Create a simple and easy Minimalist Surreal Photo in Photoshop.

Explore this surreal photoshop tutorial to create an awe-inspiring and minimal digital artwork.

Howdy! In this tutorial, we will create this marvelous and effortless photo manipulation using Photoshop in just 30 minutes. By following the steps below, you’ll learn how to combine each photo elements using blending and cropping techniques with a quick video guide. Repeat each step as often as needed to get the precise appearance and character of your work. The more time you invest into each step, the more meticulous your upshot will become.


Let’s start with a brief information about photo manipulation and surrealism. Photo manipulation is popularly used in advertising, album arts, magazines and digital artwork hobby. There are a couple of known artists like @hey.luisa, she’s known for her minimalistic surrealism, @charlie_davolie and Erik Johansson for their heavily edited surreal photos. Obviously, they are also my inspiration in photo editing and stuff. You may also want to visit my profile @jtro.tambanillo and maybe you could give me a follow or like so… lol. Man, my tutorial is free!!

Disclaimer: I am not a pro nor a master in Photoshop. I learned photoshop by reading tutorials and watching videos, like what you’re doing now, good stuff. These techniques and ideas are based on my experience and from the tutorials that I’ve learned before. I refer and ask ideas from my friends and techniques from the experts. I’ve done some project like making logo for one of my clients and re-designing their website. Moreover, I made this tutorial as easy as I could, including the shortcuts to make it less complicated. So, cheers and have a good run! Don’t forget to have fun while working!

Materials to be used:

Buildings in the Cloud Photo (Background Image)

Giraffe (Subject Image)

Hot Air Baloon (Elements)

Birds Brush (Elements)

Clouds Brush (For Masking)

Step 1 – Canvas and Artboard

Start creating your digital artwork with your desire canvas or artboard size. In this case, I used 1000×1000 pixels so that I can use it later to upload in my Instagram or any 1:1 ratio that suits your work. It depends on your preferences or canvas that you want.

photoshop canvas

Step 2 – Background Image import.

Import the Buildings in Cloud photo by just simply dragging it to the artboard. This photo will be our main background image. In my case, I have already prepared the elements on my desktop so that it could be easier for me to find, drag and drop the photos. I suggest you should do it as well and adapt it as a habit.

centre image

Make sure to scale the photo to fit on the canvas. Align the image to the center. You can do it by just dragging the photo left or right. You’ll know that it is fixed to the center when it snaps to grids and Photoshop will show you pink lines indicating that it is aligned well. Hit enter when you’re satisfied with the alignment and rename the layer to “sky”. It should be all good by now. No need to be perfect. Ezzy Peazzy!

Step 3 – Giraffe image import and cropping.

Open the Giraffe photo on a new Photoshop window. To import it quickly, drag and drop the photo on the photoshop icon on your desktop, or just drag and drop the photo anywhere on Photoshop’s top bar and rename the layer into “Giraffe”.


Now, choose which group of giraffes you would like to use. The picture below shows which group of giraffes I used in this composition. You can use it as well. Next step is selecting those Giraffes and getting it ready for cropping and refining the edges.


For selecting and cropping those giraffes, you will use the quick selection tool which you can find on the toolbar, or you can just hit “w” on your keyboard. Then, duplicate the selected area by pressing “ctrl+j”, so that we can independently edit and refine the edges of the selected giraffes later.

quick select tool

Zoom in your image to see the details of your giraffes. You can do this by holding “alt key + mouse scroll” and hold “space key” for hand shortcut and navigation. Now, we can have a full and easy control in selecting these giraffes because it is too close now and a bit larger. Don’t stress out if it is not selected properly and it doesn’t follow the edges of the giraffes well. Just make sure that the selection covers all of what you need.

After that, if you’re satisfied with the selection, press “ctrl+j” to duplicate the selected area of the image. And it’ll automatically make you a new layer with the selected part of the image only. Now, you got a new layer named “Layer 1” we will now hide the “Giraffe Layer” by clicking that little eye just beside of the layer image preview. It should look like the screenshot below.



Obviously, we can still see some area that is not part of the giraffe. There are heaps of ways and techniques to refine this thing, but in this tutorial, I will show you how I easily erased those unwanted edges.

Let us zoom in again to our subject. From the toolbar, let’s find and right click the ERASER TOOLS and choose or click MAGIC ERASER tool. Once done, you can now magically and easily erase those unwanted parts by just clicking it. See for yourself. A little bit more on refining; right click back again on the eraser tool and select eraser tool, not the magic one, and start erasing some part around the edges of the giraffes. Kindly refer to the video below on how I did it.

eraser tool

And you should now get the same photo above. We now have a clean cropped giraffe as the subject of our composition. Yeah!

Step 4 – Blending the giraffes with the background

Now, let us put the giraffes to our background image. First, select again the whole giraffe image. Do it by pressing “ctrl + click” on the mini image preview in the layer palette. It should show that your giraffe is selected now. Copy the image by pressing “ctrl + c” and then go to your main canvas, which you have your background image, and paste it by pressing “ctrl + v”.


Next, scale your subject image like the photo shown below and flip it horizontally. Hit enter when you’re satisfied with the placement. Rename the layer again to “Giraffe”.

erase technique

“The reason why I flip our subject is that of lighting aspects. Lighting and Shadows are the most important key factors in digital arts particularly in digital photography and photo manipulation. We wanted to make our composition a bit realistic, so getting the right lighting angles, shadow and exposure will help us to gain more details as we make our way through. In this case, our background image shows light which is coming from the left side. So, to get a fair realistic look on our subject, we wanted it to blend as well on our background image and mimic the direction of light and shadow. As a result, we can see there’s a little bit of lighting coming from the left side and back of the giraffe now. Fantastic! We’re pro remember?!  No, we’re not. But act like one! “

Let us now make your giraffes look like walking and hovering over the clouds. Whooooh… Exciting!

