Creative Photoshop ideas: how to merge portraits with graphics for fantastic effects

Creative Photoshop ideas: how to combine portraits with graphics for fantastic effects

Recently we showed you a simple way to create dream-like double-exposure portraits in Photoshop. In our latest Photoshop Elements tutorial we show you how to merge portraits with some of the free graphics that come with the software to make creative, surrealist images.

Creative Photoshop ideas: how to combine portraits with graphics for fantastic effects

This surreal effect may look intricate and complicated, but merely by making use of the graphics and backgrounds that ship with Elements, it’s something that anybody can do, and on any portrait they like.

We’re making use of a simple graphic called Brass Leaves, which you’ll find within the hundreds of graphics, frames and effects that come with Elements, in our tutorial. However, if you prefer, you could always use one of the other graphics.

By duplicating and reshaping the leaves in different ways you can build up an entire bush.

Once that’s been done, all you have to do is duplicate the cut-out face we’ve provided and ‘clip’ it to each layer, before applying a Drop Shadow layer style and changing the colours.

To round things off, drop in a suitably green leafy background, also taken from the Elements graphics library.

Along the way we’ll repeatedly use one of Photoshop’s most useful and underused shortcuts – the humble Alt key.

Let loose on the Layers Panel, it enables you to make speedy copies of layers, styles, masks and adjustments. It also lets you ‘clip’ a layer to the shape of the layer beneath. Here’s how it works…

SEE MORE: 27 incredible photo effects you can create from just one Photoshop menu

How to combine portraits with graphics in Photoshop Elements: steps 1-3

How to combine portraits with graphics in Photoshop Elements: step 1

01 Cut-out and add leaves
Download our start files and follow along! Open leaves_before.jpg, then grab the Quick Selection tool and paint to select the face and neck. Go to Select>Refine Edge, then set Radius 2.1, Contrast 25%, Shift Edge +17. Set Output to: New Layer and hit OK. Next, go to Window>Graphics. Set ‘By Word’ and type ‘Brass Leaves’. Drag the graphic into the image.

SEE MORE: Color Theory: the best color combinations for photography (and how to take it further)

How to combine portraits with graphics in Photoshop Elements: step 2

02 Build up the leaves
Hit Cmd/Ctrl+T, then transform and position the leaves over the face. Next hit Cmd/Ctrl+J to copy the leaves, then transform again to make it look different from the first layer by rotating, resizing and right-clicking for more options like Distort. Continue making more copies until the face is mostly covered.

SEE MORE: 6 self-portrait ideas for every occasion (and how to take them)

How to combine portraits with graphics in Photoshop Elements: step 3

03 Copy and clip the face
Rename the background copy layer ‘face’, then drag it above the lowermost leaves layer. Hold Alt and click on the line between the two layers to clip the face to the leaves. Next hold Alt and drag the face layer above the next leaves layer to make a copy, and Alt+click the line. Repeat to cover all the leaves layers.

How to combine portraits with graphics in Photoshop Elements: steps 1-3
How to combine portraits with graphics in Photoshop Elements: steps 4-6

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  • RJ

    Thank you for the article but clearly you’re missing some crtitical wording at step 4. “Hold Cmd/Ctrl and click the thumbnail on the top face layer to load a selection. Highlight the leaves layer below, then click the Add Layer Mask icon. ”
    You can’t actually do this by ‘clicking the thumbnail’ and highlight the leaves below in the same step…? How do you ‘highlight’ them? You can’t have them both selected and ‘create’ a Layer Mask by this instruction. Could you please clarify this step? TIA

    On a separate note, why also do you go back to the last step in ‘refine edging’ vs doing that in the beginning? The leaves layers are all over the place and aren’t masked out by the end according to these instructions. Unfortunately, this article seems underexplained quite a bit. I appreciate the effort, just didn’t clarify many intricate parts.