Learn how to create this amazing surreal underground scene with a heart created from branches and scattering leaves! This photo manipulation tutorial will teach you various techniques such as blending, complex masking, painting, working with groups, and more.
Preview of Final Results
Create a new document with size of 900×1125 px and fill it with black. Open soil 1 image. Use Move Tool (V) to drag it into our black canvas, choose Cmd/Ctrl+T to transform it as shown below:
Click the second button at the bottom of Layer Panel to add mask to this one. Use soft black brush with opacity about 60-70% to erase some parts of the underground. You can see the result on layer mask and result on picture:
To darken this underground, I used a Curves layer with Clipping Mask. On underground layer, choose Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Curves:
On Curves layer mask use black brush with opacity about 10-15% to reduce the lightness on the part near foreground:
I added a Levels layer to change the contrast a little:
I used black brush to erase the foreground:
I made a Hue/Saturation layer to reduce saturation of the underground:
Isolate model from background and place her on the underground (feel free use your own stock).
I don’t like the shirt model wearing so I’ll repaint it. Make a new layer (Clipping Mask), use hard brush with color #fbfbfb to fill the shirt:
I named this layer “clothes base”. We’ll be adding more details to it later.
Use Curves to darken the model :
I added a Levels layer to fix the contrast there:
On Levels layer mask use brush to erase on some part of the model to get proper light and shadow:
Apply Hue/Saturation to match her with the scene:
Now we’ll pay attention to the clothes. Create a new layer, fill with 50% gray and change the mode to Overlay:
Take Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 25-30% to darken the clothes. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and result with Overlay mode:
Make a new layer with same settings, use Dodge and Burn Tool to create details of the wrinkles for the clothes. I’ve tried to achieve a silky, soiled look (as she is sitting on the underground ) and you can see my results as a reference:
Make a new layer under model one. Use soft black brush with opacity about 30% to create shadow for model clothes, legs on the ground:
To give the model more “dirty” look, choose wood texture, use Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to make a selection :
Place this part on the model and use Warp Tool (Edit-Transform-Warp) to bend this part a little:
Change the mode of this layer to Soft Light 100%:
From brush menu, choose Reset Brushes to change brush preset to default. Now on brush menu, click to choose one of Spatter brushes (mine is Spatter 24):
Press F5 to change settings for this brush:
Add layer mask to this wood texture layer. Use indicated brush to remove hard edges and create a subtle effect on the model:
I darkened the effect with a Curves layer:
On its layer mask, reduce the dark with soft brush with very low opacity (10-15%) on model feet:
After darkening, the model hair became very solid and unnatural. To correct it, I made a new layer on the top, used brush with color #080707, 5 px to paint some soft parts and tiny hair strands:
Open soil 2 stock. Take a part from it and position it above the model:
Use layer mask to get the look below:
Drag the soil again into our pic:
Add layer mask to this one. Use black brush with hardness about 70-75% to paint inside this part to create a form of a cave.
I wanted to fix something of the cave so active Clone Tool (S) and make a new layer:
Use this tool to remove these details:
Make all the cave layers and clone one selected then press Cmd/Ctrl+G to make group for them. Change the mode of this group from Pass Through (default group mode) to Normal 100%. I named the cave layers “part 1” and “part 2”. Create a Hue/Saturation layer within this group:
Use Curves to darken the cave:
On Curves layer mask use brush with very low opacity (10-15%) to reduce the dark on some parts a little:
Open branches 1 stock. Use Lasso Tool (L) to choose one part from this image then drag it into our image. Use Warp Tool to tweak this part as shown below:
Remember to place this layer under cave group.
Continue to add more branches to the cave using different parts of the stock, transform, warp it…if needed. I used 12 layers and here is my result:
Some branches are hard to see as they’re dark but we’ll brighten them to make them more visible.
Make group for these branches as done with the cave. I named this group “branches 1” and I applied Hue/Saturation for them:
Use Curves to brighten the branches:
On Curves layer mask use brush to reduce the lightness on some branches below:
Open branches 2 stock. Take a part from the trunk and locate it on the top of the cave, set this layer above the cave group. I used Warp Tool to bend it a little:
Go to Edit-Puppet Warp to tweak this branch more:
Add layer mask to blend this branch with the cave a bit:
Duplicate this layer five times and arrange them around the cave. Double click the Puppet Warp filter of each layer to edit their curve. Here is my result:
Group these layers and name it “branches 2”. Use a Curves layer within this group to darken these branches:
Apply erasing job on Curves layer mask:
Add a Hue/Saturation layer for the branches 2:
Open grass stock. I took grass part and put it above the cave after tweaking it a little with Warp Tool:
Apply Puppet Warp to create a hill from the grass part:
I named this layer “hill”.
