This type of surreal image is very popular but it may not be as straightforward as you might imagine. There’s some Blending Mode tricks going on but the real selling point is shaping the face to the hands.

The Images

I’m using images from Fotolia. If you’re using your own images then you may want to skip to the next step, but remember you could upload and tag your images so others can create this effect!

Start by searching “face hands”. This will give you some great results but for me there was one image that stood out as exactly what I had in mind:


Selecting this image then clicking the ‘+’ allows me to see all the images from this set. There’s a similar positioned image of the model’s face so I’ll get that, and the hands over face:

fotolia_surreal_portrait_02Extra Credit: If you want to try out this technique, or test to see if the images work well together, then you can download a ‘comp’ version of the images. These are low resolution, watermarked versions of the file.

fotolia_surreal_portrait_03Combining the Images in Photoshop

Open the ‘Hands’ image and then add the ‘Face’ image to it. Here I’ve dragged and dropped the Face layer which also makes the layer into a Smart Object, this may help later.

Even while it is being transformed I can reduce the opacity so that I can ‘onion skin’ the layer so that I can align them more accurately.

Although the images don’t match exactly I’ll use the left eye that I can just see behind the hands, and the hair line to get it about where it should be.


Once you’re happy with the positioning, click the tick or press Enter to accept the changes and bring back the Opacity of the Face layer to 100%.

Extra Credit: Good Photoshop housekeeping is to name your layers, I’ll do that now renaming one ‘Hands’ and the other ‘Face’


Make sure/make the ‘Face’ layer a Smart Object

The only part of Face layer we need is that covered by the hands. To mask out everything else use hide the Face layer and activate the Hands Layer and use the Quick Selection Tool to select the hands:


Make the Face layer visible, select it and make add a Layer Mask:


Shaping the Face to the Hands

To shape the face to the hands I’ll be using a Displacement Map, I’ve covered these before in a tutorial called Photoshop Displacement Maps so I wont go into too much detail here.

To make a displacement map for this image:

  1. Turn off the visibility of the Face Layer
  2. From the Menu choose; Image > Duplicate
  3. Select Duplicate Merged Layers Only – Click OK
  4. On the new image create a Black and White Adjustment layer – this can stay as default
  5. Add a Levels adjustment layer. Adjust this for some contrast


  1. Save this image as a psd called ‘map’ to somewhere you can find it easily. I like to put these on desktop. They’re easy to find but also it reminds me to discard them when I’m done.


  1. Return to the main image
  2. Make the Face layer visible and select it.

Add The Displacement

From the menu choose: Filter > Distort > Displace


The figures you enter for the Horizontal and Vertical are pixel values that refer to how far they ‘move’ depending on the lightness or darken of the map. This will depend on how contrasting your map is and the resolution of the image.

Because the layer is a Smart object you can change this later if you need to.

The other settings can remain as default. Click OK


Photoshop will then ask you to locate the Map, this is the one created earlier. Locale it and click open.

Photoshop will then distort the layer accordingly. Change the Blending Mode to Darken:


Refine The Mask

Get a soft edge brush and reduce the opacity to 30%. Then paint black onto the mask so that the two layers blend together:


Finishing Touches

When I finish this image I’ll reduce the opacity of the Face layer a little to help it blend together. Then take a flattened combined image into Adobe Camera Raw to create a black and white image with a few tweaks:


As always, a huge thanks to Eric for supplying this tutorial. Stay tuned for next week and in the meantime, check out more of his tutorials on his website, YouTube and you can find him on Facebook and Twitter should you wish to get in touch with him!