This year I’ve embarked on a personal project to place myself into more of my art. Not only has this been a great experience for learning about Photoshop, but it has also helped improve my overall confidence.
And if you want to make cool and creative self-portraits, you should definitely just go for it! You can see more of these self-portraits on my Instagram.
For this portrait, I wanted to place myself into something more magical—a cool forest manipulation with a bit of fantasy and allure. To facilitate this, I recently bought an LED light from Home Depot ($20) and immediately got to experimenting with new pictures.
Let’s take a before and after look at the manipulation with the stocks we’ll be using:
Feel free to use your own self-portraits for this tutorial. Even smartphone pictures will do—just make sure you have enough light and clarity.
To save time on this extensive manipulation, I’ll be giving you a pre-edited version of my self-portrait made with frequency separation techniques and the background already removed.
But if you’re looking to get inspired by the photo shoot perspective, feel free to check out my previous tutorial:
Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the white background, and then hit Delete on your keyboard to remove it. If the selection spills over into the picture, just remove those areas by using the Lasso Tool (L).
Hold Control-A to select the entire image, and then Copy and Paste it onto a New Layer above the forest. Place the picture within the center of the composition.
When I originally took these pictures, I had no clue how I was going to use them. So you’ll notice that my picture is cut off on the left side since I was leaning up against a wall.
Because of this, I have built the entire composition keeping this in mind, so we’ll need to cover up any awkwardly cut areas next.
To cover up those missing areas, we’ll use some simple leaves. Open the Leaves Stock in Photoshop. Follow the same steps as before.
Remove the dark background by selecting and deleting it with the Magic Wand Tool (W).
Then Copy and Paste the Leaves Stock onto a New Layer above the portrait.
Resize it for a much smaller fit as shown above, using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T).
For more balance, let’s create more copies of the leaves layer.
Duplicate (Control-J) the leaves layer twice, and then flip both copies. Select each layer, and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal to flip it.
Now fill in both sides of the portrait with leaves.
Place the layer for the first copy above the original leaves layer. Then position the actual leaves underneath the first set to fill in the area beneath them.
Select the second leaves copy and position the layer underneath the portrait layer.Resize it for a much smaller fit (and more depth of field) with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T).
Now that we have the leaves all set, we can move on to adding butterflies.
2. How to Use 3D Assets From Envato Elements
A crucial part of this manipulation is the monarch butterflies. So I’ll be using amazing 3D assets from Envato Elements to help achieve this effect.
By using 3D assets, I’ll be able to position the butterflies at the exact angles I need for this composition. This means I can achieve a more believable and realistic effect for an incredible result.
Start by locating each butterfly. Here are the three stocks I’ll be using:
Now View the 3D Render for each stock. Once it loads, position the butterfly at the angle you need. Move it up, down, or sideways to see different views.
Then download that angle.
For this particular set of butterflies, here are all five angles I’ll be downloading.
You’ll receive each butterfly as a transparent PNG (with accompany shadows), which you can easily place into the manipulation.
Let’s add the butterflies!
Copy and Paste each butterfly angle onto New Layers above the rest.Resize each butterfly using the Transform Tool (Control-T).
Then add as many butterflies as you’d like. Since insects are usually drawn to light, I’ve made sure to face the butterflies towards the light. You can also rotate or even flip the images for more variation.
Continue resizing them in different areas for more depth of field. The first butterfly, for instance, is the largest because it’s closest to the viewer.
Try to tell a story with the butterflies. Rest a few on the leaves or even place one on my fingertips as shown above.
When you’re through, Merge the butterfly layers together.
The setup for our manipulation is almost complete!
Our last step before we blur, relight and color the composition is to add more hair. For this portrait, I’ve already airbrushed any imperfections and even removed my right arm for a better composition.
Now I’ll use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to make a selection of the curls on the right. Hold Control-J to Paste a copy onto a New Layer, and then resize the hair using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T).
Do the same for the left side to cover my shoulder.
Then Merge the hair layers with the portrait layer. You may need to reposition the leaves layer above the portrait/hair layers to allow this effect.
Now we have glorious extensions!
3. How to Create Depth of Field
Let’s move on!
With all of our elements in place, we can start to relight the composition and add depth of field. This will help create more realism and make it look as though the photo was actually taken within a forest setting.
