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Learn how to create a suspenseful photo manipulation in Photoshop. You will learn how to create realistic distortions with the displace filter and apply photo effects to give it a cold look.
Preview of final results
Rollover the image below to see the before and after effect. It may take a few seconds for the image to load when you first rollover the image.
You will need a photo of a person pointing a gun and a photo of a window with a bullet hole on a dark background. The images used for this tutorial are stock photography from Dreamstime but you can use your own. If you like to use the same images used in this tutorial, click on the image below to purchase them.
Step 1 – Open the image of the shooter
Begin by opening the photo of the agent with a gun.
Step 2 – Place the photo of the bullet hole on a glass
Choose File > Place, browse for the image of the bullet hole on a glass, then click OK. The image is now placed onto your current document with the transform tool activated.
Rotate and enlarge the image like shown in the image below. The bullet hole should be positioned near the gun. Press enter on your keyboard to apply the changes.
Step 3 – Set the layer blend mode to Screen
In the layers palette with the top layer selected, change the blending mode to screen.
The image looks complete already but we’re not exactly done yet. When zoomed in, you can see that the glass doesn’t distort the image behind it. In the steps ahead, we’ll use the displace filter to create a distortion.
Step 4 – Prepare the layer for the displacement map
To distort the image behind the glass, we’ll be using the displace filter. Before we can use the displace filter, we have to create a displacement map which will tell the displace filter how to distort the image. First, we’ll prepare a new layer to create the displacement map on. Select the top layer then press Ctrl+J or select Layer > Duplicate to duplicate the layer.
If you are using Photoshop CS2 or newer, your layer should be a smart layer. You can tell if it’s a smart layer by looking for the icon on the bottom right corner of the the layer thumbnail. If your layer is a smart layer, right click on the layer then choose Rasterize Layer. You can also access this from the Layers > Rasterize > Layer menu item.
Now that your layer is rasterized, you won’t see the icon in the layer thumbnail. And because it is rasterized, we can apply filters and adjustments that aren’t available for smart layers.
Step 5 – Create the displacement map
First we’ll use the levels tool to add contrast to the layer. With the top layer selected, press Ctrl+L or choose Image > Adjustments > Levels to access the levels tool. In the levels tool, drag the black input slider towards the right to increase the contrast until the background is black like the image below.
Now we are going to use the emboss filter to turn it into a displacement map that can be used with Photoshop’s displace filter. Choose Filter > Stylize > Emboss and use the settings as shown in the image below.
Here’s what the displacement map looks like:
Step 6 – Clean the displacement map
The displacement map looks great so far, but there are many errors on it. Shown in the image below is one of those areas where the bump map created a bump for a smudge that isn’t a bump on the glass. In this step, we’ll clean up those areas.
Start by changing the blending mode of the displacement map layer to overlay. This will let you see both the displacement map and the layers behind it and give you a slight preview of what the results will look like.
Set the foreground color to a 50% gray. Start by clicking on the foreground color in the tools palette. A color picker window will appear. Enter in 808080 in the # field to get a 50% gray.
Select the brush tool and paint over the areas that you want to remove the bumps from. The bumps in the areas you paint will be removed.
Here are the before and after results.
Step 7 – Save the displace map as a file
Change the blending mode of the current layer to normal.
Choose File > Save As and save the file as “displace map” on your desktop.
Step 8 – Delete the displacement map layer and convert the background layer into a smart object
Before we use the displace filter, delete the layer with the bump map texture then select the background layer.
If you are using Photoshop CS3 or newer, convert the background layer into a smart object. This will let you
apply filters as smart filters so that you can go back and adjust the filter settings anytime. To convert a layer to a smart layer, right click on the layer then choose Convert to Smart Object. You can also do this by choosing Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.
Step 9 – Apply the displace filter
Choose Filter > Distort > Displace and start with the default settings shown in the image below. Click OK.
Browse and select the displacement map file that you saved earlier then click Open.
Your image should be displaced. Here’s what mine looks like so far. It is not strong enough but we’ll edit this in the next step.
Step 10 – Readjust the displace filter
Because the displace filter doesn’t give us any live preview feature, you’ll find that you need to readjust the settings once or more to get the results that you like.
