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Create a Surreal Environment Using a Photo

Lately, it has become popular to manipulate photos to create intense surreal environments. This tutorial will show you some of the ways to create such environments.


A dream-like or bizarre feel or look when compared to reality.

Finished Example

Let’s take a look at a finished example of a surreal environment.

Step 1 – Selecting a Photo

After browsing some free stock photos at stock.xchng, I finally decided on a picture of a road surrounded by daisies.


Step 2 – Think of Some Concepts

Now that I have my photo, I need to think of what I want to add to make it surreal. Since it is a curved road, I thought some vibrant tubes of light would create a nice effect. Also, since there were so many daisies, I wanted to make them appear to glow. I also wanted to add some more excitement into the empty sky.

Since I’m going to want some bright daisies and some glowing tubes of light, I’ll keep in mind that I may want to darken all the other parts of the photo.

Step 3 – Fixing the Background

I don’t like the tractor marks in the left field of daisies, so I’m going to use my Clone Stamp Tool to clear them away. I’ll do the same for the tracks in the upper field too.

Tractor Marks

Step 4 – Adding the First Beam

Create a path that winds up the road using the pen tool. Make sure that it extends below the actual document some, so that the end isn’t rounded. Select a 19px hard brush and set the Size Jitter Control to Fade, and give it a value around 400 or 500. Then, set the Minimum Diameter to 10%.

Brush Settings

With your pen tool selected, right click and select Stroke Path. Select Brush from the drop down menu and make sure Simulate Pressure IS checked.

Red Path

Fade Brush

You may have to experiment with different values on your Fade in order to get it to fit the size of the path.

Step 5 – Adding Layer Styles

Go into your layers Blending Options (Right Click Layer > Blending Options).

Apply the layer effects shown below, making any modifications as needed.

Outer Glow

This will create a glow off of the tube of light. I used #ff0000.

Outer Glow

Inner Glow

This will create a lighter color starting from the center of the tube. I used #f75151.

Inner Glow


This will help to structure the shape of the tube.


Color Overlay

This will replace the color of the tube with red. I used #ff0000.

Color Overlay
Red Effects

Step 6 – Add a Unique Glow

Our red tube is looking a little boring and not very vibrant. SO LETS BRIGHTEN IT UP!

Duplicate your red tube (Right Click Layer > Duplicate Layer). Then, convert it into a Smart Object (Right Click Layer > Convert to Smart Object), so that we can easily apply and remove filters.

Now, lets apply the following filters:

Reticulation (Filter > Sketch > Reticulation)

Make sure you have black as your foreground color and white as your background color.


Chalk and Charcoal (Filter > Sketch > Chalk & Charcoal)

Make sure you have black as your foreground color and white as your background color.

Chalk and Charcoal

Plastic Wrap (Filter > Artistic > Plastic Wrap)

Plastic Wrap

Finally, set the layer to Color Dodge and set the Opacity to 44%.


Step 7 – Intensify the Glow

Create a new layer and make a selection of your red tube (Ctrl+Click Thumbnail). Set white as your foreground color and set a dark red color like #7c0707 as your background color.

Go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Then, go to Filter > Render > Difference Clouds. By pressing Ctrl+F, you can now keep applying the previous filter you applied. So press Ctrl+F a few more times to apply Difference Clouds until you end up with a result you like (be sure it is red and white). Now, set the layer to Linear Dodge and lower the opacity until you get an effect you are happy with.

Glow Intensity

Step 8 – Adding Sparkles

Grab a 3px brush and apply the following brush settings.

Scatter Brush Spacing
Scatter Brush Scattering

Then, on a new layer, brush some white sparkles all down the red tube. Then do the same thing with a nice red color. After, lower the opacity of the layer to 40-50%.


Step 9 – Adding More Colors

Repeat the process with some more colors, and use layer masks to make them twist above and below each other. If you place all the layers for the green tube, for instance, into a new group, then you can create a layer mask on the group, and it will apply it to all of the green tube layers!

More Colors

Layer Masks

A layer mask limits the visible area of a layer, without erasing it. Any area on the layer mask that is white, is visible. Any area that is black, is not visible. Any gray areas will change the opacity depending on how light or dark they are.

Step 10 – Filling the Sky

In order to create the effect in the sky, we need to create our own brush.

Create a new document that is 50x50px. Create a new layer and delete the background layer, since we want the background to be transparent. Then, create a rectangle that is 10px wide by 40px high. Then, duplicate it and rotate it 90 degrees (Edit > Transform > Rotate 90 degrees). Once you’ve got your shape, go to Edit > Define Brush Preset.


