Repaint a giraffe and build a surreal composition around it, using brushes, layers and a lot of adjusting and retouching
Begin by placing a giraffe into the centre of the picture. Don’t worry too much about the blank space at the bottom of the image; create a Vibrance adjustment of +60 Vibrance and a Curves adjustment as you can see above.
Select a brush at 50% Opacity and Alt/Opt-click the sandy colour between the markings on the giraffe. Start brushing subtly to replace the darker colours with the lighter shades; repeat this until you’ve brushed over the lower half of the giraffe. Follow the side stepper on the next page for more tips.
Load paint drip brushes in Photoshop. Select the darker shade from the giraffe using Alt/Opt-click again and on a new layer, add some paint drips to a couple of the markings just above the front-right leg.
Insert a tree image. Duplicate, go to Image>Adjustments>Threshold and turn to black and white. Go to Select>Color Range and select all the black; delete this layer then hit the Mask icon on your original tree layer. Touch up the mask further with a 3px brush.
Using the technique in the previous step, add some bushes to the right of the image. Clip a Curves adjustment if needed, to just lighten up the brushes and add a little more colour to the image.
Place some grass over the bottom of the composition. Hit Mask, then invert (Cmd/Ctrl+I). With a big, soft white brush of 50% Opacity, brush over the bottom of the image to blend some grass into the image.
Add a sunset image into the project and hit Multiply. Create a new layer and clip it to the sunset layer; Alt/Opt-click to select yellowy colours. Brush over the bottom half of the sunset and over the giraffe to equalize the colouring of the piece.
Place a ladder into the project. Cut it out using the Pen tool, and then clip a Color layer to it, before brushing white over the left side to get rid of the green shine from the original image.
Using the Pen tool again, cut out a subject and bring her into the photo, placing her on top of the ladder. Position so that her feet are placed on a rung, and the spray can is just above one of the drips you brushed onto the giraffe.
To bring more intrigue into the image, add a zebra and a tiger; two stripy animals that may well also have been painted by our subject. Use the Pen tool to cut each of them out; use a soft brush on the mask to get even closer to the fur.
Fur and hair is extremely difficult to cut out. On a new clipped layer with a small, soft brush, Alt/Opt and redraw the zebra’s mane if needed to create a more realistic edge to the animal.
Find images of some painting tools such as brushes, cans and tins of paint. Cut each out with the Pen tool and recolour if needed using the Hue/ Saturation adjustment. Hit Mask and using the grass brush that Photoshop has as default, mask the bottom of the objects.
Create a new layer, and select all the pixels from the tiger, zebra, ladder, paint equipment and subject layers. You can do this by Cmd/ Ctrl-clicking a layer’s preview window; hit Shift to select more than one. Brush in #f2ce64 and set to Soft Light, 50% Opacity.
Create a new neutral grey layer (#808080). Using white and black soft brushes, paint in highlights and shadows over the entire image to add a little more dynamism and shape to the image. Set to Soft Light, 75% Opacity.
Create another new layer and select each of the animal layers using the Cmd/Ctrl-click technique from step 13. With a soft white, 20% opaque brush, subtly stroke down the side of each animal that’s facing the sun to add in a subtle but believable highlight.
Go to Filter>Blur>Field Blur. Select 20px, Light Bokeh: 40%, Bokeh Color: 20% and hit OK. Set this to Screen, then mask and invert. With a 25% opaque, soft brush, draw over the highlights in the image, as this creates a really nice effect.
We’re using lots of effects to alter the overall colour of the image, but a gradient can affect the tone. Create a new Soft Light, 20% opaque layer, and drag in a black to white gradient to further enhance the illusion that the sunset is casting its light over the scene.
A Curves layer is perfect for tweaking the red, blue and green aspects of your image with subtlety. Create the same effect as us by tweaking the channels as shown above.
This is a great tip for creating a believable composition: merge everything into a new layer (Cmd/Ctrl+Alt/Opt+Shift+E), turn to Overlay, 50% Opacity, then reduce Saturation to -40 and Lightness to -8 using a clipped Hue/Saturation adjustment. Merge everything again and use the Blur tool to manually blend.
Head to Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise. Choose Strength: 10 and leave everything else at 0. This will not only create a more cartoony feel to the image and remove noise, it will soften the earlier brushwork you made on the giraffe.
Create a new 30% opaque, Soft Light layer. Select a large, soft brush and Alt/Opt-click to select a colour. Refine it in the Swatches and paint over the image to adjust the colours a little; add more pink to some of the clouds, for example.
Insert a lens flare. Set it to Screen, 75% Opacity and position through the tree. Create a new layer, clip this to the flare and with a soft, black brush, draw over it to hide the edges of the flare.
Create another merged layer of the project. Go to Filter>Stylize>Oil Paint and set all values to 10.0, Angle to 90 degrees, Shine to 0.0. This will soften and smooth the image completely; mask the layer over the clouds in the sky, and a little over the corners of the grass.
Finally, merge all layers into one layer again and go to Filter>Other>High Pass. Choose a Radius of 6px and hit OK, then set to Soft Light to sharpen. Repeat this and mask over the animals for extra effect.