Start with the background.
Select the forest layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
Add a Radius of 3 pixels and hit OK.
Now the leaves. Let’s slightly blur the original Leaves and Leaves copy layers next. Select each layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Then add a Radius of 2 pixels and hit OK.
Let’s make the leaves in the background appear farther away.
Select the Leaves copy 2 layer and go to Filter > Blur Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius to 4.8 pixels and hit OK.
Last, we’ll blur the front butterfly.
We’ve already made several butterflies fly out of the shot to create a lively and active scene. Now we can blur the front butterfly for even more depth.
Use the Lasso Tool (L) to make a quick selection around the front butterfly. Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, adding a Radius of 5 pixels.
Here’s a look at our composition so far!
Great! Let’s move on to lighting.
4. How to Adjust the Lighting
Now that everything is in place, it’s important to get the lighting as perfect as we can. Keep in mind that every photo manipulation requires extensive relighting for a more believable look.
If you’re using your own stocks in this case, just follow the same methods, but tweak the settings to your personal desires.
Let’s start by darkening the background.
Select the Leaves copy 2 layer. Then go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. Adjust the curve as shown below for more darkness and contrast.
Adjust the color of the background leaves even further.
Select the Leaves copy 2 layer and go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. Right-click the adjustment to set the curves as a Clipping Mask to the Leaves copy 2 layer.
Adjust the curves for the Green and RGB Channels as follows for a greenish effect.
This play on the contrast also creates an interesting color effect! Pretty cool!
Now adjust the lighting for the middle ground leaves.
Follow the same steps as before by setting new Curves Adjustment Layers as Clipping Masks to the remaining leaves layers.
Start with the original leaves. Make them reflect the bright lighting seen from my light bar. Adjust the curves for the RGB, Green, and Blue Channels as shown below.
Move on to the bottom leaves (Leaves copy).
Set a New Adjustment Layer of Curves as a Clipping Mask to the layer.
Adjust the curves for the RGB, Blue, and Green Channels as shown below. This time we don’t need as much light because the LED light is above this specific section of leaves.
Time for some shadow! To keep this part from being too confusing, let’s break it down into simple sections, just as we did with the lighting steps.
Start with the butterflies.
Set a New Layer as a Clipping Mask to the butterflies layer. Change the Layer Blend Mode to Multiply. Then use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 30-60% Opacity) to paint black shadow onto the butterflies.
Concentrate the shadow on the wings and body. Then lower the Layer Opacity to 58%.
Add another Clipped layer above it set to Multiply.
Now use a deep earthy red #271416 to paint more shadow onto the butterflies, setting the Layer Opacity to 76% when you’re done.
Keep this shadow layer softer, making sure the shadows are placed in the opposite direction to the light source.
We’ll add shadow to the leaves by following the same method.
Create New Layers set as Clipping Masks to the Leaves and Leaves copy layers.
Set the Layer Blend Modes to Multiply, and then use a Soft Round Brush to paint black onto the leaves. Make sure the shadow covers the bottom leaves completely. Then cover the top row. This will create more dimension.
Frame the light source as best as you can. Then adjust the Layer Opacities as needed (50-75%)
Next, we’ll shade the hair and body.
Just like before, add a New Layer set as a Clipping Mask to the portrait. Set the Layer Blend Mode to Multiply and use a Soft Round Brush to paint brown #864a3b and dark red #271416 colors onto the hair, face, and body.
Chisel out the shadows for a more dramatic look. Adjust the Opacity as needed.
Here’s what we have so far.
5. How to Blend the Colors and Lighting
Great job so far! Keep going!
Now that we have the base shadows down, it’s time to fine-tune our composition for a more seamless blend.
In these next steps, I’ll be using a mixture of digital painting techniques and Adjustment Layers to achieve the desired effect.
Fill a New Layer above all the others with orange #9c6b00 using the Paint Bucket Tool (G), and lower the Opacity to 36%.
Set the LayerBlend Mode to Vivid Light.
Add a New Color Lookup Adjustment Layer. Set the 3DLUT File to Crisp_winter.look and lower the Opacity to 39%.
Intensify the shadows even more.
Create a New Layer set to Multiply above the rest. Use dark reddish browns like #1a070e and #140b01 to paint shadow (Soft Round Brush – 0% Hardness, 100% Opacity) all around the subject, leaving out the top leaves and LED light. Lower the Opacity to 21%.
