3 The Most Common Photomanipulation Mistakes

When I started with doing photo manipulation I´ve read tons of tutorials. They´re excellent way of learning in Photoshop but most of them are walkthroughs which don´t give you more general advices such as why your artwork doesn´t look realistic or why something looks weird but you don´t know what.

In this article I´d like to give you list of ideas what you should keep in mind while creating your manips. You can use it as a checklist if everything is correct before publishing your work or if you´re trying to discover that "something what looks weird".

There are three areas of things to consider:
  1. perspective,
  2. colors,
  3. light.

    1. Perspective

    Basically objects which are farther are smaller, close objects are bigger. It´s very basic thing which is taught in primary school but people (me including) forget about it quite often.

    TIP: If you´re not sure how to set the scale properly, perspective of your plate should give you the idea. E.g. if you use some alley with trees as background picture you can use the trees to see how big should be other objects.

    Another thing related to the perspective topic is fact that in natural daylight things in the distance are lighter than things closer. Distant objects have also smaller contrast, less visible details and colors more similar to the colors of sky.

    TIP: If you want to make the impression of space and perspective stronger you can make distant objects blurred.

    Conclusion of this area
    • Farther objects are smaller.
    • Objects in distance are lighter.
    Confession of a Toxic Generation

      2. Colors

      It can be written a lot about colors - which impact they have on person, which atmosphere they create, which colors immediatelly caught attention etc. Right now I´d like to cover only some basics. I might write more in some future article.

      Most of the problems with colors are caused by wrong contrast, saturation or color tones. They all can be very easily fixed.

      1. Contrast
      I´ve seen a lot of manipulation which have too high contrast so I would recommend you (if you think there is something wrong with your work) to try to lower it. You can lower contrast of the whole scene or of separate objects to see what works best.

      There are several ways how you can play with contrast. Let me name a few tools which can very easily do that:
      • Brightness, Contrast - most often used but according to me it doesn´t give you much control,
      • Levels - personaly my favorite tool, you can play with Shadows, Midtones and Highlights separately to give you the best result,
      • Curves - even more control, you can also adjust each Channel separately.
      2. Saturation
      Most of the beginners (and I was no exception) tend to work with very saturated colors. But most of the time it looks unpleasantly for eyes. I guess that this tendency is caused by the fact that they don´t use Photoshop tools gently and set extreme values. E.g. instead of using Color Balance in -+10 range they set -+80 to get SOME result and have it quickly done.

      So if you´re looking what may be wrong try to lower saturation. It may help a lot. And then try to combine more tools to get more rich and interesting colors.

      3. Color Tones
      Sometimes tones of each objects don´t fit together. Some objects use colder color palette, some warmer. But because they´re all in the same light scene they should use the same palette.

      I´m not sure what advice should I give you to get rid off this problem. I guess that it comes with practice.
      There is many tools which can be used to play with colors. Lets name some of them:
      • Color Balance,
      • Selective Color,
      • Gradient Maps,
      • Curves.
      Conclusion of this area
      If you´re trying to make your manip better looking check out following:
      • Isn´t contrast too high?
      • Aren´t colors too saturated?
      • Did you use same color palette for all objects?
      Mother Nature

        3. Lights and Shadows

        The whole book written about lights and shadows can be written and have been many times (if you know some good let me know, I´d love to read it). I´d like to mention some basics here only.

        According to me correct and interesting light is what makes a good manipulation. That´s the reason why I spend most of the time on it and you should do it to.

        The main idea of working with lights and shadows is that on one side you have lighter parts and on the other you have shadows. Easy as that :) I´d like to mention few points to keep in mind:
        • every subject casts a shadows in the opposite direction from which the light source is comming,
        • if one subject stands on another, there is thin shadow between them (read more in "IYM #1: Everything Has Shadows"),
        • hard light means hard transition between lights and shadows, soft light source = soft transition,
        • color of the light affects color palette you should use.
        There is plenty of ways how you can create lights and shadows. You can use the Dodge and Burn Tool, paint them on your own, use combination of adjustment layers and layers masks and many more. If you´re interested, one of the future articles can be dedicated to the topic of creating lighting. Till then you can take a look at my collection of manip tutorials. In almost every one of them there is some method described.

        Conclusion of this area
        Working with lights and shadows should become the key part of manipulating. If you´re unsure about some light conditions you should try to look for some reference. If some lighting don´t work just try to work from beginning on different one. Different light scenes can have big impact on the atmosphere of overall picture.

        Black Swan


        Bellow you can download quick checklist which can help you with finding and correcting mistakes in your artworks. I really hope that it will be useful for you!


        There is surely more things which you should care about while doing manipulation but I´m pretty sure that you will find them out after some manips done. I wanted to keep this simple but it´s possible that I forgot about some basic thing.

        If you know about anything which should be added let me know and I´ll do it!

        Would you be interested in article about creating lights and shadows? Or anything else which was briefly drawn in this article? Let me know and I´ll try to do my best :)

        Have an amazing Monday
        - Jarka

        Idea of Life