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Members Area Tutorial: Photo Manipulate a Striking ‘Falling Dream’ Composition

Resources Used In This Tutorial

Final Image

Here is a preview of the image that we are going to be creating:

Step 1

To start this composition I went looking for inspiration.

You can find inspiration for your designs anywhere, and for a while now I’ve been wanting to produce some designs based on song lyrics that stand out to me.

Today’s composition is based on a lyric from the Blind Melon song Changes:

“Keep on dreaming boy, cause when you stop dreaming it’s time to die”

Step 2

Right away this lyric stuck out to me, and I began formulating ideas for designs based around it.

I started to picture an epic scene where a young boy was falling from some kind of stone structure up in the clouds.

Something about this idea felt right. It was dream like (the floating stone structure is physically impossible), and the idea of falling was emotive and triggered the feelings of falling associated with a dream (and also death).

I started to sketch out very basic composition plans for my piece.

I knew that I wanted a sense of balance, so wanted to position the falling boy in the center. I also wanted to frame him with the stone structures.

Below is my concept sketch. Yes I realize it’s one of the worst sketches of all time. But I’m afraid on this computer I don’t have a tablet handy, so it’s all down to the trusty mouse! The idea behind sketches is just to lay out this in their most basic form anyway, and help you decide on the relevant stocks needed.

Step 3

As well as a concept sketch I wanted to gather some images relevant to the ideas I was having. These would act as a ‘mood board’ and help shape the style of my composition.

I thought of traditional falling in a dream images. I also really liked the bending city visual featured in the movie inception (top image below). The idea of warping reality or displaying unusual perspective definitely appealed.

These images helped me to select my stock photos for the photo manipulation:

Step 4

Time to start the composition!

Start by downloading the cloudy sky image in the resources section for this tutorial.

Create a new document (800px X 800px, 300 DPI resolution). Paste the cloud image into this document, positioning it as shown below:

The sky is looking a little washed out, so apply a curves adjustment layer (with clipping mask) to add more contrast and tweak the colors of the sky slightly.

Try to use the settings shown below:

Step 5

Download the ‘jumping boy’ image from the resources section for this tutorial.

Extract the boy from his background. Luckily he is on an all white background so you can extract him fairly easily using the magic wand tool (or your preferred method).

Paste him into the center of your original document, positioning him as shown below:

Step 6

You will notice that the boy appears to be jumping forwards in the image.

This is largely down to his left leg, which is positioning going backwards. This wouldn’t happen if he were falling backwards, as his leg would be positioned more in front of him (like his right leg).

To fix this, apply a layer mask to your ‘boy’ layer.

Mask off his left leg almost entirely, using a black paintbrush:

We need to create a left leg that is similar to the positioning of the right leg.

What better place to find one than his other leg!

Select the boy’s right leg, and then copy/paste it onto a new layer called ‘leg’.

Go to edit>transform>flip horizontal.

You can see the flipped/duplicate leg below:

Move the duplicate leg into a more realistic position.

It’s looking pretty natural already.

However, I can spot two issues.

Firstly, there is a subtle seam where the new leg joins the boy’s body.

Secondly, it looks unnatural to have his two legs looking exactly the same, but just flipped:

Step 7

Below you can see the final left leg.

There were three main techniques that I used to make this leg look more natural.

1. I used a layer mask to blend the leg into the boy’s body. By using a soft black paintbrush I was able to seamlessly blend the leg.

2. With the new leg selected I went to edit>transform>distort. I distorted the leg to make it slightly different from the right leg, making it appear to be angled differently.

3. I selected the top of the trousers on this duplicate leg and then reduced the height of this area. This meant that the trousers in this area weren’t quite as billowing as on the right leg, again helping them to look a little different.

Step 8

Finally, to make the trousers seem more natural, I created a new layer called ‘brown trousers’.

I used the eye dropper tool to sample the area with the most shadow, and then used a soft paintbrush to paint the color over certain areas of the trousers, giving them a more shadowed appearance. (I used a 20% opacity brush to mask this look more natural).

Just to review, this is how our composition is looking so far:

Step 9

Paste in the ‘stone arch’ image from the resources for this tutorial.

Position it as shown in the image below, and use a layer mask to mask off the central opening, allowing the book/sky to show through.

I tried several different images for these stone sides, including ancient pillars, slabs of granite etc… However, all of these looked a little flat and didn’t feel right.

