Photography tips – fantasy pictures

*** Updated post from 2007 for creating a fairy/fantasy picture ***

These pictures are not quick at all to do, but they are certainly FUN!

You need to start out with pictures that will lend themselves well to the creation of a composite picture.  Not just any old picture will work.  For the child, I want a picture where it appears they are looking at something, blowing fairy dust, following fairy dust, etc. You don’t want it to be in bright, bright sunlight since you want more subdued tones so the fairy dust shows up.

Next you need a picture in nature (or the child could be in nature somewhere if you have one that works for both).  Again, it shouldn’t be in bright sunlight with lots of sun blowouts.   I like to take pictures in the woods with a canopy of trees overhead, or at the very least in the shade of a tree.

Now you need to have some brushes for the Photoshop program to use in creating your fantastical picture.  DeviantART has some great free brushes (make sure to leave a thank you for the artist if you download them!).  Here is a search for fairy.

Download these brushes and put them into your brushes folder in Photoshop (should work for both Elements and CS2):

Wings #1, Wings #2, Wings #3

Fairy Dust #1, Fairy Dust #2, Fairy Dust #3


Download and unzip the brushes. Place them in: C:Program Files/Adobe/Photoshop/Presets/Brushes.  Have PS closed while you do this and then reopen the program, select the brush tool from your toolbox and then pick the brush you want from the dropdown menu.

Okay, now that you have all the wonderful tools that you need, open your file(s).

  • First, I usually process the photo using my usual defog/color correct/brightness/contrast/curves (I have an action written, so it is just one click).
  • Next, if you need to put the child from one picture into another, you need to “cut” them out of the current picture.  Flatten the picture, duplicate the layer, hide the background layer and then start erasing.  I use a big brush to get the background and make it smaller as I get closer to the child.  It is a little tedious, but try to get all the wayward bits erased.  You will want a smaller blur on the eraser so the cutout isn’t too stark.
  • Now look at your background layer.  What does it need done?  I will do my usual processing and then look at how the light falls in the picture.  I will usually duplicate it and change it to screen or multiply (or both) and erase out different areas to get the lighting right.  This is truly trial and error to get the right mix.
  • Next I will put in a saturation layer and/or change the color correct.
  • Then, take the child and put them in a spot that looks good on the background.

Now we get creative!

  • Put some fairy wings on your cute ‘lil one.  There are a few things that you can do that will allow the wings to blend into the picture.
    • If the subject is facing towards you, you will need to cut out your subject from the background and put them on a duplicate layer (if you haven’t already).
    • Now place your wings in new layers under the cutout and between the background. Place each wing on a separate layer so you can move them independently.
    • To change their orientation, click on the wing, go to the corner and move it around to your liking. You can also use: Image->Transform-> Free Transform and/or Image ->Transform -> Skew.  Sometimes I duplicate the wing layers to make them more prominent.
    • Add a drop shadow to each wing to give it depth. There should be a box above your layers called “Styles and Effects”. For the first dropdown, choose “Layer Styles” and for the second dropdown select “drop shadow”. Choose the drop shadow that shows more realistic. You don’t want it too heavy.
    • OR you can add a outer glow to the wings, which is in the same menu as the drop shadows.
    • Use the Dodge tool on the background underneath each wing if you want to show a shadow on the ground.  You are trying to make it appear they are really there by doing this.

There is a wonderful tutorial here on adding wings by Andrea Joki.  You have to create an account on ILP to view it, but ILP is a wealth of information on photography.  I highly recommend getting onto those forums.

  • Now add the fairy dust on a new layer or multiple layers.  Adjust the opacity of the layer to make it look more realistic.  You can also duplicate the layer to brighten it up.  Play around with it to see what you need.  The darkness of the background will vary how light or dark you need the fairy dust and wings to be for them to show up well.
  • Use the Dodge Tool underneath the fairy dust to add a light trail.   Again, we want it to look like it has affected the background, so we want the background lighter where the light would hit it.

Here are a few finishing options.

Option 1:

  • Flatten layers.
  • Duplicate layer (ctrl J) and add Gaussian Blur (Filters-> Blur -> Gaussian Blur).  Adjust opacity.  Erase areas that you want more detail (use a low opacity on the eraser and erase around the face, hands, etc.)
  • Flatten layers.