Now add a layer mask on our giraffe layer. “Layer Mask” button is usually on the bottom part of the layer palette. Click the “Layer Mask” button like the image shown below. Make sure that the Giraffe layer is selected first before applying a layer mask otherwise it’ll appky on other layers.

layer mask

Done? Easy, right?! Now that we’ve applied a mask on our subject layer, we can now apply the “eraser technique” which I call it. Download and install the “Cloud Brush.” You can find the link in the intro of this tutorial.

The brush should probably ready by now. Let us head straight to our layer mask. Select the layer mask thumbnail beside our Giraffe layer and select “Brush Tool” by pressing “b” on your keyboard. Refer to the image below.

layer mask click

“Layer Mask is used to hide portions of layer and or reveal the layers below. Masking layers is very common and valuable step in composting technique, like combining multiple photos, removing a person or an object from a photo.”

Once “Brush Tool” is selected, make sure that the brush foreground colour is set to “black”. Easily switch colours by pressing “x” on your keyboard.

“Black mask means to erase some parts of the image/layer and the White mask does the opposite effect which is to reveal parts.”

Learn more about Layer Masks. Understanding Layer Masks.

Now, gradually paint the bottom part of the giraffes and a little bit on the back part. Please refer to the video below.

erased result

Step 5 – Colour grading and Balance

We now have a beautiful giraffe that looks like as tall as those buildings in the background. But if you’d notice, the giraffe still looks obvious to be different with our background. The giraffe seems a bit lighter and saturated and then our background seems shallow and empty.

Let’s make a solution to that problem by using some color grading and contrasting techniques. Just follow the metrics below that I prepared to get the desired look.

Let us work on our background image or the sky layer first. From the Menu Bar, go to Images – Adjustments – Levels and input those value like shown on the image below.


Next is “Curves” for light and shadow balance, etc. Again, go to Image – Adjustments – Curves,
And distort the curve like the image below.


Last step for our Background Image; Applying Colour Balance.
Access colour balance from the Menu Bar again, Image – Adjustments – Colour Balance and input the value of the color levels like in the image below.







“There you go! How’s it going? So far, awesome, right?! Yeah. So, another key in surrealism and photo composition is Colour Grading. This is a small but very important detail tweaks that separates your whole composition from the original photos. This technique will also help you with more details and will leave your viewers of no idea on how’d you manipulated your composition. It’s always a key factor.”


Now for the giraffes. Select your giraffe layer again. Go to Image – adjustments – Hue and Saturation and input the value of Hue, Saturation, and Lightness like from the image attached below.

Hue and Saturation

hue and saturation

Okay, seems descent now. Let us leave it there for a moment and we’ll see it later if we need more tweaks and other stuff. I believe you now have the same image as the one below.

surreals colour

Brilliant, you’re awesome! Now for the next phase, let’s make our composition more surreal and bizarre by adding more elements.

Step 6 – Adding more surreal elements.

Well, in this phase you can add whatever objects or elements that you want. It could be an airplane, a floating Eiffel tower, or anything that you can imagine that would look and feel bizarre.

For this tutorial, I added a Hot Air Balloon and a couple of Birds. Play with your imagination. So, if you want to follow this step, I can walk you through with it and on how I did it. The same principle may apply if you wanted a different object or elements.

Let us import again our Hot Air Balloon image on a new window in Photoshop. The same as what we did on how we imported the giraffes.

Using quick selection tool, select the first balloon, the biggest one with the red and green colour, and then duplicate it; “ctrl+j”. We have now a new layer for our first balloon. Now, choose again our background layer or the original layer and select the second balloon which is further down to the first balloon. Duplicate again.

You should now have two Hot Air Balloons like in the image shown below.

“We separated the two balloons so that we can individually scale it later.”


Select those two layers and drag them into our main artboard by using the move tool (“v” in keys). Again, remember the lighting principle. Once transferred, scale the image and just flip it horizontally. See image below for reference.


Looks a bit legit now, but nope, it isn’t done yet. The balloons still look vibrant and over saturated to fit in our composition. If it’s too vibrant, fixing the vibrancy may solve our problem then. Easy! Select the first hot air balloon, head to Image – Adjustments – Vibrance and input the values again like what is shown in the image below. Do the same process with the second balloon.


Whoaw! That was so easy, right? Well, I guess we have the same photo now… Yeah!


Adding Bird elements to the composition. Download and install the Birds Brushes and make a new layer, then name it “Birds.” Once the brush is installed, just grab your brush tool, “B’ on keys, right click on the artboard, scroll down and choose the bird brush. There are heaps of brushes which correspond to different kind of birds and their flying position. Now, choose what action or angle you want and just simply paint it on the artboard with the colour code #8a929b.

If you can’t find your bird brush, head to brush setting and load the brush preset you’ve just downloaded. Please refer to the image below.


You can design or paint whatever the birds would look like, just do it like they would look like a real one, and that would somehow fit to our composition. For me, I made the birds to look like they are migrating or something like they are flying away.


Well that’s it! Well done! You now have your surreal artwork. You can always work with different elements based on your own taste and preference that will challenge your imagination. Broaden your thoughts. The last thing to do is to export your work. Go to File – Save as- choose either .jpg or .png – input your title and click save. Congratulations! Well done!



Hi again! You can view my artworks here and if you want to get in touch and talk about anything, just contact me and let me read your good news. Cheers!