Space age cosmic photo manipulations have been popular for years and don’t look to be going out of style anytime soon. There is something inherently intriguing about mixing what is everyday to us with elaborate nebulas, star fields and planets.

Typically this type of work is regarded as quite high-end, and something left to the more talented digital artists. Beginners in the design world often shy away from it, despite finding it really eye catching and impressive.

Here you can learn how the use of a few basic Photoshop tools can let even relatively novice users construct an awesome space age photo manipulation!


Step 1: Lay out your background

Create a new document that’s 800X650px. Choose a 300DPI resolution.

Fill your background layer with purple (hex code: 191325).

Download the smokey planet image found here:

Paste it into the left side of your canvas, onto a new layer called ‘planet’:

Apply a layer mask to your ‘planet’ layer and use a large, soft black paintbrush to mask off the bottom right of the planet, blending it smoothly into your background.

Also apply a colour balance adjustment layer, and adjust your planet’s colours until they become more purple and fit with your background.

 IMPORTANT: Be sure to apply a clipping mask to your adjustment layer, so that your colour balance adjustments only effect your underlying planet layer, not your entire canvas:

Step 2: Paste in Your Subject

It’s time to add our main subject to the composition.

Download this image of an attractive female model:

Position her head in the right part of your canvas and then isolate her from her background using a layer mask. (Again, simply apply a layer mask, then use a black brush to mask away the background data, leaving only her head).

If you need to make more precise edges, you can always select areas of your background using the lasso tool or the pen tool. Then with these selections and your mask in place, fill them with black (therefore masking off this area).

Step 3: Add Some Space Effects

Download this nebula image:

Paste it into your canvas, positioning it like so:

Now change this layer’s blend mode from ‘normal’ to ‘overlay’. Reduce its opacity to 35%.

Then duplicate this layer and change the duplicate layer’s blend mode to ‘overlay’ to ‘soft’ light.

This should give a subtle space texture over your composition:

Step 4: Create Floating Fragments of Skin

Now we’re going to create some surreal floating fragments of skin.

This is a technique that can look really effective, but is actually quite easy to achieve.

Select your original ‘woman’ layer and use either the lasso tool or pen tool to select an area of the woman’s skin that’s the shape of a tear. (Or perhaps something similar in shape to the Nike logo tick).

Then with this selection in place simply copy and paste it onto a new layer. Move this layer to be the top layer in your layer palette, and then drag the skin area sideways so that it begins to overlap into your main background.

Repeat this technique several times, creating multiply skin/hair fragments breaking off from the woman.

To blend them grab, a soft black paintbrush and paint a subtle shadow underneath each to make them stand out.

I also used a colour balance adjustment layer to give each fragment a slightly blueish tint:

Duplicate a couple of your skin fragment layers and then enlarge these areas to be quite a bit larger than the original. Move them to the bottom area of your canvas.

Apply a gaussian blur (around 5px strength) to each.

These large, blurred fragments of skin help establish a depth of field for our composition, as they appear closer and out of focus to us.

This is enough simple technique that is used by a lot of the pros:

Step 5: Adding Some Cool Lighting Effects

Now it’s time to add some cool light effects to help jazz up our piece.

Start by downloading this blue circle image:

Paste the circle image into your canvas, positioning one circle covering your planet shape, and another much smaller circle sitting in the top right of your canvas:

Now change each circle layer’s blend mode to ‘linear dodge’. This will hide the black background fill, letting your composition show through.

Reduce each circle layer’s opacity to around 50%, and then mask off random areas of the circle to create a more sporadic light effect.

Also use a hue/saturation adjustment layer to change the color of the circles from blue to pink:

I used the same technique to apply this smoke image ( to the top left part of the canvas:

Step 6: Adding Some Additional Lighting

Create a new layer called ‘lighting’.

Use a large, soft paintbrush to apply several markings over your image using colours that compliment your composition.

For this piece try adding blues, purples and oranges:

Now reduce this layer’s opacity to around 20% and change it’s blend mode from ‘normal’ to ‘overlay’.

This will create a subtle, but very effective colour overlay effect for your piece that will help bring the various elements together more:

Step 7: Dodge and Burn (the Non-Destructive Way)

As a final step to really bring the piece together you need to dodge/burn it.

It’s always best to use a non-destructive workflow when possible though, which means using techniques that don’t permanently damage your image (i.e.: you can remove or alter them later, even if you close and then reopen your document).

Start by creating a new top layer called ‘dodge/burn’.

Go to edit>fill>50% gray. This will fill your entire canvas with a gray colour. Change your layer’s blend mode from ‘normal’ to ‘overlay’. This will hide the gray fill, but allow you to paint over your image in a non-destructive way.

Use a soft black paintbrush at 10% opacity to paint in deep shadows where it’s appropriate. Use a soft white paintbrush at around 10% opacity to paint in highlights.

Remember: try to identify common light sources in your piece and figure out the areas that you want to draw more attention to.

The images below show the image with your dodge/burn layer at ‘normal’ blend mode (so you can see where I paint shadows/highlights), and then at ‘overlay’ blend mode so you can see the final result:

This tutorial is provided by The FanExtra Network who provide weekly advanced Photoshop tutorials using Fotolia images, as well as a huge library of 2000 quality design resources. You can join their members community by Signing up here.