How to Create an Abstract, Sci-Fi Portrait in Adobe Photoshop


Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use Adobe Photoshop to create an abstract, sci-fi portrait using a variety of photo manipulation techniques. 

First, we’ll build the base scene using a space background and a landscape image. After that, we’ll add the model, create several light effects, create abstract elements, add planets, and complete the space background. We’ll use several adjustment layers and paint light to complete the final effect. 

Tutorial Assets:

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:

1. How to Build the Base Scene

Step 1

Create a new 3000 x 1637 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:

new file

Step 2

Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color and pick the color #393356.

color fill 1

Step 3

Open the space background images 1 pack. I’ve chosen a blue one to start
with and drag this image to our main canvas using the Move Tool (V).

add space background 1

Step 4

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer above the space 1 image and set
it as Clipping Mask. Change the Master values to turn the background
color to a purple one (similar to the color fill background)

space background 1 hue saturation

Step 5

Make a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the space background. On
this layer mask, activate the Brush Tool (B) and use a soft round one
with black color to erase the top of both sides. We’re aiming to make the
main light source come from the top middle, so both sides should be darker
than that area.

space bg 1 curves 1
space bg 1 curves 1 masking

Step 6

Create another Curves adjustment layer to darken the sides of the
background. On the layer mask, use a soft black brush to paint on the
middle section so it won’t be affected by this adjustment layer.

space bg curves 2

Step 7

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to
the background layer. Use a soft black brush with a lowered
opacity (about 20-25%) to reduce the visibility of the stars on the
background.

space bg 1 masking

Step 8

Drag the landscape image into our main document and place it in the
lower section. Use a layer mask to remove the sky and the mountains on
the horizon.

add landscape
landscape masking

Step 9

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the landscape’s color.
Alter the Midtones and Highlights values, and on the layer, use a soft
black brush with a lowered opacity to reduce the magenta on some shadow
areas.

landscape color balance midtones
landscape color balance highlights

Step 10

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the landscape. Use this layer
mask to reduce the dark effect on some bright details of the surface.

landscape curves

2. How to Retouch the Model

Step 1

Cut out the model and place her in the middle section. Use a layer mask
to remove the hard edges of her body and blend her face with the
existing background.

add model

Step 2

Create a Curves adjustment layer to reduce the lightness on the model’s
face. On this layer mask, paint on the top and lower section of the face to
decrease the dark effect there.

model curves

Step 3

Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill it with 50% gray.

model DB new layer

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about
5-10% to refine some details on her face. You can see how I did it with
Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

model DB result

3. How to Create the Light Effects

Step 1

Open the light images 1 pack. I’ve chosen image 03 and placed it
on the main canvas. Go to Filter > Liquify Tool and select the
Twirl Clockwise Tool (C). Use this tool to tweak the image into a twirl
one. You should get a similar result to the one shown below.

add light 1
light 1 liquifying
light circle result

Step 2

Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100% and use a layer mask to
remove the hard edges and leave the twirl visible softly around the
model’s face.

light circle linear dodge mode

Step 3

Use this image again and tweak it to get similar results to these ones, and
place them onto the eyes. Alter these layers’ mode to Linear Dodge 100%.

light 1 liquify more

Step 4

Select all the light layers and hit Control-G to make a group for them.
Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100% and add a Channel Mixer
adjustment layer to turn the color’s effect to a light purple.

lights 1 effect channel mixer - red
lights 1 channel mixer - blue

Step 5

Use a Levels adjustment layer to make the effect appear more subtle.

lights 1 effect levels

Step 6

Create a new layer below the light 1 group. Use a soft brush with the color #fad8fa and Opacity about 30% to paint highlights on the model’s eyes.

eyes highlight

Step 7

Open the light rays images pack. Select one image you like (I’ve chosen
the red one) and move it onto the model’s head. Use the Free Transform
Tool (Control-T)
to change the perspective of the image to make the
light rays come down from above.

add light rays

Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100% and use a layer mask to
remove the hard edges and unnecessary details around the head.

light rays masking

Step 8

Duplicate this layer and flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform >
Flip Horizontal
). Paint on its layer mask to remove most of the light
rays, leaving some visible on the left side (from the viewer’s perspective).

duplicate light rays
duplicated light rays masking

Step 9

Create a group for the light rays layers and alter this group’s mode to
Linear Dodge 100%
. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and adjust the
Master values:

light rays hue saturation

Step 10

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer to vary the light rays’ color.

light rays color balance

Step 11

Open the light 1 images pack. Select image 012 to add to the model’s face, and change the mode to Linear Dodge 100%. Use Control-T to rotate
the image to make the highlight spot of the image appear on the top of the light
rays.

add more light 1 around light circle

Use a layer mask to remove most of the image, leaving some light and color
effects visible mostly around the sides and top of the model.

light 1 masking

Step 12

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the color of the effect.

light 1 hue saturation

Step 13

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer to alter the effect’s color a bit.

