10 Tips for Better Surreal Photography in Photoshop
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Learn the basics of Photoshop
  2. Practice cropping and compositing
  3. Experiment with color grades and hues
  4. Apply filters to create surreal effects
  5. Manipulate shadows and lights
  6. Blend multiple images smoothly
  7. Use textures to add depth
  8. Create surreal scenes with perspective tools
  9. Experiment with abstract shapes and forms
  10. Practice regularly and experiment freely

Photoshop is your canvas and you, the digital artist with a penchant for the surreal. So, how can you level up your Photoshop skills, specifically for crafting mind-bending, dreamlike images? Here are ten practical tips for getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop.

Learn the Basics of Photoshop

Before you start creating your surrealistic masterpieces, it's important to have a firm grasp on the basics of Photoshop. It's like learning to walk before you run; it sets a solid foundation for all the complex edits you're about to do.

Firstly, you need to understand the workspace. Photoshop offers a multitude of panels each with a specific function—layers, channels, paths, to name a few. Familiarize yourself with these panels and their respective capabilities.

Secondly, learn the ropes of using basic tools. Photoshop has a wide array of tools, each represented by an icon in the toolbox. Some of the basics that you will frequently use include the Brush Tool, the Eraser Tool, the Gradient Tool, and the Clone Stamp Tool.

Lastly, get a handle on Layers. Layers are fundamental to Photoshop. They allow you to work on individual parts of an image without affecting others. Think of them as sheets of acetate stacked on top of each other. You can see through transparent areas of a layer to the layers below. You can also change the order of layers, adjust their transparency, or blend them in various ways.

By wrapping your head around these basics, you're setting yourself up for success in getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop. Remember, every master was once a beginner. So, take your time and keep practicing. The world of surreal photography awaits!

Practice Cropping and Compositing

Next stop on your journey to getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop: mastering the art of cropping and compositing.

Cropping is not just about cutting out unwanted parts of an image. It can also be a powerful tool to highlight specific elements, set the mood, or even tell a story. With Photoshop, you can use the Crop Tool to not only adjust the size and shape of your image, but also to straighten a crooked horizon or change the perspective.

Compositing, on the other hand, is where the magic of surreal photography truly begins. It is the process of combining two or more images to create a single, unified piece. This is where your wildest fantasies can come to life — you can put a city in a bottle, let fish swim in the sky, or have flowers bloom out of a violin!

Keep in mind, the key to seamless compositing is to match the light, shadow, and color between the images. Also, remember to carefully cut out your elements. A sloppy selection can ruin the believability of your composite, no matter how well the other elements are matched.

It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle: each piece has to fit perfectly with the others. But don't worry if your first few attempts don't turn out as expected. Practice makes perfect, and with each composite you create, you're getting one step closer to mastering surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop.

Experiment with Color Grades and Hues

It's time to dive into the world of colors. One might say, it's like painting with a digital brush! Adjusting color grades and hues is an integral part of getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop.

Photoshop's Color Balance tool lets you manipulate the colors in your image across highlights, midtones, and shadows. You can add a warm sunset glow, create a cool moonlit scene, or even turn your photo into a monochrome masterpiece. The choices are endless and entirely up to you.

Want to try something more advanced? Dabble with Selective Color. This tool allows you to change individual color ranges in your image. So, if you want to make the blues in your photo more turquoise, or give the reds a magenta tint, Selective Color is the way to go.

Remember, color can drastically alter the mood and narrative of your image. A blue hue can evoke feelings of calm and tranquility, while a red or orange hue can create a sense of warmth and intensity.

But, the most important tip here is to experiment freely. Playing with different color grades and hues can lead to surprising and beautiful results. So go ahead, let your imagination run wild and paint your surreal world with Photoshop's color tools.

Apply Filters to Create Surreal Effects

Imagine being able to turn your everyday photographs into dreamy, other-worldly images with just a few clicks. That's what Photoshop filters can do!

When getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop, filters are your secret weapon. They can transform an image in ways that might take hours to achieve manually.

Start with the Gaussian Blur filter. It's perfect for adding a touch of dreaminess to your images. By blurring certain parts of your photo, you can draw attention to the elements you want to emphasize — a bit like the magician's trick of misdirection!

Next, try the Liquify filter. It allows you to twist, bulge, or warp parts of your image. Want to create a Salvador Dalí-like melting clock or a swirling vortex in the sky? Liquify is your tool.

For a touch of vintage appeal, apply the Texture filter. It could make your image look like an aged photograph or a painting on an old, cracked canvas.

Remember, the key to great surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop is to experiment and not be afraid of making mistakes. After all, it's through mistakes that we often discover the most creative ideas, right?

Manipulate Shadows and Lights

Shadows and lights are storytelling elements in photography. They can shape the mood, direct the viewer's eye, and add depth to your images. When it comes to getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop, mastering shadows and lights is key.

Begin by exploring the Burn and Dodge tools. These tools allow you to darken (burn) or lighten (dodge) specific areas of your image. Want to make a sunny day feel like twilight? Just burn the sky. Want to illuminate a face emerging from the shadows? Dodge is your friend.

Next, play around with Gradient Maps. This tool lets you assign different colors to the shadows and highlights in your image. Imagine turning a sunset into a surreal landscape with purple shadows and green highlights. Intriguing, isn't it?

Lastly, consider the Layer Blending Modes. By changing the blending mode of a layer, you can alter how it interacts with the layers beneath. This can lead to some truly surprising and surreal results!

But remember, when manipulating shadows and lights, subtlety is your ally. Even in surreal photography, it's important to maintain a sense of realism for the viewer. So, don't be afraid to tweak and adjust until you get it just right.

Blend Multiple Images Smoothly

When it comes to surreal photography, blending multiple images into one seamless composition opens up a world of creative possibilities. The ability to blend images smoothly is a crucial skill to master when getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop.

Start by using the Selection tools, such as the Quick Selection or Lasso tools, to isolate the parts of images you want to blend. You can then copy these selections into a new layer on your main image.

Next, it's time to blend. Photoshop's Layer Masks offer a non-destructive way of blending images. Simply add a layer mask to your selection, then use the Brush tool to paint in black or white. Painting in black will hide parts of your layer, while painting in white will reveal them. This allows you to accurately blend your images in a way that looks natural and smooth.

Finally, don't forget about the Clone Stamp tool. This tool can be a lifesaver for merging images together, particularly when dealing with tricky areas like hair or complex patterns. The Clone Stamp tool lets you sample a portion of one image and paint it onto another, making it perfect for blending edges and creating seamless transitions.

Remember, blending multiple images smoothly is something that takes practice. So, don't be discouraged if your first few attempts don't turn out as expected. Keep experimenting, keep learning, and before you know it, you'll be creating surreal compositions that truly captivate your audience.

Use Textures to Add Depth

Surreal photography often has a dreamy, otherworldly feel. One way to achieve this is by adding texture to your images. Textures can add depth, make your images more visually interesting, and contribute to the overall surreal atmosphere you're trying to create. Here's how you can do it while getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop.

First, you need to find some textures. You can create your own by photographing things like cracked paint, rust, or fabric. Alternatively, you can find free texture images online. Once you've got your texture, open it in Photoshop and copy it onto a new layer in your main image.

Now, it's time to blend your texture with your image. Go to the layer containing your texture, and change its Blend Mode. Photoshop has a lot of Blend Modes, but for adding texture, "Overlay", "Soft Light", or "Hard Light" often work best. Play around with different modes and see what works best for your image.

Once you've chosen a Blend Mode, you can adjust the Opacity of your texture layer to control how much it affects your image. If the texture is too strong, simply reduce the Opacity.

Remember, the goal is to enhance your image, not overwhelm it. So, be subtle with your textures and make sure they contribute to the overall surreal look and feel of your image.

