There are a ton of ways to create unique photo and portrait effects using Photoshop’s myriad of feature combinations. Some of those techniques can get quite complicated. But today, I want to share with you a super simple method that I’ve learned can turn any photo into an instant work of art and make you feel like a Photoshop genius – no matter your skill level.
To illustrate how simple this method is, its helpful to note that I am a completely self-taught photo editor. There are a number of Photoshop websites and YouTube channels that I’ve acquired knowledge from over the years and I will list these for you at the bottom of this post – for anyone interested in vastly improving their understanding of PS features and leveling up their PS skills.
I’m using Photoshop CC in this tutorial, but the same techniques should be applicable for older versions such as CS6. Though, the plugin feature that I mention is not available in those older versions. No worries, the plugin feature is not necessary to create your image.
Begin by opening Photoshop and choosing an image to work with. I searched the term “woman face” using the Photoshop CC plugin by Pexels. To use this plugin, you must first visit the Pexels site to download it onto your system.
To open the plugin window within PS, go to: Window — Extensions — Pexels. It will then appear to the right along the edge of your editing window pane as a camera icon. Click that, be sure to log in to your Pexels account (If you don’t have one, then just create one), and run your search term to select an image.
If you don’t want to use this extension or do not have access to it, you can simply use one of your own images or go grab one from the Pexels site or from Pixabay. Sometimes, even with this plugin, I will go to Pixabay for an image anyway because I’ve often found that they will have more to choose from in certain keyword searches. If you’re not familiar with Pixabay, see my earlier post about why I think Pixabay is awesome. And, I mention both Pixabay and Pexels in my post about 15 Best Free Essentials for Video Creators. Both of these sources provide free, high quality photo and video downloads for both personal and commercial uses.
Another thing you will want to make sure you have before getting started is a brush set that will help you to create an effect of your choosing. The best way to find free brushes is to search Google. If you need commercial use of the brushes, you should add that keyword to your search – but always be sure to read the license info provided with any downloaded set, as even commercial uses will sometimes contain fine print. One popular website for finding free PS brushes with various licenses is Brusheezy
Make sure that after you download your brushes you’ve also loaded them into your open brushes within Photoshop. (explanation below – keep reading.)
Once you have selected and opened an image, unlock it by clicking on the lock button that is over the background image in your layers panel (lower right portion of workspace).
Click on the “layer” button at the bottom of the layers panel to create a new layer. Note: this is the button that resembles a piece of paper with a folded corner.
Click on your Paintbucket tool to the left of your workspace and ensure that your foreground color is set to white. Then, click once onto the image in your workspace while the empty layer is selected in the layers panel.
- To ensure the new layer is selected, just click onto it once within the layers panel. When selected, it will be highlighted gray with a white box around it.
- To be sure you have the default black and white colors with white set to foreground color, simply hit “D” then hit “X” on your keyboard. This will set it correctly.
- If you do not see your Photobucket tool in the tools panel to the left of your workspace, it is probably because another tool is currently visible. If you right click over an individual tool it will show the accompanying tools in a drop-down menu. If you are only showing a shortlist of tools, try clicking the three dots directly over the color swatches – you should be able to find any remaining tools through there along with corresponding keyboard shortcuts.
Now that you’ve filled your new layer with solid white color, you want to put this layer underneath the original image. To do this, just click on the white layer and drag beneath the image.
Now click back onto the main image to select it.
Hold the Alt key and select the mask feature at the bottom of your layers panel. This will create a black mask over your image.
- The “mask” button is the one that looks like a rectangle with a circle inside – located at the bottom of the layers panel (bottom right of workspace.)
Go to your tools panel and select your paintbrush tool.
Choose the brush you would like to use. You can adjust the size, rotation, blending mode, and opacity using the options available at the top of your workspace.
- If you’d like to adjust other brush features such as scattering or shape and color dynamics, you’ll need to open the brush settings window. Simply go to: Window — Brush Settings. It will appear to the right of your workspace. Click on it to open the panel – click Brush Settings, then click on each option to adjust.
- If your brushes aren’t appearing when you go to choose from the brushes panel, it may be that you haven’t loaded them yet. To do this, you’ll need to open the Preset Manager – this is available in either brush panel. Just click on the top right corner of your brushes panel and choose “Preset Manager.” Then, select “Load.” This will open your local storage – just navigate to the .abr file on your computer and select it to open. Your brushes will now appear in your brushes list.
Now all you need to do is make sure that the black mask over your image is selected, along with the brush of your choice, and that your painting color is white.
Simply begin clicking to paint onto the mask. Your image will start showing through according to the settings you have chosen and where you apply the brush.
You can continue to change the settings of your brush and choose other brushes to use per your preferences.
- If you make a mistake, simply click on the history panel and walk yourself back to the last point you liked. The history panel will be to the right side of your workspace at the top and will show an upward arrow icon. As with any other window, if it doesn’t show – go to: Window — and choose the panel you want to show – in this case, that would be “History.”
To apply alternate fade effects, press “X” on your keyboard to switch the foreground color to black and paint some of the edges that way. Play around with this as well as your brushes and settings to get the effect that you like.
At this point, you can go ahead and save your piece as is: File — Save As — give a name, choose JPG or PNG, and choose a save location — then click save.
To apply other global effects, you can choose special layer effects to add by clicking the circle at the bottom of the layers panel and choosing an effect, then adjusting it as necessary. If you don’t like an effect, just delete the layer.
Alternatively, you can use “Actions” to apply global effects much quicker. To find free actions that will apply global filters, do a Google search and follow the instructions of any downloaded action.
To open your actions window, go to: Window — Actions. To load a new action, click the top right corner and choose “Load Actions.” Navigate to the action file (.atn) stored on your computer and open.
That’s pretty much it. Now you have a one of a kind piece of Photoshop art that you can use for a variety of purposes: Social media, Book covers, web illustrations, etc. Here’s my completed image from this tutorial:
As promised, here is a list of my favorite free Photoshop Tutorial Sites and Channels that are great for expanding your knowledge and skill with PS.
Useful YouTube Channels:
Piximperfect (My Top Pick)