As many Adobe users know, sometimes the fastest way to learn the ins and outs of Photoshop is to teach yourself. That’s why we’ve put together this tutorial to show you an easy way to create a visually striking portrait using our royalty-free library of stock photos.
A picture might be worth a thousand words, but when you combine a picture with text, the impact can be exponential. This technique is fun and useful—whether you’re a budding graphic designer looking for inspiration for your blog or business, or are just trying to master as many tools as possible in Photoshop.
Customizing stock photos is a great way to enhance your online presence. Follow along this tutorial to see how we create this high-impact graphic using an image from our library.
Step 1. Choose A Portrait That Inspires Greatness
You can either complete this tutorial with the fitness photo we’ve chosen or browse through our stock photo library until you find a portrait that fits your needs. The subject of this photo is well-lit and her body easily contrasts with the background. Try to look for these features in your chosen photo and open it in Photoshop.
Step 2. Edit the Composition of the Image
Although the image is already visually well-balanced, we need a closer crop to achieve our desired effect.
Choose the Rectangular Marquee tool (M).
Change the style to Fixed Ratio and adjust the width ratio to 1 and height to 2. This is a good ratio for Pinterest graphics since that platform favors height, but you can choose the ratio that works best for your purposes.
Drag and drop the marquee around the area you wish to keep.
Go to the Image dropdown in the Menu Bar and choose Crop.
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Step 3. Select the Background of Your Image
Next we will use selection to chose the background of the image. We recommend starting with the Quick Selection tool to begin selecting.
Adjust the size of your Quick Selection brush and click and drag on the background of your image.
To add to your selection, hold down shift while selecting.
If you added too much, hold down alt while selecting in order to deselect.
If the Quick Selection tool isn’t precise enough, try making the size of the brush smaller.
Pro Tip: To quickly zoom in, out, and around your image, it’s easier to learn keyboard shortcuts. You will need to zoom in close at times to be sure your selection is precise.
Remember to use the ctrl key instead of the command key when using a PC. Here are some to get you started:
Zoom In: Command + =
Zoom Out: Command + –
Fit To Window: Command + 0
Hand Tool (to grab and drag): Spacebar, click and drag
Step 4. Isolate the Subject of Your Image
Now that you have the background selected, we actually want our selection to wrap around the subject and really refine the edges.
Invert the selection by typing shift + command + i or by right clicking the selection (with the Marquee tool activated) and choosing Select Inverse.
Choose the Select and Mask option.
Change the view to Overlay. The parts that aren’t selected are now shaded in red. This helps clarify the area that is selected.
Now you should be able to play around with each of the sliders. The best way to understand what each one alters is to experiment with them until you get the settings you desire.
An easy fix is to check the Smart Radius option and edit from there. We also chose to feather the radius a couple pixels.
Be sure to specify the Output Settings to New Layer with Layer Mask before clicking OK. Need more help? We cover it in greater detail in our selection tool tutorial.
Step 5. Create a Black Background
So now you have your original layer with the image, and a new mask layer that isolates your subject.
Create a new layer and drag it below the masked layer.
We renamed the new layer to “Black Background.”
Fill it with black by first hitting the D key (this makes your primary color black and the secondary color white).
Then hit the G key to select the Paint Bucket tool. If the Gradient tool shows up instead, then click and hold the Gradient Tool and drag the mouse over the Paint Bucket Tool.
With the Paint Bucket tool selected, be sure you have the Black Background layer activated and click on the canvas to fill it.
Step 6. Convert To Black and White
Select Your layer with the layer mask, and type Shift + Command + U to desaturate the image or you can go to the Image dropdown in the Menu Bar, click Adjustments, and then Black and White.
You can play with those sliders and presets to configure your desired look and click OK. There is no need to be too precise because we will play with this a little later.
Step 7. Add a Black Layer On Top
Similar to how you added a black background, we also want to add a topmost layer filled with black, but we also want to hide it for now.
Create your new layer, make sure it is dragged to the top, and fill it with black. Hide the layer by clicking the eyeball to the left of that layer.