light 1 color balance

Step 14

Use a Levels adjustment layer to make the effect more subtle. The selected area shows where to paint on the layer mask.

light 1 levels

Step 15

Open the light 2 images pack. Select image 5 and add it to the main
canvas, and then alter this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%.

add light 2

Use a layer mask to remove the hard edges of the image, making the effect visible around the model’s face only.

light 2 masking

Step 16

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Master settings:

light 2 hue saturation

Step 17

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer to enhance the color of the effect a bit.

light 2 color balance

Step 18

Create a Curves adjustment layer to make the effect brighter and more
visible. On this layer mask, paint on the lower part of the left side and the
face to make these areas less affected by this adjustment layer.

light 2 curves

Step 19

Make a new layer on top of the other layers and use a soft brush with the color #bf4d83 and Opacity about 30% to paint on the upper section of the model’s face. Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%.

model light

4. How to Make the Abstract Decoration

Step 1

Open the abstract texture image and drag this image onto our main
document. Set this layer above the model’s layer and below the eyes one.

add abstract texture

Use the Liquify Tool to tweak this image to get something like this:

abstract texture liquifying

Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100% and add a mask to this layer and erase most of the result as shown below:

abstract element masking

Step 2

Use the Liquify Tool to tweak this image again into many different
forms and arrange them around the model and light circle. Use your
imagination, and don’t stop until you feel good!

make more abstract elements with liquify tool

Step 3

Create a group for these layers, and change this layer mode to Linear
Dodge 100%
. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment to change the color of the
effect from red to yellow. On the layer mask, paint on some details to
make them less affected by this adjustment layer.

abstract elements hue saturation
abstract elements hue saturation masking

Step 4

Use a Curves adjustment layer to reduce the effect’s visibility.

abstract elements curves

Step 5

Add a mask to this group and use a soft black brush to decrease the visibility of the effect again, making it more subtle.

abstract elements group masking

5. How to Add the Planets

Step 1

Download the planet with the angle you want, or use your own resource.
Place the planet onto the light circle and duplicate them twice. Use
Control-T to change their size and arrange them around that circle. Set
the planet layers below the light groups.

add planets

Add a mask to each of the planet layers to make the planets fade into the background.

planets masking

Step 2

Group all the planet layers into a new folder using Control-G. Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the planets.

planets hue saturation

Step 3

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones settings.
On this layer mask, paint on the shadow area of the planets so they
won’t be too blue.

planets color balance

Step 4

Use a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the front of the
planets. Paint on their shadow area to keep their lightness and
contrast.

planets curves

6. How to Complete the Space Background

Step 1

To create more details and texture for the sky, open the space background 2 image pack and choose image 3 (or any
image you like or your own resource). Drag it into the main canvas and
change the mode to Screen 100%. Set this layer on top of the other layers.

add space bg 2

Use a layer mask to make the details of the clouds appear subtle around the model and light circle.

space bg 2 masking

Step 2

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the effect completely.

space bg 2 hue saturation

Step 3

Make a Levels adjustment layer to decrease the effect’s visibility and lightness.

space bg 2 levels

7. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

Create a Gradient Map adjustment layer on top of the layers and pick the colors #a58869 and #94ece5.
Change this layer mode to Soft Light 90% and use a soft black brush to
paint on both sides of the landscape to reduce the effect of this
adjustment layer.

whole scene gradient map 1

Step 2

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones, Shadows and Highlights values.

whole scene color balance midtones
whole scene color balance shadows
whole scene color balance highlights

Step 3

Add another Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors #808080 and #bbccee. Alter this layer mode to Hard Light 70% and paint on the model’s face to reduce the brightness there.

whole scene gradient map 2

Step 4

Create a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the light and color of the scene.

whole scene vibrance 1

Step 5

Make another Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the effect more. Paint
on the top of the landscape and the lower part of the model’s face to make
sure they don’t become too blue.

whole scene vibrance 2

Step 6

Create a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #200120 to
paint on the lower part of the canvas to produce some reflected light there. Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge
100%
and use a layer mask to reduce the effect’s visibility on the lower
area of the scene.

paint light reflection 1
light reflection 1 result

Step 7

Make a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #e192e0 to paint on the lower of the light circle. Alter this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

paint light reflection 2
light reflection 2 result

Step 8

Create a Curves adjustment layer to change the color of the whole scene.

whole scene curves 1

Step 9

Use another Curves adjustment layer with the same purpose. Paint on the lower section so it won’t be too magenta.

whole scene curves 2

Step 10

Add another Curves adjustment layer to brighten the left part of the model
and the light circle. Paint on the rest so it won’t be affected by this
adjustment layer.

whole scene curves 3

Congratulations, You’re Done!

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the tutorial and learned something new for
your own projects. Feel free to share your results or leave comments in
the box below. Enjoy Photoshopping!

Interested in more space/galaxy themes? Visit some of our tutorials below:

final result



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