Adding textures to your images is a simple yet effective way to add depth and interest to your surreal photography. So, why not give it a try in your next project?

Create Surreal Scenes with Perspective Tools

When stepping into the realm of surreal photography, manipulating perspectives can be your magic wand. By playing with perspectives, you can create scenes that defy reality, making your images intriguing and captivating. Here's how you can get better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop using perspective tools.

In Photoshop, the "Transform" tool is your best friend when it comes to changing perspectives. You can access it by going to Edit > Transform. This tool lets you scale, rotate, skew, distort, or warp your image. With the "Distort" and "Warp" options, you can bend reality to your will, creating impossible scenes that are the hallmark of surreal imagery.

For instance, you could make a road appear to twist into a spiral, or make a building look like it's melting. Remember though, maintaining a sense of realism while distorting perspectives can make your surreal images more impactful. It's about bending the rules of reality, not breaking them completely.

Another handy tool is the "Vanishing Point" filter. Found under Filter > Vanishing Point, this tool lets you define perspective planes in your image, and then clone, paint, or paste along those planes. It's a more advanced tool, but once you get the hang of it, you'll find it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your surreal photography.

So, are you ready to twist reality and create some mind-boggling surreal images? With the perspective tools in Photoshop, the only limit is your imagination.

Experiment with Abstract Shapes and Forms

Abstract shapes and forms are like the icing on a cake for surreal photography. They add an element of surprise and intrigue that is hard to ignore. So, if you're eager to get better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop, experimenting with abstract shapes and forms is a must.

Photoshop provides a plethora of tools for creating and manipulating shapes. You can start by exploring the "Shape" tool. This tool offers basic shapes like rectangles, circles, and lines, but don't let the simplicity fool you. With a bit of creativity, you can turn these simple shapes into complex abstract forms.

For instance, you can use the "Ellipse" tool to create a series of overlapping circles, then play with the blending modes to create an abstract pattern. Or, use the "Pen" tool to draw a unique shape, fill it with a gradient, and add a drop shadow for a 3D effect.

Another fun way to create abstract forms is by using the "Liquify" filter. This tool lets you warp, swirl, and stretch your image in ways you can't even imagine. It's like molding clay, but with pixels. With the "Liquify" filter, you can transform a regular image into a swirling vortex of colors and shapes. Just remember to use it subtly to avoid turning your image into a messy blob.

Abstract shapes and forms might seem intimidating at first, but once you start experimenting, you'll see they can add a whole new level of depth to your surreal photography. So why not give it a try? Who knows, you might find your next favorite Photoshop technique.

Practice Regularly and Experiment Freely

Just like learning to play an instrument or mastering a new language, getting better at surreal photography manipulation in Photoshop requires regular practice and a willingness to experiment. If you're serious about improving your skills, set aside some time each week to work on a new Photoshop project.

Don't worry if you're short on ideas: the internet is full of tutorials, challenges, and inspiration. You can try recreating a piece of surreal art you admire, or take on a Photoshop challenge to push your skills to the limit. Remember, it's not about making a perfect piece of art every time, it's about learning and improving.

One of the key benefits of Photoshop is its flexibility. There are often multiple ways to achieve the same effect, so don't be afraid to experiment. Play around with different tools, filters, and techniques. Sometimes, it's through these experiments that you stumble upon a new trick or style that becomes a staple in your work.

Lastly, don't forget to have fun. It's easy to get caught up in the technicalities and forget that art is about expressing yourself. So let your imagination run wild, try out that crazy idea you had, and see where it takes you. After all, in the realm of surreal photography, the only limit is your imagination.

If you're captivated by the world of surreal photography and want to enhance your Photoshop skills, don't miss the workshop 'Illustrate with Adobe' by Olaoluwa Olatunbosun. This workshop will help you unlock the full potential of Adobe's creative tools and elevate your surreal photography to new heights.