I settled on this image as it helped achieve the impossible perspective that I liked from the Inception stills. When set against the sky backdrop it creates a very unusual sense of perspective:

Step 10

I want to tint the stone arch a little to make it blend better with the rest of the composition.

Apply a curves adjustment layer to it (with clipping mask).

Try to emulate the settings shown below to adjust the colors slightly:

Step 11

Now option+click on your stone arch layer in your layer’s palette. This will select around your stone arch.

Create a new layer called ‘white inner’ and fill this selection with white.

Then go to select>modify>contract and contrast your selection by 1pixels:

Hit ‘delete’ and you will be left with a 1px white line around the inside of your archway.

This will act as a sharp highlight created by the bright sky backdrop:

Reduce the opacity of this layer to 30% to make the white line more subtle and natural looking:

Step 12

Now we want to add some subtle reflections onto the shiny stone floor at the bottom of our archway.

Select some of your clouds and paste them onto a new top layer.

Go to edit>transform>flip vertical and position your clouds on the floor to act as a reflection:

Reduce this layer’s opacity to 25% and change it’s blend mode to ‘multiply’. This will create a more natural looking reflection:

Step 13

Repeat step 12, applying a reflection image of the boy onto the floor:

Keep this layer’s blend mode as ‘normal’ but reduce it’s opacity to 20%:

Step 14

We’re going to add some subtle lighting to the sky.

Create a new layer above your sky layer, but beneath the boy/arch layers.

Create a new layer called ‘blue sky’. Use a large, soft paintbrush (hex code: 0b63b4) to paint solid blue across the top of the sky.

Reduce this layer’s opacity to 20% to allow some of the clouds to show through:

Step 15

Create a new layer called ‘white highlights’.

Use a soft white paintbrush to paint highlights across the horizon behind the boy and at the top of the archway:

Reduce this layer’s opacity to around 30% and change it’s blend mode to ‘overlay’. This should add a subtle highlight for these areas:

Step 16

Download the FanExtra raylight brush set from the resources section for this tutorial.

Create a new layer called ‘raylight floor’.

Use a white paintbrush to apply some of the raylight brushes to cast some light beams over the floor, being cast by the sky area:

Reduce this layer’s opacity to 30% to make the lighting more subtle:

Step 17

Create a new layer called sides/top lights.

Apply several white raylight brushes around the edges of the archyway:

Reduce this layer’s opacity to 50% and change the blend mode to ‘overlay’:

Step 18

Create a new layer called ‘raylight boy’.

Apply several white raylight brushes over your boy. This is to give the impression of light being cast over the boy from the sky backdrop:

Reduce this layer’s opacity to 10%, keeping it’s blend mode at ‘normal’.

Step 19

To bring the piece together a bit more we need to cast some blue light over the stone arches cast from the sky.

Create a new layer called ‘blue tints’. Use a very large, soft paintbrush (76bdf6) to paint blue over the edges of the archway:

Change this layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ and reduce it’s opacity to 20%:

Now create a new layer called ‘light blue’.

Use a smaller, soft blue (c6e6ff) paintbrush to paint around the edges of your archway.

Reduce this layer’s opacity to 20% and change it’s blend mode to ‘overlay’:

Step 20

Create a new layer called ‘vignette’.

Use a large, soft black paintbrush to paint around the edges/corners of your canvas:

Change this layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ and reduce it’s opacity to 15%:

Step 21

Create a new layer called ‘dodge/burn’.

Go to edit>fill and fill your canvas with 50% gray.

Then change this layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ to hide the gray fill.

Use a soft, 10% opacity black paintbrush to burn your image. Use a soft, 10% opacity white paintbrush to dodge it and add highlights.

The image below shows the layer at 100% opacity, ‘normal’ blend mode:

Reduce this layer’s opacity to 50%.

This is the image with this layer’s blend mode at ‘overlay’ and it’s opacity at 50%:

Step 22

To finish, apply some final adjustment layers.

Start by applying a gradient overlay adjustment layer:

Gradient Overlay Adjustment Layer Settings:

Gradient: black-white
Layer opacity: 10%
Blend mode: Overlay

Also apply a levels adjustment layer:

Levels Adjustment Layer Settings:

9 / 1.06 / 246

Now apply a photo filter adjustment layer:

Photo Filter Adjustment Layer Settings:

Filter: Warming Filter
Density: 25%
Layer Opacity: 20%

This is the final result:

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.

Member File Download

Download the original .psd file for this tutorial here:


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