You can close the new document now that you have your brush. Select your brush, and set your foreground color to #335776 and your background color to #6084a5. Then apply the following brush settings:

Brush Tip Shape


Shape Dynamics




Color Dynamics


Other Dynamics


Add a layer mask to the layer after you brush in some plus signs. This way there is a transition from the full sky to the empty sky, and will be easier on the eyes.


Step 11 – The Darkening

This image looks pretty decent as it is, but its going to look even better when the background items are darkened. This way, the lights will have more attention and focus in the scene.

Create a new layer above your background. Fill it with black and set it to Overlay. By creating a layer mask and hiding the area of the layer over the daisies, we can make them appear to glow.

Get Creative

Even after you achieve a great effect, spend some time trying to improve it. It is rare to achieve the greatest outcome possible in one try. You may even want to start over from scratch, keeping in mind what you liked from before and what you want to change or include!



  1. Add point Subtract point
    Clarens (0 Points) November 17, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    awesome tutorial .. thanks for the inspiration!!

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  2. Add point Subtract point

    nice creativity, I love the tangling strikes through the road.

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  3. Add point Subtract point
    zandro (0 Points) June 26, 2010 at 8:52 am

    saan po maturuan nyo po ako kung paano mag photoshop kasi po dati ko po gusto matutu ng pag photoshop at paano po makapag edited saan po sagutin nyo kasi po sa inyo lang po ako maka pag tanong tungkol sa pag photoshop plz sagutin nyo na po ang tanong ko

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  4. Add point Subtract point

    How can i see the pen palatte because i use cs4

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  5. Add point Subtract point

    i m a chinese .i like you work .Now i m learning the works which you taught.
    thanks dude!

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    emmanuel (1 Point) September 23, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Hey! Nice job here! I’ll be dropping by from time to time :)

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  7. Add point Subtract point

    Hi, you are greet work keep it up takecare am editor / animtor

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    sandeep kothiyal (1 Point) June 28, 2009 at 10:20 am

    so cool greattttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt

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    John (1 Point) May 18, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    How do you get the settings in step 4?

    I’ve used GIMP for a long time, so I’m still trying to figure out everything with Photoshop. Thanks for the tutorial and the help

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    huwaw69 (1 Point) May 2, 2009 at 9:29 am

    very creative work man!

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    steve moha (1 Point) April 9, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Wonderful tutorials.I have bookmarked the website and trying some cool new features.thank you

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    shine (1 Point) April 8, 2009 at 4:57 am

    where did u learn fineart give me the address, its mind blowing

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    ashish (1 Point) March 1, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    hey dude
    seriously i became fan of ur creativity
    excellent work ….

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  14. Add point Subtract point

    oh men! i dont know how to glow up my pentool… when you said glow , the whole layer will glow…

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  15. Add point Subtract point

    ohh…actually..i figured it out.

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  16. Add point Subtract point

    hey..the tutorial it too good bt some how i’m not abt the get step no. 6 correctly , in the filters my sketch option is not active it grey so im unable to apply that effect could you help me with the same
    Regards Sal.

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  17. Add point Subtract point
    matteo from italy (1 Point) January 19, 2009 at 9:24 am

    the best tutorial of photoshop is here!!!

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  18. Add point Subtract point

    woow it’s a very nice tut
    Thanx alot
    and give more plz “tutorial”

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  19. Add point Subtract point

    Hey man, thanks for the tutorial! It was a lot easier to follow than most I look at.

    Here are a couple results I got from it:

    I realize I made a few mistakes (the left symbols aren’t very visible and right one is too dark) but I feel kinda proud because before I was absolutely atrocious at the pen tool and didn’t have the slightest clue how to use the layer mask tool.

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    Lauren Grace (1 Point) November 25, 2008 at 5:20 am

    Can anyone tell me how you download the picture? when I click the “download” button in the site, an image comes up but only an image with an eye or the logo of the site. help please!

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  21. Add point Subtract point

    @Jorge LAra: There was recently a great post on PSDTUTS covering layer masks and selecting techniques. This should help you out.
    A Comprehensive Introduction to Photoshop Selection Techniques

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  22. Add point Subtract point
    Jorge LAra (1 Point) November 1, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    i’ve forgot to mention if you can write all the steps please, thanxs

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    Jorge LAra (1 Point) November 1, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    i didnt knew how to make the layer mask or how does it function, how todo that the blue tube pass behind the red tube and then infront.

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  24. Add point Subtract point

    I need to make a model of an exhibitor stand can you help by tutorial ???