Add layer mask to this one and use brush with hardness about 10-15% to remove hard edges and create a soft, smooth look for the hill:
Make a new layer under the hill one. Use soft black brush with opacity about 70% to paint under the hill to make shadow for it on the cave:
To fix some parts on the hill I used Clone Tool on a new layer with Clipping Mask:
After cloning I found them a bit blurred. To correct it, go to Filter-Sharpen-Unsharp Mask and fill the following values:
Use Curves to darken the hill:
As you see on the final result preview, the main light comes from top center . So on Curves layer mask I erased the higher part of the hill that’s nearer the sky (to keep it brighter) and keep the lower part darker (don’t erase or just erase with lower brush opacity ).
Apply Photo Filter to change color of the hill a little:
Open sky 1 stock. Choose sky part and place it on the top (the black part), set this layer above the background and under underground group. I rotated it and tweaked it a little:
Use layer mask to remove unnecessary edges:
To make sky look smoother, go to Filter-Noise-Dust & Scratches:
I named this layer “main part”.
Copy a part from sky stock and put it at the left side of the main part, resize to be smaller:
Remove hard edges of this part with layer mask:
I called this layer “part 2”.
Add another part from sky stock to our picture. I placed it at the top right, used layer mask, applied Dust & Scratches filter with same settings in step 38:
Continue adding another sky part. Move it to the right corner of the sky, apply Dust & Scratches filter and layer mask:
Make group for these sky parts, name it “sky 1” or whatever you want. Use Curves to change color of sky 1:
Apply erasing job on Curves layer mask:
Make a Color Balance layer within this group:
Erase on Color Balance layer mask again with brush with opacity about 45%:
To add more details to the sky, I used sky 2 stock. Place it over sky 1 and change the mode to Soft Light 100%:
Name this layer “sky 2”.
Use layer mask to reduce some details of the sky 2:
Apply Dust & Scratches filter with radius 2 px:
I used a Color Balance layer for sky 2:
Continue with a Selective Color layer:
Darken the sky a little with Curves:
I used a Levels layer to darken the sky 2 again. Then I erased the top center of the sky to keep it brighter than the sides:
Make a new layer on the top of layers. Use soft white brush with 50% opacity to paint on the top center of the sky. Change the mode of this layer to Soft Light 100%:
New layer and use soft brush with color #f7d17f to paint on the top center of sky again. Lower opacity of this layer to 30%:
Open tree stock. Take its trunk and put it on the top of the hill after scaling:
Use layer mask to blend the tree with the grass:
To make shadow for the tree on the hill, I created a layer under the tree one. Hold Cmd/Ctrl while clicking tree thumbnail layer to load its selection:
Fill this selection with black (Shift+F5). Then choose Edit-Transform-Flip Vertical and move this shadow under the tree bottom.
Lower opacity to 60% then apply Gaussian Blur with 3 px (Filter-Blur-Gaussian Blur):
On Filter layer mask use soft black brush to remove blur effect at the part near the tree bottom to keep the hard look for it:
Add layer mask to shadow layer and remove the top of it:
I used Curves to brighten the tree:
Add a Color Balance layer to give the tree some yellow:
To add more light to the tree, I used a new layer and take brush with color #fab3b3, opacity and flow 25-35%. Paint along the tree sides as I did below:
Make a new layer with same settings in step 10. Use Dodge and Burn Tool to create more contrast on the tree:
It’s time for most interesting parts of the tutorial – making a heart from branches. Open branches 3 stock. First use your own method to cut out the branches from background:
Use Lasso Tool to take a part from isolated branches and put it above the tree. I used Warp Tool to bend it:
Use different parts from branches stock to put on the tree following a heart shape, use Warp Tool or Puppet Warp Tool if needed . I used layer mask to remove any unwanted parts. You don’t need to create exactly like mine but can take it as a reference:
I used 15 layers for this branches heart.
Group all heart branches layers and name them (I called them from 1 to 15). I used Dodge Tool with same way in previous steps to brighten some parts that are too dark:
Make a new layer on the top of these branches layers (within this group). Use hard black brush, 1 px and color #1a142d to make some branches parts more visible:
Add a Curves layer within this group to brighten this heart:
I used brush on Curves layer mask to clear some parts below:
Use Color Balance to give some yellow to the branches:
Right click branches heart group, choose Duplicate Group. Right click it again, choose Merge Group. Now we have a selection of these branches that will be useful in next steps. Turn off this layer.
