How To Use Photoshop To Alter Reality As We Know It

How To Use Photoshop To Alter Reality As We Know It

Photoshop is an amazing tool that can take any photo and change it into anything you can imagine. While it can take years of practice to alter reality like a pro, there are a few simple tricks you can employ to reshape the world captured in your photos. Here are five of our favorite techniques and how to use them effectively.

Note: While this guide centres around Adobe Photoshop (CS5, specifically), many of these tricks are possible in other image editors. Even if you don’t have Photoshop you’re not necessarily left out of the party. Read through the tips as we’ve tried to use methods that can be replicated in other software as well.

Pop Pimples (and Remove Other Blemishes)

Sometimes faces aren’t as pretty as you might like, or dust got on your lens, or you missed a little bit of blood on the carpet when cleaning up after your last murder. Whatever the case may be, Photoshop is really great at removing unwanted visual information and offers three great tools to help. We’re going to take a look at them all.

Watch the video above for a visual walkthrough or read on for a description of how to use each tool. Also, thank you to Instructables user KentsOkay and his real-life pimple-popping tutorial for the photo used in the video.

The Clone Stamp

The Healing Brush

Content-Aware Fill

Change Facial Expressions

One often-ignored feature in Photoshop is the Liquify tool, which is capable of warping your images in some compelling ways. We’ve previously demonstrated how it can be used to fix distortions, but it can also do something a little more fun: change facial expressions.

Watch the video above for a visual walkthrough or read on for the written version.

The important thing is to be careful and maintain subtlety when employing this technique because you can make your subject look completely ridiculous if you’re not careful. (See the “BAD” photo in the example below for a look at how altering an expression can go a little overboard.)

  1. Go to the Filter menu and choose Liquify.
  2. Select the Warp Tool if it isn’t already selected. (It’s the first tool in the toolbar in the top left corner of the Liquify window. You can select it by clicking on it or just pressing the W key on your keyboard.)
  3. On the right side of the Liquify window you’ll see options for the selected tool. In that section, set your brush size fairly small. Generally a brush size between three and 20 will work, but your goal is to make it a little larger than the height of the smile line.
  4. When your brush is the right size, use the Warp Tool to paint the edges of the smile upward. It works just like a brush, but all you do is click on the area you want to move and use your mouse or trackpad to pull it in the direction you want. Do not move the mouth too much or it will look ridiculous. You don’t want to try and move it into a full smile or it will look fake, but rather move it out of the frowning position. You’ll be able to sell the happier look by altering other parts of the face.
  5. Increase the size of your Warp Tool brush by about two times and use it to push the cheeks of your subject upward just slightly.
  6. Change the size of your Warp Tool brush to match the size of your subjects eyes, then use it to push the area directly below the eye upward just a tiny bit.

Now you should be done and your subject should look a little more pleasant. While some added patience and time could change your subject’s expression more dramatically, it’s generally better to keep it simple so the change looks natural and not cartoonish-ly false.

Whiten Teeth

Few of us have perfectly white teeth, but we can brush the yellow away with the help of a couple of tools in Photoshop. All you really have to do is desaturate your not-so-pearly whites and then brighten them up. Just watch the video above or follow these steps:

  1. Take the Sponge Tool and paint away the yellow parts of the teeth. You can use the default settings (desaturate, 50 per cent flow) but you’ll want to pick a brush size that’ll fit nicely into the teeth you’re whitening.
  2. Desaturating with the sponge is going to leave you with some ugly gray shadows, unfortunately, since yellow is darker in tone than pure white, but we can fix that! In the same place you found the sponge tool, you can also select the Dodge Tool. This tool will brighten up areas of a photo, but the default flow setting (50 per cent) is way too high. Something between 10-15 per cent will work much better. You also want to make sure you Dodge Tool is set to brighten up the midtones, which you can select directly to the left of the flow settings.
  3. Once you have your settings in place, use the Dodge Tool to paint over the gray areas of the teeth. This will lighten them up so they match the whiter parts of the teeth. If you find you’re over-brightening these areas, just lower the Flow setting of the Dodge Tool and try again.

