Digital artists are often asked to turn a photo of a model into a dynamic illustration, adding depth and meaning.
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
Here Karim Fakhoury transforms a simple fashion shot into an eye-catching work that captures power and beauty. The result would suit a wide range of purposes – from an ad campaign to a poster to the cover of your favourite creative magazine.
In creating this type of artwork, you will use a mixture of gradients, lens flares and adjustment layers in a subtle but effective way, enhancing and styling the photography without detracting from the composition and lighting.
Time to complete
The first – and most important – step is choosing the shot that will be the main focus of the piece. You will need a photo where the model faces the viewer, and the photo should include the head and most of the torso. Lighting should come in from one or the other side (it doesn’t matter which) and the image should project strong emotion. The shot I chose was bought from Fotolia at
Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer from the Adjustments panel. Double-click on the gradient in the Adjustments and, if the light in your shot is coming from the right, adjust the settings to match those shown above (reverse the gradient if your shot is lit from the left). Set the adjustment layer’s blending mode to Color.
In a new layer at the top of the layer stack, use a big, round, soft pink brush to fill the top part of the piece, going no lower than the eyes. Change the layer’s blending mode to Color. Until Step 13, keep this layer and the Gradient Map adjustment layer above everything else so that the colour scheme is applied to all elements.
Go back to the layer containing the photo and, using a soft eraser (
E), carefully fade out the background around the model to create an semi-circular feathered effect. Now use a soft brush (and a graphics tablet if you have one) to draw a ‘smoky’ effect coming from beneath the figure.
At this point I extended the canvas upwards to put the model’s face at the centre and ensure a harmonious composition. If you’re using a different photo, make any adjustments needed to do the same.
Now we are going to fill the background with cosmic imagery. I drew the background shown myself, using a graphics tablet and soft round brushes, but if you’d rather concentrate on the lighting techniques that are at the heart of this tutorial, you can download suitable backgrounds at nasaimages.org – a great source of copyright-free space images.
Add stars over the ‘smoky’ effect you created in Step 4 – either by drawing them or by pasting images of stars using a Screen blending mode. You should also add some stars over the model’s chest and body to integrate him or her better with the scenery you’ve created.
Create a new document twice the size of your current one, give it a black background and go to
Filter > Render > Lens Flare… Choose 50-300 mm Zoom as the Lens Type and set the brightness to 100%.
Copy that layer and paste it into your original document. Change the lens flare layer’s blending mode to Screen and position the flare in a prominent position where it blends in. I’ve chosen to put it next to an indentation in the model’s hair.
Download the plasma ball image from
bit.ly/nQorWb. Place it in your artwork, resize it and move it over to the model’s chest. Now paint its interior using a moderately large rough white brush with a Soft Light blending mode; the goal is to give it a texture similar to an explosion.
Download the free Sky Texture and Lens Flare pack from
bit.ly/qdDoLr. Select one of the lens flares that are ‘pointing’ directly forward, place it over the plasma ball and set its blending mode to Screen.
Use a soft white brush and, on different layers, paint some small clouds going over and behind the sphere to integrate it into the scene while retaining the sense of depth. Also add some small, subtle details twisting around the plasma ball.
At this point, you should have created the impression that the sphere is getting swallowed by the clouds.
Now download the Revnart Smoke brushes pack from bit.ly/qvYZLH. Load one that takes your fancy, select a whitish colour with an Overlay blending mode and paint highlights around both the sphere and the model.
Create a new layer, select a soft round black brush and fill the lower part of your piece up to the model’s shoulders. Change the layer’s blending mode to Soft Light, with an opacity of 70%. This will heighten the contrast and make the brighter elements pop out more.
Repeat the last step to add oomph to any other areas you feel need it.
Once you feel that piece is practically finished, you can apply sharpening to improve the overall look. Select all the layers, do a Copy Merged (
Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + C) and then paste the clipboard at the top of the layer stack. Select Filter> Sharpen> Sharpen and you’re done.
Karim Fakhoury, 19, is a freelance graphic designer from Montreal, Canada. Since he was young Karim has been passionate about visual arts and computers, and now he is able to combine both. He has an ability to convey sentiment through the characters he creates, often in surreal or magical settings. Contact