SPACE & SCALING in Photomanipulations

I remember one of my biggest hurdles in learning photomanipulation was scaling subjects accurately to make the piece more believable.  Improperly done and bad scaling can make your subjects look like they’re floating, freakishly big/small, and can make it difficult for the viewer to know where the subject is in relation to other objects, damaging the space and dimension you work to create.

A rule of thumb for me, and I wish I remember where I first read it so I can give credit where it’s due, is to keep an eye on where the subject’s waist is in relation to the horizon, then worry about resizing.  Once I decide where I want the subject’s waist to be, I move the model stock where I’d like it to be and use the anchor point to anchor the photo at the waist.  Doing so keeps them in place which makes resizing much easier.

Photos demonstrating the waist-at-horizon rule

However this trick has varieties that help you anchor your subject in other angles, rather than just the straight-on effect this gives.

Here you see the top two photos are taken from a lower angle making the models look bigger and powerful, and they are anchored by the horizon being lower towards their legs and knees.

The bottom two photos have a lot of open space and focus on the setting rather than the models, achieved by a horizon by their eye-line and higher.  They look small but not meek.

Here is a little of my artwork utilizing these rules.


  • All stock photos from Pixabay

Layer Effects & Styles for Blending

Compositing several photos into one image relies heavily on lighting and coloring – in Photoshop, there are many simple Layer Effects that can be utilized to aid in blending these elements together seamlessly.  It’s no replacement for carefully-chosen stock with matching or similar lighting, though, but it certainly is a helpful cherry on top that seems to make the general flow of lighting a touch more realistic.

Layer Effects are as their name suggests – effects that only affect the layer you want.  They also affect any layers you may have clipped to the main one you are editing.

To bring up the menu for these, double-click the blank spot to the right of your desired layer in your layer panel.  Alternatively, use the menu on top and go to Layer > Layer Style.  Make sure your preview checkbox is checked as well.


Your selection of effects is to the left side panel, and the options for each effect is to the right.




Gradient Overlay

Gradient Overlay
An example of typical settings you can find in most of my manipulations.

This effect gives you the option to add a gradient – set to any opacity, blending mode, style, and scale – to the layer.  My tip to you is to try setting a white-to-black LINEAR gradient and play with the scale and angle settings.  The goal is to have the gradient follow the emanation of light that’s already in your photo, then pick a blending mode for the gradient that will compliment that flow of light.



Above is gradient overlay settings I used on the model photo, as well as a before and after of all gradient overlay effects toggled.



Color Overlay

This is essentially a solid color layer put into a layer style – you pick a color and set it to a blend mode of your choice and you can get many different effects.  Use it on individual stock photos to color correct, or add it to the overall flattened image for easy color effects.




Inner Shadow


This is my go-to for adding rim lighting, and I actually rarely use it for a shadow.  If you have your settings just right, it does a really nice job.



VALUE in Photomanipulation

Photomanipulation, the art of taking several stock photos and blending them together seamlessly to create a new scene, is one of the hardest things you can do in Photoshop due to the complexity of the program, matching different photos to make something believable, and general artistic struggles you find in any medium.  It is also my favorite form of digital art right now, and the one I feel most comfortable and confident doing.

Search results for photomanipulations

In all my years of doing photomanipulations, I’ve found that value, which is how light or dark any given color is, counts for a lot.  Basically what this means is if your art looks great in grayscale, your value is probably done well.

In Photoshop, when you want to see something in grayscale, your instinct wants you to add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on top and then take the saturation slider down to zero, right?  Well, that’s only partially right.  For some reason, any hue and saturation slider in Photoshop does not stay true to value.  Particularly with reds, I’ve noticed, which are brightened quite a bit when you desaturate a photo.

To fix this, simply set the adjustment layer’s blend mode to Color.

You can double-check this theory by adding a black fill layer [a blank layer painted black] and set it to Color to see what happens.

The values for the black fill layer are the same as when you set the hue/saturation adjustment layer to Color.  This also works if you set white or gray to Color as well, so that’s enough to tell me that Photoshop tries to brighten certain colors when we desaturate the old fashioned way.

You’ll instantly notice a difference, and this will help you to create depth and interest to your artwork.  To bring something forward, add contrast, and make sure to keep an eye on your histogram to get true blacks and whites for the most intensity.

To add something farther away in your background, decrease contrast, featuring no true blacks or whites to get the most depth, to really separate your subject from the background.

In my example above, you can see how the dark horizon is a lot more light than the dark clothing next to it, which keeps everything from becoming a big indistinguishable mess.

Once you get the correct values, you can start playing with the overall style much easier, even adding a fade that won’t cause you to lose the space you’ve created.



Retouch leaves, retouch better faces

Leaf retouching is a great way to practice retouching faces.  Why?  We see leaves as beautiful even with their veins, jagged edges, patchy coloring.  Learning to retouch around this natural beauty that does not fall under the uncanny valley will help us get used to seeing humans the same way, and will help negate some of the over-done edits [that leave the models looking like a suspicious doll you’d buy at a shady, sticky shop downtown] that we all have ingrained in our minds.

Just a thought, and I’m unfortunately on pain killers, which is why my Lipsense post is taking so long, so go easy on me…


[Funny enough, I didn’t retouch the leaves in the photo…]