It can take a little practice to be perfectly precise and have a clean, even look, but once you get the hang of it you’ll have the perfectly white teeth — or at least your photos will.

Lighten Up Underexposed Faces

One of the most common problems with your photos is that some part of them is underexposed. This often happens with your subject’s face or even their entire body. Fortunately it is incredibly easy to fix this problem in Photoshop or any other image editor. Just follow these steps (or watch the video above):

  1. Open your image and use a rectangular marquee tool to select the portion you want to brighten up. Be sure to leave some room around the edges. Copy your selection and paste it into a new layer.
  2. Use Levels, Curves or a lighting adjustment tool of your choice to boost the midtones. Doing this may wash out the colour of the image a little bit, so if you can you should also boost the red channel’s midtones in the selection. In Curves, you can do this by selecting Red from the Channels drop-down menu and pulling upward on its curve.
  3. Select the eraser tool and use a soft brush to erase the edges around the part of the image you brightened up so only the part you want remains.
  4. Adjust the opacity of the brightened selection until the brightness is exactly where you want it.

Note: In Photoshop you can also make your selection very quickly with the Quick Mask tool and alter the brightness and colour of that selection using an Adjustment Layer. I like the above method because there is virtually no layer-based image editor that isn’t capable of performing this trick. That said, using Quick Mask and an Adjustment Layer is proper practice in Photoshop. If you’re not familiar with these tools, check out our overview of Photoshop’s tools and features.

When you’re done your photo should look like it was shot under better, more compelling lighting.

Extract Your Subject and Place Them on a New Background

Sometimes you’re sitting on the couch when you’d rather be relaxing on the beach. Don’t worry, Photoshop can help! It has plenty of tools you can use to extract your backgrounds. Be sure to watch the video above to see how this is all done, but here’s a look at a few tools you can use to help extract your backgrounds cleanly.

Polygonal LassoEraserPolygonal Lasso

Background EraserMagic Eraserdo not

Once you actually manage to remove the background using whatever tools suit you best, there are a couple of other things you want to keep in mind. You can’t just plop a subject on any photo and expect him/her/it to belong. Chances are the colour and light in the photo you extracted your subject from is not going to match the one where you’re placing them. You can use Photoshop’s Color Match adjustment (go to the Adjustments menu and choose Color Match) but, as you’ll see in the video above, it doesn’t always do that great of a job. Opening Curves and trying to match the color and light manually makes a bigger difference.

  1. Control/command-click on your subject’s layer to select him/her/it.
  2. Go to the Select menu and choose Select Inverse.
  3. Click on the layer of your background in the Layers panel to choose it.
  4. Go to the Select menu and choose Refine Edge.
  5. In the Refine Edge panel, increase the Feather size and move the Shift Edge slider to the right. As you do this you’ll see your selection start to move inward and eat into your subject. When this happens a little bit you’ve done well and can stop. Press OK to accept your refined selection.
  6. Copy the newly selected area of your background layer and paste it into a new layer on top of your subject. It’ll look kind of weird, like the background has swallowed your subject’s edges. This is OK.
  7. Reduce the opacity of this new layer to about 20 per cent. This will make everything look pretty normal again, but you’ll have a bit of colour from the new background blending in with the edges of your subject much like it would in reality.

While there’s likely a lot more you can do to make your subject look more realistic in their new home, these basics tricks are a good starting point for when you want to transplant people, places and things to new and exciting locations.

If you’re brand new to Photoshop, be sure to learn the basics in our Photoshop Night School course. For plenty more great Photoshop tips and tricks, such as changing a specific colour in a photo or creating animated cinemagraphs, check out our Photoshop tag page.


Log in to comment on this story!