In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a surreal giraffe using a variety of photo manipulation techniques.

First, we’ll build the base scene using images of a meadow and the sky. Later we’ll add the giraffe, create a neck from a twisted tree, and add some branches. After that, we’ll import a standing bird and some flying ones, and we’ll add leaves and grass blades. We’ll use several adjustment/ colour fill layers to complete the final effect.

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

Create a new 1500 x 1500 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:

new file

Go to Layer > New Layer > Color Fill and pick the colour#70dce3.

color fill background

Open the sky image. Drag this image into the cyan canvas using the Move Tool (V) and place it in the upper half.

add sky

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Activate the Brush Tool (B) and use a soft round one with black colour (soft black brush) with the Opacity about 30% to reduce the visibility of the clouds in the sky on the top left.

sky masking

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer above the sky and set it as Clipping Mask. Change the Midtones settings to match the colour of the sky with the background.

sky color balance

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the colour#cbe36b. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the effect on the bottom of the sky.

sky photo filter

Add a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the sky. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the left as we’re aiming to add the main light on the right.

sky curves

On the sky layer, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and change the Radius to 4 px. This step is to add some depth to the scene.

sky gaussian blur

Drag the meadow image into the main canvas and place it in the bottom half. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to change the meadow’s perspective. Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

add meadow

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to remove the hard edges of the meadow and blend it with the horizon of the sky.

meadow masking

Apply a Gaussian Blur of 4 px to the meadow’s layer. On the filter mask, use a soft black brush to erase the blur effect on the background and midground, leaving the blur effect visible only in the foreground.

meadow gaussian blur

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the colour of the meadow. On the layer mask, paint on the right edge of the meadow to keep some yellow light there.

meadow color balance

Create a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the meadow. On the layer mask, use a soft black brush to paint on the left side and the foreground so they won’t be brightened by this adjustment layer.

meadow curves 1

Add another Curves adjustment layer with the same purpose. The selected area in the foreground and the right shows where to paint on the layer mask.

meadow curves 2

Cut out the giraffe and place him in the area near the foreground.

add giraffe

Add a mask to this layer, blend the feet of the giraffe with the grassy ground, and erase the neck. We’ll replace it with a tree trunk later.

giraffe masking

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

giraffe DB

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range and Exposure about 15-20% to refine the light and shadow on the giraffe. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

giraffe DB results

Create a Curves adjustment layer to make the giraffe brighter. On the layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the shadow areas and the back side of the giraffe.

giraffe curves

Make a Levels adjustment layer with the same purpose.

giraffe levels

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer to give some yellow to the giraffe. Alter the Midtones values:

giraffe color balance

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the colour#e89e10 to make the front of the giraffe more vibrant. Paint on the rest so it won’t be affected by this adjustment layer.

giraffe photo filter

To make a shadow for the giraffe, create a new layer below the giraffe one. Hold Control and click the thumbnail of the giraffe layer to load its selection.

load giraffe selection

Fill this selection with the colour#070101 and flip it vertically (Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical). Use Control-T with the Warp mode to distort the shadow to fit the direction of the light source.

giraffe shadow transforming

Lower the Opacity of the shadow to 40% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 6 px to this shadow layer. Use a layer mask to erase unwanted details of the shadow, and also reduce the visibility of the shadow on the top.

giraffe shadow masking

Open the tree 1 image and isolate the twisted tree from the background. Place it on the neck of the giraffe and use Control-T with the Warp mode to bend it following the original form of the giraffe.

add tree 1

Add a mask to this layer and use a medium-soft black brush to blend the bottom of this tree part with the body of the giraffe. Lower the brush’s opacity if needed to make the blended result look better and more natural.

tree 1 masking

Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% grey. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to refine the light and shadow on this twisted tree.

tree 1 DB

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the tree. On the layer mask, use a soft black brush with a lowered Opacity (about 30-35%) to reveal some yellow on the tree.

tree 1 hue saturation
tree 1 hue saturation masking

Make a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the tree as it looks too dark now. Paint on the shadow areas to reduce the lightness there using this layer mask.

