Photoshop tutorial: Create a burlesque photo montage using pro-level masking skills

Flirty, fancy, and defiantly old-school: burlesque is big news at the moment. It relies on teasing and subtle details for its sexiness, rather than resorting to acres of exposed flesh – meaning that you can be seductive without having to go all-out raunchy.

In this tutorial, Radim Malinic lets his imagination go for a wander, creating a unique image by blending a burlesque-style central figure with other exuberant, whimsical elements – including a dream catcher and a merry-go-round.

Malinic says: “It’s imperative that you learn how to make your workflow as intuitive as possible. The software should be an extension of your thoughts, rather than making you into a slave and telling you to use this or that filter. We will explore simple techniques that emphasise colour shifts, quick masking, and adjustment layers.”

The images that Radim has used can be bought for a small cost from, or you can use similar images of your own. Download the images from: (the model), (the feathers) and (the lipstick).

Step 1
You’ve been here before and you may not like this part at all. Separating an image from its background can be a chore, but it’s worth doing properly – and you’ll always find new ways to improve your cut-outs.

Open your model shot – we need to get rid of the bike stand and lose the white reflections on the model’s body and bike frame. Add a new layer with a clipping mask, sample and brush colour around the edges. It will make the final layer look more ‘natural’ in the final composition.

Step 2
The spokes will be far too fiddly to cut out – it will be quicker to ignore them and then draw new spokes on the bike. When your cut-out is complete, hit U and set the line thickness to 3px. Using the model image as a reference, draw from the outside in. Group all the spokes (Cmd/Ctrl + G) to save space in the Layers palette.

Step 3
Open your feathers image. Take a shortcut in the form of Magic Eraser (E) to separate the feathers from the background. Inevitably it won’t be perfect. Hit L for the Levels palette, select the Black channel and drag the slider to the left. Then (using an adjustment layer and a clipping mask) tweak the hue and saturation, and lighten up corners of the feathers.

Step 4
We’re aiming for a strong contrast in our image we and need to introduce as many burlesque elements as possible. Open the lipstick image. We’re going to extract the colourful, feather-like leaves. Cut them out with the Pen tool (P) and put on separate layers. Create a new layer with a clipping mask and use the Clone Stamp (hold down Alt/Opt to copy an area, then click to stamp it) to build up a nice, smooth and even texture – as if they had never overlapped.

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