- Photoshop CS3 or newer: If you’re using Photoshop CS3 or newer, you can easily readjust the displace settings.
- Photoshop CS2 or older: If you’re using Photoshop CS2 or older, you’ll need to undo and use the displace filter again. Choose Edit > Undo to undo then choose Filter > Distort > Displace to use the displace filter again.
This is what our image looks like after using better displace settings.
Here’s a comparison of the before and after effects of using the displace filter.
Step 11 – Add a reflection in the sunglasses
Select the layer with the bullet hole and duplicate the layer.
Choose Edit > Transform > Scale and resize the layer by clicking and dragging on the corners of the transform box. Make the layer a lot smaller like shown in the image below. Press enter on your keyboard to apply the changes.
Step 12 – Rasterize the layer with the reflection
We’ll be using the levels tool next but before we can access that tool, the layer needs to be rasterized. If you are using Photoshop CS2 or older, your layer is already rasterized and you can skip this step. If you are using Photoshop CS3 or newer, your layer is currently a smart layer. The levels tool doesn’t work on smart layers so we need to rasterize it. Right click on the layer (not the layer thumbnail) then choose Rasterize Layer. You can also do this by choosing Layer > Rasterize > Smart Object.
Your layer should be rasterize and you can tell it’s rasterized because it does not have the icon in the thumbnail.
Step 12 – Blend the reflection into the sunglasses
Now that your layer is rasterized, you can access the levels tool by pressing Ctrl+L or choosing Image > Adjustments > Levels. Use the levels tool to make the glass blend into the frames behind it. To do this, drag the black input slider towards the center until only the cracks are visible.
Select the eraser tool from the toolbar. Right click anywhere in the document window to bring up the brush settings for the eraser tool. Set the hardness to 0%. This will give you a soft edge as you erase.
Erase around the bullet hole so that only the cracks from the bullet hole are showing.
To complete the reflection, reduce the opacity to about 30%.
Step 13 – Prepare a new layer for a vignette
Add a new layer (Layer > New Layer) then position it as the top layer
Fill the layer with white. To do this, choose Edit > Fill, apply the settings shown below, then click OK.
Your layer should now be a blank white layer.
Change the blending mode of the layer to Multiply.
Step 14 – Add a vignette
Instructions for Photoshop CS2 or newer
If you are using Photoshop CS2 or newer, you can easily apply a vignette by using the lens distortion filter. Choose Filter > Distort > Lens Distortion. Adjust the two vignette settings (amount and midpoint) to your likings then click OK. If you don’t get the effect that you like, you can undo and use the lens distortion filter again with different settings.
Instructions for Photoshop CS or older
First, make sure that you have snapping and rulers enabled. Open the view menu then ensure that the snap and ruler features are enabled.
Click and hold on the left ruler then drag your mouse towards the center. A cyan guide will appear. Drag the guide near the center and it should snap into the center. Drag a second guide from the top ruler towards the center to create a crosshair like the image below.
Choose View > Snap To and ensure that the guides option is enabled.
Zoom out so that you can see the entire image. Select the circular marquee tool. While holding the alt and shift keys, click and drag from the center where the guides intersect then drag out until your circular marquee is the length of your image.
You should now have a selection like the image below.
Choose Select > Inverse to inverse the selection.
Choose Edit > Fill and fill the area with black. Now choose Select > Deselect to deselect the selection. Your vignette should look like the image below.
We’re done using the guides. You can remove them by selecting the move tool and dragging the guides back to the ruler. Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to blur the edges. If you are working with a high resolution document and the gaussian blur filter isn’t strong enough, you can apply the filter again until you get the results that you like.
Here is what my vignette looks like after applying gaussian blur filter with a radius of 250 pixels two times.
Step 15 – Position the vignette layer below the glass layer
If you like your vignette to be softer, you can reduce the opacity of the layer with the vignette or you can position the layer below the layer with the bullet hole for a unique effect.
Here’s what the image looks like so far.
Step 16 – Cool the image with a photo filter
Select the top layer then choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter. Set the filter to cyan and density to 100%.
Change the blending mode to soft light. If you find that the photo filter is too strong, you can reduce the opacity of the photo filter adjustment layer.