Then fill a New Layer with blue above the previous. Set the Blend Mode to Pin Light, Opacity to 65%, and use a Layer Mask to remove the middle and leaf areas.
One of the coolest lighting effects you can achieve is by playing with glitch images.
Here I’ll be using #38 from this Glitch Effect Overlays pack for a cool rainbow reflection. Copy and Paste the image above the blue layer and set it to Overlay.
Lower the Opacity to 40% and use a Layer Mask to remove any unwanted areas around the face.
Before we move on to the final edits of this manipulation, let’s quickly edit the colors, brightness, and contrast.
Create a New Adjustment Layer of Color Balance with the following settings:
Then follow up with a New Adjustment Layer of Levels. Set the following values for the Red, Green, and Blue Channels.
Here’s the result so far.
6. How to Finish the Manipulation
The last steps for this manipulation will pump up the lighting, refine the details, and use more Adjustment Layers to bring everything together.
Ready? Let’s do this!
Here is when I’ll start to use digital painting techniques to transform this selfie into a magical portrait.
Start by creating a New Layer above the rest. Use the Brush Tool (B) to paint directly onto my face and hair. First, I’ll use a Soft Round Brush to paint more brown shadow underneath my hair, while adding some brown around my forehead too.
Then I’ll switch over to a Hard Round Brush (B) to adjust my makeup (eyebrows/eyeliner) and paint more sharp details for my hair. I’ll also take this opportunity to clean up any areas around the leaves where the light should be reflected. Feel free to use the Eyedropper Tool (E) to sample colors from these areas as you refine more details.
Let’s add more light!
Create a New Layer set to Overlay. Use a mixture of Soft and Hard Round Brushes (40-70% Opacity) to paint white onto the composition for more light.
Create rays of light coming from my hand and bounce the light around the forest. Push this effect as far as you want for a powerful glow.
In between adding more light, remember to continue refining these details. Use a Hard Round Brush to draw sharp edges around the butterflies, leaves, and hair. I’ve even drawn simple details like loose curls and sparkly dots around the composition.
Add highlights to the hair by painting white lines onto a few flowing strands, and then use the Eraser Tool (E) to softly diminish the edges of each highlight. Feel free to add another New Layer set to Overlay for even more white light.
Make certain areas pop out from the shine of the LED light. Paint white light onto the butterflies, jewelry and LED for more intensity. Later on, I’ll also paint a few blue highlights on the hair, leaves, and butterflies for a cool effect.
As we start to finish up, we’ll use Adjustment Layers again to tweak the colors. I have quite a few layers to go, so let’s run through them quickly.
Add a New Adjustment Layer of Channel Mixer. Adjust the settings for the Red, Green, and Blue Channels.
Then add a New Adjustment Layer of Gradient Map. Create a blue #0a00b2 to turquoise #01fffcLinear Gradient and set it to Lighter Color. Lower the Opacity to 8%.
Duplicate (Control-J) this adjustment. Set the copy to Saturation and the Opacity to 10%.
Now create a New Adjustment Layer of Curves. Adjust the curves for the RGB, Blue, and Red Channels as shown below.
Now for the last two Adjustment Layers.
Create a New Adjustment Layer of Color Balance. Set the settings to the following values below:
Now bring out all the rich colors. Add a New Adjustment Layer of Saturation.
Then set the Saturation to 15.
One more step to go!
For a subtle fade, create a New Layer above the rest. Select the Gradient Tool (G) and use it to create two passes of Linear Gradients that go from color to transparent.
Start with a rich blue color #181f40 that moves from the bottom upwards, and then select black and create a black to transparent Linear Gradient moving downwards.
Then set the Layer Blend Mode to Difference and the Opacity to 18%.
Feel free to keep this composition as is, or crop it if you’d like. For a tighter perspective, I’ll use the Crop Tool (C), and make sure I adjust it so that my eyes are almost aligned with the middle.
All Done! Great Job!
Congratulations on creating this forest-inspired photo manipulation. I hope you are inspired to tackle your own self-portraits for one-of-a-kind selfies you’ll always remember.
If you enjoyed this tutorial, let us know! Share your comments and results below.
For more photo manipulation tutorials like this one, check out these links: