How to create a melancholy model photo manipulation

How to create a melancholy model photo manipulation

This tutorial was born with a specific aim. I was playing with the image of a beautiful model, with the intention to realize a simple photo retouch tutorial, thought for all those who are approaching to photography and need simple Photoshop skills to embellish their models shots. As always, I finished with something totally different, with a pinch of “dark”. Today we will use several simple techniques to realize a beautiful melancholy photo manipulation starting from the image of a model. We will deal in particular with masks, brushes and lots of adjustment layers to have full color control.

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Step 1

Create a new A4 document in Photoshop. We will work with large images, so we can zoom in and focus on small details.

Step 2

Fill the background with a radial gradient. To do so, right-click on the background layer (in the layers window) and select “Blending options”. Here add the gradient going form a light azure (#ddf3f3) to a darker one (#8ab4b4).

Tip: When you’re adding a radial gradient using blending options, as in this case, you can move the “center” of the radial by simply clicking and dragging on the canvas.

radial gradient

Step 3

At this point my aim is to create a nice grunge background for the model. The best way is to play with a couple of textures. Once you’ve understood the way blending modes work, you can easily create beautiful backgrounds. In particular, detailed textures can surprise you with great effects. Every unexpected effect or detail can be a source of inspiration to add more color to your works.

Yes, I love to annoy my readers with these brief “inside the mind of the author” chips ;-)

The first texture is this great shot made by Piervincenzo, that you can download with our Concrete textures set:

Paste the texture into the canvas, press ctrl+T to re-size and rotate it. Finally set the layer blending mode to “soft light” with opacity 10%. You will notice some nice small dirty effects over the canvas.

Step 4

The atmosphere is too dark. Create a new curves layer (Layers>New adjustment layer>Curves) and move the curve to lighten the scene:

Step 5

To add more more grunge effects to the background, I’ve used a second texture, this time from our Grunge Textures Pack. Download it and paste the texture into the canvas. Press shift+ctrl+U to desaturate it and set the layer to overlay with opacity 40%.

Step 6

The last touch to the background. Create a new layer and fill it with black. Make sure to have white and black as foreground and background colors, then go to Filter>Render>Clouds. And press alt+ctrl+F to apply the filter a second time but with a stronger outcome:

Step 7

Go to Filter>Blur>Motion Blur and enter the following values:

motion blur

Step 8

Set the layer blend mode to Color Burn with opacity 30%. At this point you can select all the layers from the layers window and press ctrl+G to group them. I’ve titled this group “background”.

background complete

Step 9

It’s time to put in the model. You can find tons of photos of models for free, or take your own. In my case, I’ve download this beautiful model photo form Shutterstock. After removed the lady from the background using the pen tool, I’ve place her into the main canvas:

Note: Do you are a newbie who doesn’t know how to extract objects from their background? Check out our tutorial on this matter: 6 techniques to extract anything from its background.

Step 10

Duplicate the model layer (select the layer and press ctrl+J) and set the duplicated layer to overlay, with opacity 50%, to increase color contrasts.

Step 11

Duplicated again the original model photo and put this duplicated above the one set on overlay. At this point I need some inspiration. What can I do with this blonde girl? The subtle yet beautiful background enhances all her beauty. At a certain point my “not-so-working-well” mind reminds me of a James Bond film, where the bond girl was killed, completely covered with gold. So this is the idea: to create a gold lady.

Select the last layer created, go to Filter>Artistic>Neon glow and enter 5 for “glow size” and 15 for “glow brightness”. Press Ok to apply the filter.

Step 12

Go to Layer>New adjustment layer>Gradient map and add a gradient going form yellow (#ffe400) to brown (#503823). We want to apply this color correction only to the “model neon glow” layer. To do it, hold down alt and click between the gradient and the “model neon glow” layer. In this way you create a clipping mask (a small arrow will appear near the gradient layer), that means that all what happens in the upper layer will affect only the area covered by the below one.

Step 13

Switch the “model neon glow” layer to overlay.

Step 14

Select all the model layer and press alt+ctrl+E to merge them into a new layer above all the others. You can now hide the visibility of the other model layers since we will work with this from now go on.

The lady is of an intense yellow color, but doesn’t look as if she’s covered by gold. After downloaded several images of gold painted models (it’s a great job!), I’ve noticed that paint enhances all skin small details. So in Photoshop, go to Filter>Sharpen>Smart sharpen and apply the following settings:

Step 15

Now, without a specific reason, I’d like to make the lady more unrealistic. Zoom in and, using the Patch tool, select the hole on the lobe, and drag the selection over the area you want to use to replace the first selection. Here is how the patch tool works: select and drag to replace the selection with new pixels.