Open leaves stock pack. Choose the leaves you like and put them between the heart:
I used layer mask to remove some big leaves:
Add more leaves to inside, around the heart and to the sky, hill to create a scattering effect, try to achieve a random look:
To create some depth to this effect, I added more leaves to the sky part, around the branches heart. I applied Gaussian Blur with 3 px and 1.5 px for them. In the screenshots, you can see some leaves are blurrier (Blur 3 px) and some others less (1.5 px).
I used 59 layers for the leaves in sky. Group all of them and name it “sky”.
I used 11 layers to add falling leaves on the hill:
Group them and call it “hill”.
Make a layer inside the “hill” group, and place it at the bottom. Use black brush with very small size (2-3 px) to paint under the leaves lying on the hill to make shadow for them:
Take another leaves and arrange them around model, cave, underground. I applied Gaussian Blur with 3 px for some bigger leaves to create depth to the scene.
To the leaf on model feet, I made shadow for it with Drop Shadow effect. Double click this leaf layer, choose Blending Options:
I used Curves with Clipping Mask to darken and brighten some separate leaves (darken the one inside and brighten the ones outside the cave).
Group all the leaves layers around the cave, name it “cave”. Create a Curves layer to darken all of these leaves:
On this Curves layer mask use brush to change lightness of them. I meant to keep the ones inside the cave darker and the ones outside brighter:
I added a Curves layer with same purpose:
Group all groups “sky”, “hill”, “cave” and change the mode to Normal 100%. Make a Hue/Saturation layer to change color of all the leaves in these groups:
Add another Curves to darken more some leaves at the lower positions:
Apply masking job with leaves around the hill, sky:
Use Levels to brighten leaves at the higher positions:
Apply layer mask brushing :
Make leaves selection as done with branches heart (step 66).
Make a new layer on the top. Load leaves selection (as done in step 53) and click Add layer mask button. We have result on its layer mask:
On this layer use a light yellow brush color ( I chose #ebb356), opacity about 50-55% to give some light to the leaves in the sky part. You can see the parts I painted below:
Create a Gradient Map layer on the top:
Change the mode of this Gradient Map layer to Soft Light 100%:
Add a Color Balance layer:
Erase the left of sky on layer mask:
Make a new layer on the top. Hit G to active Gradient Tool. Choose Radial Gradient with default colors (black and white). Drag a line from the top to bottom to get this result:
Change the mode to Soft Light 100%. On layer mask I erased the parts below as they should not be too dark:
Continue with a new layer and soft black brush. I lowered opacity and flow to about 10-25% and painted on some parts below. Change the mode of this layer to Soft Light 100%:
On a new layer, use brush with color #faa560 to paint on the top center of the sky. I altered the mode to Overlay 100%:
Add a Photo Filter on the top:
More with Gradient Map:
Put the mode of this Gradient Map to Soft Light 50%. Erase all the bottom half of the pic:
I used Color Balance again :
Erase the top of the pic:
Create a Curves layer to increase contrast of the pic:
Then do apply brush masking:
On a new layer, use brush with color #fff8be to paint over the hill to make it brighter with yellow light. Set the mode to Soft Light 80%:
With same brush, I painted on a small part to make it a bit brighter. Change the mode to Soft Light 50%:
New layer with brush color is #ebb356. Paint over the hill to give some light red there. I put the mode of it to Color 40%:
Add a new Gradient Map layer with Normal mode 60%:
Here is result with layer mask:
I used two Curves layer to increase the mood of the pic. The first is for sky light , the second for the lower parts:
Here are results of the pic after adding Curves:
Choose Layer-New Fill Layer-Solid Color:
Put the mode to Overlay 80% and apply masking job again. I loaded branches heart and leaves selection before brushing to keep some parts of them not to be affected by this Color Fill layer. You can see that only sky color and some leaves changed after this step:
Final adjustment layer – Vibrance:
Erase the bottom half of the pic:
Give some misty effect on the hill with a new layer, brush color is #fff8be. I lowered opacity of it to 15%:
I used new layer and same brush. Make the top of sky brighter with it and change the mode to Soft Light 50%:
Finally it’s done!
Download the PSD
Tutorial by Jenny Le