When people see one of my abstract/surreal images, they sometimes ask ‘How did you do that?’

So, in this post I unpack some detail about the process of creating one of my Photoshop Creative readers’ competition entries. This is not intended to be a full tutorial, however, I have provided some detail in explaining how this image was created.

The challenge!

Each month Photoshop Creative magazine holds a competition for readers. Recently the challenge has been to take four random pictures that the magazine has chosen and turning those four images into a creative piece of artwork. You can use your own images if you like, and you don’t have to use all the images. However, I prefer if possible to set myself the challenge of trying to combine just all four images supplied and manipulate them in some way to make an image that makes sense.

The original images

Below are the four originals that were supplied – this shows you the entire image area that was available:



1. Brainstorming

I spent some time considering how best to use the images; their quality, size, subject matter, so I could consider how I could combine them to make something that worked. Creating something which included use of all four randomly supplied images proved to be quite tricky, but eventually it made sense to feature the balloons, building frame and fireworks. I settled on the concept of a surreal futuristic time portal. To include the hula-hoop girl in this image was more tricky. After some thought and a couple of rough tests (see one of these shown below) I eventually decided that I could use the hula girl in a couple of places – the obvious one being as a graphic on one of the hot air balloons. You can see hot air balloons with massive graphics printed on them in real life.



2. Where to start?

The first task was to create a futuristic time portal. To do this, I used the Polar Coordinates filter in Photoshop on the night time seascape (top left image below), then repeated and manipulated the image so there was no obvious join in the layered images (top right image). I then duplicated, cut-out the middle section, distorted and scaled the image duplicate, repeating three more times to make ‘windows’ all round in the portal, (bottom left image). Finally I duplicated the image one last time and scaled up the circle to complete the 3D effect, creating the hint of a tunnel. This helped to give a sense of movement and depth to the foreground (bottom right image).



3. Creating an apocalyptic / futuristic style background

For this stage, I decided I was going to try and combine several elements from all four of the images. Using cut-outs, multiple layers and blend modes in Photoshop, I was able to gradually build a futuristic scene which centred around the building frame black and white image. It made sense to use this as the base image because it had quite an apocalyptic and futuristic / misty feel. First, I simply blended the balloon photo with the chosen base image using the overlay option. Then I added a blurry reflection in the foreground and also blended this using the overlay option (top left image below). Next, I created a reflection of the balloon image and blended that using the divide option (top right image). I added a further different overlay of the hula girl blending it using the screen option to lighten the whole scene a little (bottom left image). Finally I roughly cut out the fireworks from the original image and blended them using the overlay option. I then dropped in the time portal circle to see how it would look (bottom right image).



4. Bringing it all together

Once I was happy with the apocalyptic background, it was time to bring everything together. I pasted the futuristic time portal on a new layer so the cut-out areas showed the apocalyptic background through in some places (top left image). I then created the opaque shaded effect by taking the centre of the futuristic time portal manipulation and deleting it with a gradual fade to the edges and enabled transparency (top right image). Next I cut out a balloon from the balloon sky image and dropped it in twice, scaling and flipping to make the two balloons appear to be floating within the foreground futuristic time portal. I lightened some areas of the foreground (bottom left image). Finally, I added a bright light source taking into account the three dimensional space, brightness and contrast already on the image (bottom right image).



5. Adding the all important lighting

As with many of my images, the most fun part, and the part that often makes the difference between a good piece of digital art and a great piece of digital art, is the adding of shadows and light. The image below shows the final artwork after I added in all the shadows and light using various Photoshop tools. This requires trying to imagine and think in 3D to choose where the shadows and light might fall. I also warped and scaled the fireworks image to make it look like a print on one of the balloons and distorted the photo of the hula girl clearly on the on the other balloon. I finished the artwork off with some light leak through the top and right-hand side windows.



6. The end result

In my mind, it shows a futuristic time portal in the foreground, with balloons drifting through it towards the future shown beyond. It is a fairly bleak and apocalyptic scene with a skeleton of a building, bright light and an impression of explosions. The balloons continue off into the distance to bring together the foreground and the background and make the image appear as though everything exists in the same place at the same moment in time. In contrast to the drifting of the balloons, the blurry radiating lines in the foreground give a sense of greater speed and passage through time.

A fresh challenge!

You can enter the latest challenge at Photoshop Creative here: http://blog.photoshopcreative.co.uk/readers-challenge/