I’ve done the same with the eyebrows, but this step is not necessary in case you think the model looks too gruesome.

Step 16

Looking at the model, I had the idea to add some details that give her the look of a doll. Create a new layer and grab the pen tool in paths mode. Make a path that covers the left eye:

Note: Do you want to learn more on the Photoshop pen tool? Take a look at our guide.

Once you’ve closed the path, create a new layer, and press ctrl+enter to transform the path into a selection. Make sure to have black as foreground color and press alt+delete to fill the selection with black:

Do the same with the other eye and with the mouth. These steps, that you can avoid in case you want to put in evidence model eyes, haven’t a specific aim. I simply like the idea to create a kind of “empty body”.

Step 17

At this point you can group all the model layers, as we did with the background. To add more light effects, create a new group, title it “light”, and set the group blend mode to color dodge. Create a layer inside the group and grab a large soft (hardness 0%) brush. Create some spots over the areas you want to enhance, and play with more layers and their opacity to achieve a great result:

Step 18

It’s time to add some important color corrections. I’ll show you how adjustment layers can transform an image. Let’s start reducing saturation. Go to Layers>New adjustment layers>Hue/Saturation and reduce saturation to -50

Step 19

Add a gradient map layer, with a gradient going from black to yellow (#d7c000). Set this layer to overlay with opacity 40%.

Step 20

I’m not satisfied with the color result, so let’s apply a second gradient map, this time going from a very light yellow (#fffeec) to gold (#534408). Again set the layer to overlay with opacity 40%.

Step 21

The last adjustment layer: Brightness/Contrast. Increase brightness to 10 and contrasts to 20.

Step 22

Here is the fun. I personally don’t love body interrupted by the edges of the canvasi. I prefer to break them in an original way ;-) Press shift+alt+ctrl+E to merge all the visible layers into a new one and hide the visibility of all the layers below except the background and final adjustment layers.

Add a layer mask by pressing the “add layer mask” button at the bottom of the layer window and with the mask selected press ctrl+I. Ta-daaaa! The model is vanished.

Step 23

We apply white brushes on the mask to make visible the model. If you grab a white round brush and click where is the head of the model, the head will be visible. But why using flat brushes when you can use watercolor/grunge/paint brushes? At this point everything depends by your creativity. In my case I’ve simply used a pair of watercolor brushes and painted over the center area. The result is lovable! Some areas are more visible than others.

In order to show you how versatile this technique is, here are 3 different results obtained using 3 different sets of brushes.

What do you think of this effect? Now we’d like to see your results. Link to them into the comments ;-)


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(+add yours)
  1. Awesome. You guys never dissapoint :)

  2. Maryana Hordeychuk Maryana Hordeychuk

    great tutorial!

  3. Johanna
  4. amrit virk

    Hey mate….very nice tutorial, I have learn some gr8 techniques from this…… do u have a deviant account…plz tell me if u have ….

    big big thanks for this tutorial

  5. Amazing!! Amazing! really admire such graphics!

  6. karenxylnt

    nice tutz..

  7. that’s beautiful Sebastiano. you just earned a fan.

  8. tedi
  9. @inspirationfeed, Yap! WPtouch very nice

  10. very very…nice great work

  11. thank you for sharing this great photo manipulation tutorial :)

  12. Arnaud

    Thank you, nice tut, beautiful result.
    i have a 404 error when i try to download the source file !!

  13. Arnaud

    Thanks you Sebastiano

  14. woOow . love this :)
    the end result (of model-not the effect) was not pretty as the original photo, but it was pretty amazing!!

  15. Vinita

    Nice ………….:)

  16. zontass nameela


  17. Arman



    • Hi Arman,

      This is just the shot of a model. You can find hundreds of free images of models on site like deviantart and morguefile. It’s not important that you create exactly the same result, my aim is just to show a Photoshop technique.

  18. i have just started using photoshop and i must say that these things are way out of my leauge now..
    btwn thanks for the information might help me in future..

  19. Aquí dejo el mio, espero que sea de vuestro agrado …

  20. dileep

    Not bad…!

  21. We have used this technique for a while and it works very well. Do you have any other photoshop filters you want to share?

  22. Excellent site, keep up the good work, many thanks for sharing.

  23. Very enjoyable read, interestingly designed site, keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.

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