Create a surreal portrait in Photoshop

In today’s lesson we will work in Adobe Photoshop and create a faceless person with a window into his soul! We will use a few simple photo manipulation techniques to cut the face, soften the edges, and then place a bright image of the cosmos inside the head. At the end, add a few corrections, lighting effects, as well as a quote, giving the work a surrealism.

The work for this lesson will be based on Joseph Campbell’s quotation “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you” (Heaven, hell, all worlds and all gods exist within us). We will depict it quite literally, making a man without a face, and then showing the beautiful cosmic landscape inside his empty head!

Step 1

Let’s start with the original photo. I use a wonderful image of the author Daniel Zedda, which can be downloaded from the link at the beginning of the lesson. Double click on the background layer to unlock it and convert it to a regular one.

Choose a tool Pen (Pen Tool), make a smooth stroke around the face, following its main contours. Extend the stroke on the left side by a few pixels to remove the fine hairs on the eyebrows and beard.

Right click and select To form a selected area (Make Selection), then click Ctrl + X, to Cut out (Cut) and Ctrl + V, to Insert (Paste). Align the face, rename the layer, then turn off its visibility.

Step 2

Double click on the layer with the main image, adding Layer style (Layer Style). Select Stamping (Bevel Emboss) with the following settings: Inner bevel (Inner Bevel), Smooth (Smooth), Depth (Depth) about 460%, The size (Size) 4 px, Softening (Smooth) 3 px. Then adjust Angle (Angle) so that embossing coincides with the lighting of the photo. Take colors for Backlight mode (Highlight) and Shadow mode (Shadow) from the light and dark portions of the image, and then change Blending modes (Blending mode) on Screen (Screen) 100%, Overlap (Overlay) 75%.

Right-click on the effect. Stamping (Bevel Emboss) on the panel Layers (Layers panel), select Create layers (Create Layers). This will turn the effect into editable layers.

Step 3

Add a Mask (Layer Mask) to layer Shading internal bevel (Inner Bevel Shadows) and with a black brush, erase unwanted shadows on the left side of the face, as well as unnecessary embossing around the bottom and right sides of the photo.

Create Mask (Layer mask) for a layer Interior bevel lighting (Bevel Highlights), erase the embossing residue around the top and left sides of the document.

Step 4

Click with the key pressed Ctrl on the thumbnail of the face layer, highlighting its outline. Then create a new layer. Take nearby colors and use a soft brush to paint over the areas around the mask.

Choose a tool Rectangular area (Marquee tool), use the arrows on the keyboard to shift the mask to the right, then click Delete, leaving a thin strip. You should have a gradual transition in tone that matches the lighting of the photo.

You may need to correct Levels (Levels) (Ctrl + L) to improve the overall brightness and contrast of this facet, giving it more realism.

Step 5

Insert a detailed photograph of space into the document. I chose the image of the author Juskteez Vu, which can be downloaded from the link at the beginning of the lesson. Reduce its size, then drag it to the bottom of the layers panel so that it is under the main photo.

Create a new layer above the image of the cosmos and use a soft black brush to draw some shadows around the face. This will give the work a sense of depth.

Step 6

Click on the top layer on the panel, add an adjustment layer. Black and white (Black and White), and then apply a mask to it. Click with the key pressed Ctrl on the thumbnail of the face layer, having generated its selection, then hold Ctrl + Alt and click on the thumbnail of the layer with the face of the face, taking away the selection. The result is a stroke only around space. On the adjustment layer mask, fill the selection with black. This will leave the color of space photography.

Step 7

Go to menu Select> Select again (Select> Reselect). Add a new layer and fill it with a random color. Cut down Fill (Fill) to zero, making it transparent.

Double click on the layer, the window will open. Layer style (Layer Style). Select External glow (Outer Glow), set the settings like this: Lightening basics (Color Dodge), Opacity (Opacity) about 65%, blue color, taken from a photograph of the cosmos, The size (Size) about 220 px.

Step 8

Create another layer above all the others. On the toolbar, click on the main color and take a sample from the space image. Using a soft brush, leave “strokes” of different shades on the face. Set the blending mode to Soft light (Soft Light) with Opacity (Opacity) about 50%.

Step 9

Emphasize work with corrective layers. Levels (Levels) and Vibration (Vibrance). In levels, slightly drag the sliders of the shadows and light inwards, enhancing the contrast. Increase Vibration (Vibrance) to make the colors brighter.

Step 10

Complete the quotation added with the tool. Text (Type tool). In the lesson I used the free Playfair Display font, which can be downloaded from the link at the beginning of the lesson. Change the blending mode to Overlap (Overlay), allowing the text to blend into the background.

Experimenting with such abstract works to improve your photo manipulation skills is always fun. The challenge in this lesson was the need to make the contour of the cut out face realistic. The effects of embossing and hand-drawn shadows were important steps to create the depth of the image.

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