photoshop creative

How to create silhouettes in Photoshop

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
June 1, 2012

Add a new dynamic to your portraits with a silhouette effect using the Levels and Gradient Map adjustments

Step 1 – Make selection and feather

Open an image of a person and make a selection around them using either the Magic Wand tool (to select the background) or the Quick Selection tool (to select the person), whichever one is easiest. Feather the selection by 1px by going to the Select menu, down to Modify, and then to Feather.

Step 2 – Gradient Map

When you’re happy with the selection, apply a new Gradient Map adjustment (Layer>New Adjustment Layer). Chances are the person will turn black and white. The selection should apply itself to the mask of the adjustment.

Step 3 – Set colours

Open up the Gradient Editor menu by clicking on the adjustment’s layer. Choose a colour to use for the gradient. We went for blue, but make sure that the two swatches of the gradient are the same hue. One needs to be lighter than the other.

Step 4 – Add Levels adjustment

Cmd/Ctrl-click on the Gradient Map’s mask to reactivate the selection of the person. Add the Levels adjustment layer and reduce the Output Levels under the main graph in the adjustment. The image should darken. You can darken the midtones and shadows for an even more dramatic silhouette.

Step 5 – Change background

Click on the Background layer and press Cmd/Ctrl+J to make a copy of it. Cmd/Ctrl-click on one of the adjustment’s mask once more to reactivate the selection, and then go to Select>Inverse. On the duplicate layer, apply a layer mask.

Step 6 – Gradient Overlay

Double-click on the duplicate background layer to open Layer Styles. Add the Gradient Overlay option and set its Style to Radial, Scale to 150% and colour from white to the same blue used for the Gradient Map adjustment.

Step 7 – Bring through eyes

Use the Brush tool on the Levels adjustment’s mask to bring through parts of the image, such as eyes.

  • it’s good – it just seems the whites of the eyes are a tad too bright… I would have toned them down a bit…