Create a Dark, Emotional Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a dark, emotional scene featuring a sleeping girl. You'll learn how to combine several images to make a misty forest scene, and adjust lighting and contrast to enhance the dark and dreamy atmosphere.
The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:
Create a new 1500 x 1080 px document in Photoshop with the settings below:

new file

Open the ground 1 image. Drag it into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V).Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to rotate it a bit as shown below:

adding ground 1

To remove the unwanted trunk on the left side, use the Lasso Tool (L) to select an area on the right corner. Set the feather radius of this selection to 50:

remove unwanted trunk
select right area

Right click this selection, and choose Layer via Copy. We now have this selected part on a new layer. Flip it horizontally by choosing Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal, and then move it to the left to cover the indicated trunk area:

adding right area to the trunk

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to remove the hard edges and blend it with the ground:

masking added part

Use an adjustment layer and set it as Clipping Mask to make it blend better with the ground. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and increase the lightness:

added part curves

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to reduce this area saturation:

added part huesaturation

There is an unwanted small tree near the middle section of the scene. To remove it, make a new layer and active the Clone Tool (S). Use this tool to carefully clone over this tree and the area around it. Remember to take care of the light/contrast of the cloned area to fit the background and ground.

ground 1 cloning

Open the ground 2 image. Select the foreground using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M):

select ground 2

Place this selected area in the foreground of the existing landscape using Control-T:

adding ground 2

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to soften the edges and make them fade into the existing ground. Now the ground looks rich and more interesting. 

ground 2 masking

To match the color of this ground part with the rest, create a Hue/Saturationadjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) and increase the Saturation value to +39:

ground 2 huesaturation

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Red value of the Midtonesto +19:

ground 2 color balance

Use a Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness to brighten this part. 

ground 2 curves

Open the forest image and place it in the background using the Move Tool.

adding forest

Add a mask to this layer and erase the foreground and the middle section of the background to blend it with the existing scene:

forest masking

Make a Curves adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to brighten the forest. 

forest curves

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the sides of the forest to make the light focused on the middle:

forest curves masking

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on top of the layers and reduce theSaturation value to -43:

scene huesaturation

Create a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness:

scene curves darken

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the dark effect on the middle section to maintain the lightness there:

scene curves masking

Isolate the model from the original image and place her onto the middle of the ground:

adding model

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush with the Opacity about 50–55%to soften the edge of the model and blend her with the ground:

model masking

To make a shadow for the model, make a new layer under the model one. Use a soft black brush with the Opacity about 30–35% to paint on the lower left of her body, especially making the part along the bottom darker.

model shadow

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) above the model one and decrease the Saturation value to -43:

model huesaturation

The model looks too bright compared to the background, so make a Curvesadjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) and reduce the lightness:

model curves

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to maintain the lightness on the upper parts which are illuminated by the background:

movel curves masking

Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100% and fill with 50% gray:

burn tool new layer

Active the Burn Tool (O) with Midtones RangeExposure about 10–15% to darken the lower edges of the model. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode:

burn tool result

Make a new layer on top of the layers, and use a soft brush with the color #d4d4d4to paint on the middle of the background. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%:

background light normal mode
background light soft light mode

To create a soft highlight, make a new layer and use the same brush to paint on the same area. Lower the Opacity of this layer to 40%

background highlight

Open the leaves image. Select different leaves to arrange over our forest scene, and remember to make some fall onto the model. You should duplicate and transform them if needed using Control-T:

adding leaves

With the leaves on the model, double click these layers and choose Drop Shadow. Set the color of the shadow to black:

leaves drop shadow
drop shadow result

Add more falling leaves to the scene, and remember to make the leaves at the edges bigger. Apply a Motion Blur to each of these layers to add movement to the image. There are two settings for the leaves on the left and right side. 

leaves motion blur settings
leaves motion blur result

Select all the leaves layers and press Control-G to make a group for them. Change the mode of this group from Pass Through (default group mode) to Normal 100%. Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer within this group to reduce the leaves saturation:

leaves huesaturation

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the leaves, as most of them look too bright compared to the background at the moment.

leaves curves 1

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to maintain some lightness on the leaves, especially the parts towards the background light:

leaves curves 1 masking
leaves curves 1 masking result

Use another Curves adjustment layer to darken the leaves more. 

leaves curves 2

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the dark effect on the leaves nearer the background light:

leaves curves 2 masking

To make the farther leaves blend better with the background and add more depth to the scene, add a mask to the leaves group. Use a soft black brush with the Opacityabout 20–25% to decrease the opacity of the selected leaves and make them fade into the light. 

leaves masking

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer on top of the layers and pick a light blue color (I chose #83ccff). This step is to add a cold feeling to the scene:

scene photo filter

Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the whole scene. 

scene curves darken

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reveal the light at the middle of the image:

scene curves darken masking

I hope that you've enjoyed my tutorial and learned some new techniques. I'd love to hear your feedback, so feel free to leave it in the comment box below. Enjoy photoshopping!

final result


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