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    still frustrated (1 Point) September 27, 2008 at 7:12 am


    Can ANYONE help me? Iv’e come across this problem with other pieces of work too. I’d be ETERNALLY grateful if someone could help me out :)

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    still frustrated (1 Point) September 22, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    How do I get the brush to fade IN and not OUT?
    I’ve tried changing the drop down menu to Stylus Wheel which works in the preview box, but it also gives me an error (doesn’t tell me what the error is) and then doesn’t apply the fade in when I ignore the error and try anyway!

    It’s driving me mad!

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    dedehate (1 Point) September 20, 2008 at 7:44 am

    thank you, great tutorial!

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  28. Add point Subtract point

    @Dylon Baker: Make sure your Pen Tool is set to Paths. You can do this by going to your top control panel once you have your pen tool selected, and press the paths button. Then you can create your path and you should be able to create the tube.

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  29. Add point Subtract point
    Dylon Baker (1 Point) September 17, 2008 at 11:57 am

    OMG im so frustrated! i can not figure out how to do the glowy tubes! every time i do the pen tool i can make the path but then it just has little slices like filled in with a certain color, then ill try and right click to select “stroke path” but it wont let me click it. And I CANNOT find the little SIMULATE PRESSURE SI thing! somebody help please.

    GREAT GRAPHIC THO awsome Im luvn it

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  30. Add point Subtract point
    Vivian Hill (1 Point) September 10, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    @Vivian Hill: I figured that part out- I wasn’t in RGB mode. Ooops!

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    Vivian Hill (1 Point) September 9, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    This is an awesome tutorial and a great effect.

    I was trying to do just the ‘glowy tubes’ on a black background and when I reached the filter effects part, half of my filters were grayed out. Is that because I wasn’t using a colored background or something? Cause any other image I open the show back up.

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  32. Add point Subtract point

    How do I get the brush to fade IN and not OUT?
    I’ve tried changing the drop down menu to Stylus Wheel which works in the preview box, but it also gives me an error (doesn’t tell me what the error is) and then doesn’t apply the fade in when I ignore the error and try anyway!

    It’s driving me mad!

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  33. Add point Subtract point

    Great Tutorial ! learned a lot of new things using this !
    keep making more :)

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  34. Add point Subtract point

    @Mikey: To get the tubes to twist over and under each other, you have to create a path that will twist around the tube, and then hide parts of the layer using a layer mask so that it appears below.

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    Dear Tyler or anyone else,

    I would like to learn how to get the tubes to twist above and below each other. Is there a specific tutorial for this? Can you refer me to a good source? Thx u

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  36. Add point Subtract point

    Tyler, thx u so much for the quick clarification! Looking forward to working with the upcoming tutorials

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  37. Add point Subtract point

    @Mikey: Your line created from the pen tool needs to be on a separate layer than your image. I realize that I forgot to mention the creation of a new layer for the pen tool.

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    @graaar51: In your layers palette, by holding “Ctrl” and clicking the thumbnail of a layer, you’ll select that layers contents (as in, a selection will be drawn around all the objects in that layer).

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  39. Add point Subtract point

    I tried to follow the tutorial, but I find that I’m having the same problem as Chad. I can create a path with the pen tool and then do a “stroke path”, but I am unable to make the blending option adjustments to ONLY the line. Instead, the blending options are effecting the entire image.

    How can I make adjustments to the path I created with the pen tool without effecting the entire image?

    Thanks again for the great tutorial!

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  40. Add point Subtract point
    graaar51 (1 Point) August 12, 2008 at 12:05 am

    I dont understand the part about ctrl click thumbnail how do u do that?

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  41. Add point Subtract point

    I love the concept of the lights weaving in and out down the road :) Nice work Tyler!

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  42. Add point Subtract point
    Tom Ross (1 Point) July 25, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Try right clicking on your path and pressing ‘stroke path’. Make sure that you have a brush selected with the thickness/color you want to stroke the path with.

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  43. Add point Subtract point

    I don’t know why but I feel like I’m the only person in the world that cannot get the pen tool to work like everybody says. I finally figured out how to make paths (instead of the default shape) but when I get the path down, the brushes don’t show up for step 4. somebody please tell me why…

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    RUGRLN (1 Point) July 25, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Great tut, good to see u back.
    I think the B&W is cooler, maybe with a bit more colour from the flowers, I’ll do it once I have enough time.

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    antonwoods (1 Point) July 24, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Another amazing tutorial Tyler, been waiting for this one for a few weeks :P

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  46. Add point Subtract point

    Great tut, asusual!
    Just started learning PS , a few days ago!
    This site is my first teacher! :)

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