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Photography can transport us to distant, wild and even magical lands. It can force us to expand our minds and believe in things we never thought could’ve been possible. With this tutorial, you can add a magical effect to any portrait, automatically transporting the subject into a land far, far away.

Open your portrait in Photoshop. Portraits with distinct foregrounds and backgrounds where the subject is a clear part of the foreground work best.

Start by duplicating the background layer. Then, with the new layer selected, go to Filter>Camera Raw Filter.

A new editing screen will pop up. Click on the HSL Grayscale icon in the right side panel.

Bump down the Yellows slider to about -60 and the Greens slider to about -40.

Then, select the Saturation tab and turn the Yellows up to about +30 and the Greens up to about +80. Click OK when you’re finished.

Zoom in until your subject fills the screen. Then use your favorite selection tool  to outline the subject. Once you’ve finished the selection, add a mask to the layer by clicking on the small rectangular icon with the circle inside of it at the bottom right corner. A small black box showing your selection will pop up in the layer. Right click on the new mask and select Refine Mask.

Adjust the sliders until you have a nice, smooth border. These settings will differ from image to image. Once your border looks clean, click OK.

Load the selection of your subject by holding down Control and clicking on the layer mask. The crawling border will reappear around your subject.

Then go to Select>Modify>Expand. A box will pop up that says Expand Selection. Change the number to 20 pixels, then click OK.


You’ll notice the border of your image is farther away from the actual border of your subject.

Select your first background copy in the layers panel and go to Edit>Fill>Content Aware and select OK.

Hit Control + D to deselect your subject. The crawling background should disappear. Then, use the crop tool to expand the top of the image. Make sure Delete Dropped Pixels is unchecked. Add another layer mask to this layer.

Select the Linear Gradient Tool (G) from the left side toolbox. Check the two small boxes in the bottom left corner and make sure the foreground is switched to black. Drag down from the top of the actual photo until about where the horizon line will go. The background should fade away.

Then, go to File>Open and select your sunset image.

Go to Image>Image Rotation>180 percent. Then, using the move tool, drag the sunset image to the working image tab and drop it on top of the portrait.

Drag the sunset image layer below the other working layers. Hold down Control + T  to resize the image and position the sunset around your subject. Click on the small checkmark at the top once you’re happy with the placement.

Go to Filter>Blur Gallery>Tilt-Shift, and drag down the blur effect and tweak the Tilt-Shift blur slider on the right hand side until you like the soft blur effect on the foreground and background. Click OK when you’re finished.

Then click on the small half white, half black circle icon in the bottom right corner to create a new adjustment layer and select curves. Drag down the top right corner of the line in the curves editing box to darken the image. Then create new new points in the middle of the line and drag those down as well until you have a sort of U shape.

Then, hold down Control + I to invert the image. You’ll notice the small box in the Curves layers switch from black to white and the image will become lighter again. Select a large soft brush, bump down the opacity to around 50 percent and check the small boxes in the bottom left corner to make sure the foreground is white. Brush around the edges of the subject to create a dramatic vignette effect until the subject really stands out against the darker background.

Add another new adjustment layer and select Gradient Map. Select the Blue, Red, Yellow preset and select OK. Your image will take on a bright red and blue tone.

Change the blending mode in the drop down menu next to the Opacity setting to either Hue or Soft Light. Play around with the different blending modes until you find an effect that works well with your image. Bump down the Opacity to around 50 percent or until the effect isn’t too dramatic.

Create another adjustment layer and select Color Balance. Increase the Red and Magenta tones in the Midtones setting. Then switch to highlights and bring down the Reds, bump up the Greens and increase the Blues. This will keep the warm red and purple hues in the dark and midtones while keeping the subject a contrasting cooler hue.

Create one last adjustment layer and select Levels. With RGB selected, bump up the highlights and bring down the shadows slightly. Then with Red selected, bring down the shadows slightly. Continue tweaking until you’re happy with the effects.

Go back to the Curves layer, and select the brush tool again. Switch the foreground of the small boxes in the corner to black. Decrease the size of the brush and paint the subject and the surrounding area to bring more brightness to the model.

Finally, crop the image slightly or add any other final edits until you’re happy with your fantastical sunset portrait.




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