tree 1 curves
tree 1 curves masking

Use another Curves adjustment layer to decrease the contrast of this tree part.

tree 1 curves 2

Open the giraffe image again. Drag the isolated giraffe onto the existing giraffe, making him bigger than that one, and use Control-T to rotate this one a bit.

add giraffe texture to the neck of tree

Add a mask to this layer and remove most of the big giraffe, leaving some skin texture visible only on the bottom of the tree neck. Change this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

skin texture masking

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the skin texture.

giraffe skin hue saturation

Cut out the branches from the original image. Use the Lasso Tool (L) to select two branches on both sides and place them on the top of the neck.

add branches
branches masking

On each of the branch layers, create a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 100%gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to enhance the light and shadow on the branches.

branches DB

Make a group for the branch layers and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer within this group. Increase the Saturation value a bit.

branches hue saturation

Create a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the branches. On the layer mask, paint on the shadow area or on the details which are bright enough.

branches curves

Cut out the bird 1 from the original image and place him on the top of the tree neck, between the branches.

add bird 1

Create a new layer below the bird’s one. Use a soft brush with the colour#070101 and Opacity about 50% to paint the shadows of the bird’s legs on top of the giraffe’s head.

bird shadow

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer to match the bird’s colour with the rest of the scene. Alter the Midtones and Highlights settings.

bird 1 color balance midtones
bird 1 color balance highlights

Use the Dodge and Burn Tool on a new layer to paint more light for the tail, the right leg, and shadow of the left leg of the bird.

bird 1 DB

Make a Curves adjustment layer to reduce the highlight on the upper body of the bird. Paint on the lower body so it won’t be affected by this adjustment layer.

bird 1 curves

Open the birds 2 images and isolate the birds from the background. Take different birds to add to the top right of the canvas and apply a Gaussian Blur of 2 px to each of the bird layers.

add birds 2

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the birds’ colour a little.

birds 2 color balance

Create a Curves adjustment layer and increase the light for the birds.

birds 2 curves
birds 2 curves masking

Open the leaves image. Use the Lasso Tool to select different leaves to add to the two branches.

add leaves

Add more leaves to the scene, near the giraffe and edges of the canvas, scaling them to different sizes. Apply a Gaussian Blur filter of 3 px4 px, and 6 px to the leaf layers depending on the size, distance,  and position of the leaves. It helps to increase the depth of field.

add more leaves

Group all the leaf layers into a new folder and create a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the leaves. Paint on the hidden area of the leaves so they won’t be too bright.

leaves curves 1
leaves curves 1 masking
leaves curves 1 masking result

Make another Curves adjustment layer with the same purpose.

leaves curves 2

Add the tree 2 image to the top left of the scene and apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to this layer.

add tree 2

The light of the scene is pretty soft, so use a Curves adjustment layer to reduce the contrast of tree 2.

tree 2 curves

Use the Dodge Tool on a new layer to decrease the shadow areas on tree 2.

tree 2 DB

Open the grass image pack. Take different grass blades to add to the foreground of the main scene. You can duplicate, resize, and rotate so they appear different. Apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to each of the grass layers.

add grass blades

Make a group for the grass layer and add a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the grass’s colour a bit.

grass color balance

Use a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the top of the grass’s blades.

grass curves

Create a Color Fill layer on top of the layers and pick the colour#02081f. Change this layer to Exclusion 100%.

whole scene color fill

Make a Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colours#e10019 and.#00601b Alter this layer mode to Soft Light 20%.

whole scene gradient map 1

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer to give some vibrancy to the whole scene.

whole scene color balance midtones
whole scene color balance highlights

Create another Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick Copper from the Presets. Change this layer mode to Hard Light 10%.

whole scene gradient map 2

Make a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness a bit. Use a soft black brush to erase the right (the main light) so it won’t be affected by this adjustment layer.

whole scene curves

Add a Selective Color adjustment layer and alter the Reds values to desaturate the giraffe, neck, and branches a bit.

whole scene selective color

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!

final result