Option 2:

  • Add an color fill layer.  On the Roald Dahl picture below, I filled it with a greenish/brownish color.  Then I changed the layer from Normal to Muliply.  Adjust opacity for the look you want.
  • Add an adjustment layer for Hue/Saturation, and increase the saturation.

Each photo takes different steps and adjustments.   Just play until you find something that looks good to you.  My only real tip is when you add things like wings and dust you need to look for symmetry, angles, where the lighting hits, and adjust the opacity.  It needs to look at least a little bit natural and like it all blends into the surroundings.

Here are a few before and afters:


For the picture above, I didn’t need to add wings since she was in her Halloween costume (that I made, of course 😉 ).  So:

    • Duplicate background – add multiply layer
    • Duplicate the multiply layer – add softlight
    • Flatten layers
    • Layer Mask for Brightness/Contrast – Lots of contrast and tone down the brightness
    • Layer Mask for Hue/Saturation – Adjust Saturation way up
    • Add Anya cutout from other photo
    • Add Drop Shadow to Anya
    • Layer Mask for Brightness/Contrast
    • Layer Mask for Hue/Saturation – Adjust Saturation way up – erase her face and arms that turned red
    • Start adding fairies and fairy dust on separate layers
    • Add Layer style -> Outer Glow to the fairy layer
  • Use the Dodge tool on the background layer under the fairy and fairy dust to similate the casting of light from their glowing.
  • Use the Dodge tool on Anya’s layer where the fairy light would touch her to similate the casting of light from their glowing.
  • Done…an hour or so later.  I never said this was fast!

Before pictures and after pictures:


I have two pictures for the background, as there is a big stump that has light directly on it it.  It ruins the lighting of the photo, so I took another stump covered in moss from another picture to put over it.  I did a bit of work on the background before I even started on the fantasy part.  I wanted more green on the ground, so I cloned pieces of grass and put them over pieces of dirt.  I did a screen and multiply layer to get the lighting where I wanted, erasing out the too dark/too light areas.

After the background was done, I added in Anya, added her wings, added the fairy dust underneath here (duplicated it several times to get the bright glow), and added a green fill layer over the top (changed to Multiply and adjusted opacity) with a saturation layer underneath.  Then I put the quote in.  I used the marquee tool in a square, filled it with color, a text layer over it and then merged those layers.  After merging, I put the eraser brush in several different fairy dust brushes and erased parts of it with them.   Lastly, I used the transform tool to give it an uneven skew.

A few other examples:



Have fun being fantastical!

10 Replies to “Photography tips – fantasy pictures”

  1. How fun is this? Stacey, thanks for the instructions, the brushes, the links. I’m like a kid in a candy store…flitting between shooting photos and learning editing/manipulations. What to to do, what to do?

    Love Monday’s and today’s fairy photos. Question, do you ever sleep? When do you find time to accomplish all that you do?

  2. I was soo excited to get the brushes in Photoshop! Yet…now I have no idea how to use them, i’m a complete amateur. Hopefully, i’ll figure it out!! 🙂 Loved your post.
    I signed in at ILP, but I can’t seem to get to the link for the article by Andrea Joki – can you tell me how to get there ‘manually’?

  3. Ok, I have a question. Some of the files you recommended were zip files and I was unable to unzip them and place them in the file you told me to put them in (in Photoshop Elements) but the others my computer didn’t seem to know what to do with them. Any suggestions? I just get a box that asks me where to send it to or what to open it with. They don’t seem to be zip files. Help!

  4. Another question for a beginner fairy maker…how exactly do you place the wings into the layer. I clicked on brushes but didn’t see anything that looked like the fairy stuff I downloaded.

  5. Julie, I send you an e-mail, but I’ll put it here, too:

    Did you get the brushes into the right folder? Can you see the brushes? If you can’t, you have to shut down Photoshop, because you can’t add them while the program is open. It won’t be able to see them.

    To place the brushes, you need to add a new layer, select white in the color box on the left side and then place the wing. There is usually a left wing and a right wing for the brush. If there isn’t, then you can just rotate the wing to make a mirror image. when you have the wing placed, right click over it and select transform. You will be able to move it around then. It is a bit of trial and error. You can make it narrower and move it around.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!

Comments are closed.