Everyone looks cool when they’re walking away from an explosion—especially babies. Here’s how to use Photoshop to add some excitement to your pics, make your family look like Hollywood action heroes, and have a lot of fun doing it.
We’re having some fun today, but why not have some fun with your pictures? It’s surprisingly easy to make yourself, your kids, or your grandma look like an action hero, walking away from a dramatic explosion. Grab some images and Photoshop, and give it a shot.
Cool People Don’t Look at Explosions
Begin with a good, high resolution image of yourself of one of your loved ones. We’ll be removing the background from this image with a layer mask and any one of your favorite methods to remove the background.
Make sure your photograph layer (usually titled “Background”) is unlocked by double clicking it. Then create a layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask>From Transparancy) and maybe even a Color Fill layer below your photo, as shown here.
Use any method or combination of methods to remove your person from the background. In our case, we’ve used a combination of the pen tool and the brush and smudge tools to properly remove the hair. We’ll be glossing over removing the background today, but we’ve covered it many, many times. Here’s some of our favorites, if you’re new to Photoshop:
- Remove Complex Backgrounds from Images in Photoshop (Beginner friendly)
- How To Use Layer Masks and Vector Masks to Remove Complex Backgrounds in Photoshop
- 50+ Tools and Techniques to Remove Image Backgrounds In Photoshop
Here, we’ve used the pen tool to roughly block out the hair, as well as to quickly remove the background from the rest of the image.
Add some quick brushwork with the brush tool and the smudge tool, and we’re ready for our next step.
We need a backdrop for our awesome explosion, and this wrecked burning house is a good start. Find your own with Google Image and Flickr searches, or find this one (licensed under Creative Commons) for download here. Make sure both images are open in Photoshop, and get ready to bring them together.
We drag our background into our photograph using the Move Tool (Shortcut key ). Then size it to your liking by navigating to Edit> Free Transform.
Now we add explosions to the mix. Download this image (licensed under Creative Commons) or look for your own to use on Google Image Search or Flickr.
Drag your explosion layer into your Photograph and put it between your photo layer and your background layer. Set the blending mode to “Screen” as shown above in blue.
Your image should be starting to really come together at this point. There are usually some weird bits like the hard, square edges above that can be taken care of with some clever masking.
Create layer masks as shown and black out the areas that make the image seem unnatural, like the aforementioned square edges.
Advanced: Backlighting Your Photo
For users that want to take their goofy action movie photographs to the next level, you can always add some adjustment layers to backlight your image—really kick up the hyperbole. Start by Ctrl + Clicking your layer mask to load the selection of your photo in order to create the adjustment layers you need.
Create a “Levels” adjustment layer and darken the image by moving the sliders sort of like the ones shown above right. The key adjustment is the “Output Levels” although the middle and left sliders on the histogram also can dramatically change the image.
Your image will darken as shown. Grab the brush tool so you can mask out parts of your adjustment layer to create highlights.
It can be helpful to use a lower opacity setting when you’re painting in your highlights. Play around with the settings in the option panel at the top of the screen to find what works the best for your mask.
Paint around the edges to simulate the way a backlit image looks. Try to give the object depth and by painting the way the shadow would fall as if the bright explosion was behind the figure. Do your best, as it doesn’t have to be perfect to look a little bit convincing.
Now let’s cool the new shadows down to help the illusion of backlighting. Ctrl + Click the layer mask on your “Levels” adjustment layer to load the parts that are simply the shadow.
Now, we’ll create a “Color Balance” adjustment layer with settings like these to add blues and purples into the shadow areas.
We can load and intersect selections to isolate the highlight areas as well, and create yet another adjustment layer to make our highlights reddish yellow, to make the color cast of the explosion seem more real.
Depending on your settings, the difference may be fairly subtle.
Grab the eyedropper tool and click to pick a color from the background. We’ll add one final layer to rest on top of everything to make it feel more tied together.
Make a gradient adjustment layer, with a setting of foreground to transparency, as shown. Direct it at any angle that suits you—warming up the bottom of the image seemed to work best here.
Blending Mode settings like “Linear Burn” can give an interesting look to an image—try a few different ones and see what works best for you. You also may want to reduce the opacity of your layer, as shown above.
And we’re rewarded with our final image—in a fairly short time, our little girl subject has become a hardcore action hero! Just remember, it’s cool not to look back at the explosion.
Image Credits: One Cool Baby by Jennifer, available under Creative Commons. House Explosion 2009 by John Morgali, available under Creative Commons. Explosion by Bryan Burke, available under Creative Commons.
Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.
- Published 11/7/11