten this to one layer. Then, with that layer selected, choose an action from the list of your spanking new pretties collection (I chose "Broken Camera"), and press the "Play" button.



Magic and stuff.

Now you can crop this out for a pretty banner, add some text and a border and maybe a nice bokeh texture, and viola! You're a manipulator.

And you didn't even have to sparkle...

Fault is an UHMAZING new AH E/B fic. Please to be checking it out and showing the awesome author some awesome love for her awesome shit? Thanks.


Edward and Bella were childhood friends, but a catastrophic event in Junior High separated them. Can their relationship be repaired once they have both changed immensely? DARK AH.
Twilight - Rated: M - English - Romance/Angst - Chapters: 9 - Words: 20,633 - Reviews: 147 - Updated: 10-19-09 - Published: 10-8-09 - Edward & Bella

Download the .PSD source file?

Next Tutorial: 3 Layer Banners, Easy Peasy Blending Pie.


  1. I was on a forum somewhere earlier tonight, bitching about how I wanted to learn to do stuff like this, so this makes me happy. And it's pretty. Which also makes me happy, I guess.

    Thank you. (:

  2. I love that I have no idea what any of this means but that I enjoyed reading it.

    Thanks Sam.

    I have PS on my computer and it sits in a folder called, "Nina has no clue wtf to do with this"

    Someday Sam, someday.


  3. WOW, just WOW!!! To be honest I never can tell manipulations unless I have the faults shown to me in detail (even then I sometimes don't see it.) You've obviously got a great eye for this sort of thing. Also agree with sobriquetqueen, I've kinda always wanted to play around with manipulations myself, but haven't had a clue. So thanks for the post bb :)

  4. Okay, I saw Angel rec Fault last night on Twitter and it is definately on my list to read, sooner rather than later.
    However, your comments about the work of Summit made me laugh. I never took a good hard look at the pic before, but you are so right, it is shit. Good work on the banner for Fault! Excellent job!

  5. wow just wow. seriously, you make it sound so easy but in reality, something like that would take me 12+ hours and probably a six back of beer and lots of swearing.

    beautiful stuff. really.

  6. Great! Thank you for this, I learned some new nifty things. I think Kirsten looks a little unnatural, though, with her head just a little bit too large and a little bit of the first pic's chin peeking underneath the second. Plus some levels would have done her good.

    Again, thanks! :)

  7. Great teaching article.

    As for the new moon image, Rob's head doesn't bother me quite so much as that GARGANTUAN claw hand groping Kristen's back. Must go look at other pictures to compare the size of his hands in RL but I swear that just looks unnatural.

  8. Your comments about Summit got me all stirred up again. I was incensed when I saw the ABYSMAL job they did with EVERY poster of Edward and Bella. Seriously, WTF?!

    In fact, I was so irritated at what SHOULD have been a great poster, I spent a whole day tearing it apart in photoshop and rebuilding it. I'd love for you to check it out and let me know if you see anything else I should have done...

    (I have Wide Awake illustration there too, but I think you've seen most of them.)

  9. Omg, I love your tutorials. And your qualms against the New Moon poster made me laugh, mostly because they're so true! I'm looking into graphic design as a field; is it really hard to find work right now? Can't wait for your next tutorial!

  10. This is really awesome! I always wondered how people did all that. I don't have Photohop (yet) but thanks for the step by steps!

  11. AG I'm so glad you're still doing these articles. I love them. I'm a PS3 user, but my ability is limited....but growing every time you post one of these. Workshops are expensive...thank you for doing this in your fee time


  12. I couldn't get that "Actions" link to work, but I found them on deviant..
    Follow the link to Download.

    THANKS AG!!! You have given me another reason to waste time and put off the things I should be doing. YAY! Srsly, I love your tuts and your writing. Hearts & Hugs.

  13. Really enjoy your series. Thank you. I downloaded GIMP months ago upon your recommendation and have just started working with it. I've found some of the video tutorials to be helpful, although many are kind of crappy so you have to dig. Do you know of a good video tutorial series? It doesn't necessarily need to be free, just effective in communication style. There are a few out there that I've seen, I just thought you might know.

  14. Howdy AG,

    Are you still planning on posting more tutorials for PS? Are we still getting: Layer Banners, Easy Peasy Blending Pie?

    Thanks so much for doing these! They are very helpful!


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