We renamed the layer “Black Cover.” We will come back to that layer later.
Step 8. Create Dramatic Shadows With Levels
The final look we are trying to achieve is dramatic, blending our subject into the black background. Right now, she sticks out like a sore thumb, so we are going to edit the levels of this photo to achieve the striking-yet-blended look we want.
Make sure your layer with the mask is selected (but not the mask itself) and type Command + L.
The settings you choose will be a matter of personal preference, however in the screenshot below are the numbers we chose. From the left to right we entered 100, .85, and 245. Click OK.
Now the image as a more dramatic look to it and blends nicely into the background.
Step 9. Position and Add Text
Previously we added a black cover layer and hid it. Now we will unhide the layer so we can start adding text.
Drop the opacity of the layer down to 50% so you can see what is underneath.
The text we will be adding is “I’m going to make you so proud -Note to self” and we chose the typeface called League Gothic, which can be downloaded with your Creative Cloud Account through Adobe Typekit.
Hit the X key to switch your primary color to white.
Then hit the T key to open the Type tool.
Type in your message and align it with the subject’s body.
Notice how we typed in each line of text on different individual type layers.
The goal is to align the majority of the text with the shape of the subjects body and/or face. In this instance, we left the face mostly free of text for readability.
When you type in one line of text such as “You So” you can then use the shortcut Command + T—which is the shortcut for the Transform tool—to drag and drop the corners of the text box to be the size you wish.
This is where it is fun to have creative freedom!
Be sure to hold shift while dragging the corners of the text box so your proportions remain true. Press enter after you resize it.
Step 10. Subtract from the Black Cover Layer
As you can see, we avoided covering the subject’s face with the text. Let’s adjust the Black Cover layer so it doesn’t cover the entire canvas.
Activate that layer, type Command + T, and drag the left edge of the rectangle so that it almost aligns with the text.
We chose to have the left side of the text “hang over” the edge of the box, if you will—meaning it is not perfectly aligned.
Now comes the exciting part!
With your Black Cover layer activated, hold down the Command key and the Shift key simultaneously, while clicking on the “T” on each text layer in the layer window. This will select the area of each text layer.
Keep those keys held down until each text layer has been selected. You will notice the dotted lines around your letters.
Be sure that the Black Cover layer is activated and all your text area has been selected and hit Delete on your keyboard.
Hide all of the type layers by clicking each eyeball.
Bring the opacity of the Black Cover layer back up to 100% and type Command + D to deselect the area of the text.
It will resemble something very similar to the image above. See how close we are getting?
Step 11. Emphasize the Text
So, we’ve basically deleted the text we arranged from the Black Cover layer to reveal our chosen image underneath, however, we run into the issue that not all of the text is legible.
That’s OK! You’ve made it this far and your Photoshop skills have just increased exponentially. Isn’t it neat how tutorials can open up your mind to the possibilities of Adobe Photoshop? You just have to know its capabilities.
Let’s edit parts of the image underneath the Black Cover layer with the Dodge and Burn tools.
Activate the layer with the mask and select the Dodge tool (O).
Adjust the Size of the tool to about 400px to start and adjust as needed. Change the Hardness to 0%, the Range to Shadows, the Exposure to 100% and make sure Protect Tones is checked.
You can easily adjust the size of your tool by typing either the [ key to make it smaller or ] to make it bigger.
Now with your image layer activated, start brushing over the areas you want to lighten. If you go too far, you can easily undo with Command + Z and redo with Shift + Command + Z.
Next, change the range to Midtones and repeat until you achieve your desired lightness.
While much better, it is not quite perfect. So now I’m going to create another layer above the image itself and below the Black Cover and start playing with the Brush tool (B) with a lowered opacity white.
After some tweaking, I should get the look I am going for:
And there you have it!
You can create a whole series of graphics for Pinterest or posters with this dynamic and engaging style. There are endless possibilities to customize the royalty-free stock photos from our library and to make them your own.
Are you ready to give it a shot? Get the image we used here or check out other inspiring portraits for inspiration.