Fix faces with a flourish in Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo tutorial
(Image credit: James Paterson)

Watch video: Fix faces with a flourish in Affinity Photo

A surreal portrait effect like this may look complicated, but it’s not as tricky to pull off as you might initially think. By using a combination of layer skills and effects in Affinity Photo we can transform our portrait into a series of flourishes and swirls, building up the effect by using the same layers over and again. 

We’ve supplied a set of flourish designs for you to use on your own portraits to give them a similar striking look. If you want to shoot your own image for this, then a portrait taken against a black backdrop will work best. Stand the person slightly side-on to the camera and place a light behind them to the side, so that it illuminates the back side of the face. If you don’t have a flash or LED panel, then a window will work just as well. 

Position the subject side-on to the window and place the black backdrop (a dark sheet or blanket will work in this instance) as far back as possible, so that the window light doesn’t affect it. Focus on the closest eye and take the photograph.

Once in Affinity Photo, we can copy in one of the supplied flourish shapes, then use the shape to mask the face. Next, we copy the portrait, add a different flourish and mask it again. Then, by adding a drop shadow effect to the layer, we can make it seem as if one flourish sits in front of the other. From here, we can build up the effect in the same way over the entire face, creating this visually striking effect.

Read more:

• Affinity Photo 1.8 review

Step 1: Paint black around edges

You can click on the gadget in the top right corner of these screenshots to zoom in on a full size version. (Image credit: James Paterson)

Open the portrait and duplicate the layer twice. Name the top layer ‘face’. Grab the Brush tool, set colour to black and paint over areas you don’t want visible, like the edges of the hair. Highlight the middle layer, go to Edit>Fill and fill with black. Next, open up the supplied flourish.png file

Step 2: Copy in a flourish

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Get the Rectangular Marquee tool and drag a selection over one of the flourishes, then copy (Cmd/Ctrl+C). Go to the portrait and paste (Cmd/Ctrl+V). In the Layers panel, drag the flourish onto the thumbnail of the top portrait layer to make a mask. Click on it and use the Move tool to drag it into place.

Step 3:  Add a shadow

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Duplicate the face layer with Cmd/Ctrl+J, then click the mask and hit delete. Copy in another flourish shape, then drag it onto the duplicate. Click the ‘fx’ icon in the Layers panel and check Outer Shadow. Increase Radius and Offset, like so, to add a shadow so that it looks like the flourishes intertwine.

Step 4: Build it up

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Copy the face again with Cmd/Ctrl+J, then, as before, delete the existing mask, then copy in and mask another flourish. Continue in this way to build up the effect. You can duplicate and reuse flourishes in different positions around the face, or resize and rotate them to add variety to the effect.

Step 5: Change the colours

(Image credit: James Paterson)

We can add more variety by shifting the colours of individual flourishes. Highlight any layer then click the Adjustments icon in the Layers panel and choose HSL. Drag the adjustment layer on top of the face thumbnail then use the Hue and Saturation controls to alter the colours. Add more colour shifts to other layers.

Step 6: Finish it off

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Now let’s make a few flourishes extend beyond the edges of the face to create a flowing shape. Highlight a layer, grab the Brush tool and sample a colour from the skin, then paint over the edges of the flourish to reveal more of the shape. Build up the effect until you’re happy.    

Quick tip

Drop shadows are great for making graphics stand out from a backdrop. But they’re also handy for effects like this – the shadows lend depth to the swirls. To do this, click the ‘fx’ icon in the Layers panel and choose Outer Shadow. The controls let us choose the softness of the shadow (Radius) and the distance from the shape (Offset). Angle controls where the shadows fall.

About N-Photo magazine

This tutorial originally appeared in N-Photo, the monthly newsstand magazine for Nikon photographers. Why not subscribe to a print edition, and have the magazine delivered direct to your door every month?

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James Paterson

The lead technique writer on Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, James is a fantastic general practice photographer with an enviable array of skills across every genre of photography. 

Whether it's flash photography techniques like stroboscopic portraits, astrophotography projects like photographing the Northern Lights, or turning sound into art by making paint dance on a set of speakers, James' tutorials and projects are as creative as they are enjoyable. 

He's also a wizard at the dark arts of Photoshop, Lightroom and Affinity Photo, and is capable of some genuine black magic in the digital darkroom, making him one of the leading authorities on photo editing software and techniques.