Using Email to create returning customers for the days and months after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday is as important as driving the new traffic to your business during this competitive season! As a result, I am declaring a new shopping “Festivus” for the rest of us. To top it all off, it’s a holiday that lasts all year.
Everyone is so focused on driving the most sales out of new one-time buyers over a long weekend that they forget about the aftermath. As marketers, we focus a lot of extra effort on breaking through the clutter to pick up market share, and a lot of our friends in the retail world pick the most competitive time of year to do so. Not hard at all! In other news, I hate sarcasm.
The effort is often focused on pulling in new customers with BOGO 150% off bargains for the first three customers who get in line, visit your website or knock over other shoppers in a mad rush for the deals of the season. Yes, I understand that it is more about the upsell/crossell opportunities. Let’s get traffic in the door/to our site for the big deals and then increase that average order value per black Friday/Cyber Monday/whateverday shopper. Well, the upsell and crossell opportunity is more than just four days long.
Post-Holiday Email Marketing – Turning First Time Gift Purchasers and Receivers into Loyal Customers
Let’s think about what we do with all these newly acquired customers. Many of those shoppers are once and done. So maybe you are thinking “They are low value Benn! Get off your soapbox!”
In your mind, the purchaser may be low value, but what about the recipient of that gift? How do we turn that indirect consumer into a returning customer or brand advocate? On the flip side, are we trying to foster a relationship with the purchaser? How do we get more from those individuals to purchase again? They are only low value if your treat them that way. Give them a free door-buster and kick them to the curb? If it doesn’t make a good dating tactic, it probably makes a poor marketing tactic. It is a lot harder to find a new gal, then to foster an existing relationship.
At this point you may think it is a little late to implement a strategy. Maybe it is to a point, but I am sure you have been collecting data on the customers who purchased your items. And I am sure you are collecting data for the remainder of the holiday shopping season. What data could I possibly use for last minute post- holiday marketing tactics? Well, the list is massive – and a bit much to cover in one article – so I will focus on one of the best relationship tools in marketing: email!
Categorizing Holiday Customers – Online and Offline
Obviously, you can segment your holiday shoppers in a very granular fashion if you planned to do so before the holiday season and set up the necessary framework and fancy database. For example, you may have one segment that includes email subscribers who are two time buyers of non-sale holiday sweaters and another group of email subscribers who only buy on-sale products during major holiday promotions. An advanced system would allow you to develop two unique outreach strategies to those customers.
In reality, many do not have this type of data. This post is for those looking for some last minute ideas to take advantage of new holiday customers and possible revenue potential. The more data the better in most cases, but you don’t always need that to make in impact!
For the purpose of this article I am going to break customers down into the following groups:
- Holiday Gift Purchasers and Givers
- Receivers, Returners, Exchangers
Holiday Gift Purchasers and Givers
We probably have the most data on this group of individuals.
Brick and Mortar: Have you ever bought something in a store? Wild guess on my part, but I am guessing 100% of those reading this article have.
All joking aside, we have all experienced standing at the checkout when they ask “Would you like to provide a phone number?” or “would you like to give us your email for promotions?” It’s time to take advantage of that info!
E-commerce: E-commerce interactions are similar to human interaction in that we are often asked to set up accounts, provide emails and give phone numbers during the checkout process.
So how do we use this information? For the purpose of this article I am going to assume that you have some type of email marketing program. If you have an ecommerce presence and you don’t use email marketing, then you are possibly missing an opportunity and should check out this email marketing page. It doesn’t take much to get started.
What is cool about email is that you have several opportunities to touch customers after they purchase without being “spammy.” A lot of my examples below are probably already sent automatically by your email marketing system, but you may not be using those messages to its full potential. For new emails that you collected online and offline (if they agreed legally to allow you to email them) here is an example of a life cycle for a gift purchaser that I would implement to keep the relationship going:
Thanks for Registering: Dude! They just gave you an email and they just checked the box for “yes, you can send me promotional emails and confirmations.” Send a quick note saying thanks, and link to an article that talks about your business and everything else you offer. Videos about the company are always a great idea. You may also want to offer a small promotion such as free shipping or a discount. Set an expiration date and give them a reason to come back.
Order Confirmation Email: This can easily change your life as an email marketer if you utilize it effectively. For one, customers expect and welcome this type of communication. It is timely, relevant and personalized. Last time I checked, those three items were kind of a big deal in marketing. Take your confirmation emails a step further! A simple add-on could be a “customers also bought” section. Give them the option to add to a current order. You would be surprised how many people jump back in and buy again. Measure the open rate of these emails compared to standard promotions. Don’t miss the opportunity.
Order Shipment Email: It is another opportunity to promote your business and can be treated similarly to the order confirmation. However, I would make this a bit different. Try a callout to follow your brand on Twitter or an invite to share with friends on Facebook. Get them engaged and add some personality. Don’t always try to push products. Think about building a relationship. Relationships make more money.
Request A Review Email:This takes us into post-holiday, and it starts to lead us into the gift receiver section. Two parts to keep in mind for this:
- Email Timing: Wait to send this email until after the holidays for obvious reasons. You want to make sure you give customers a break, and you also want to give them a chance to use or give your product to someone else. Some systems enable you to trigger an email at a specific time after your company receives notification of arrival. That is a good starting point to gauge the timing of your email. Regardless, make sure it is sent after the holidays this time of year.
- The Pitch: Ask what they thought of your product and perhaps offer a promotion like 20% off your next purchase. Even better, offer something that is related to the product. So if they bought an iPhone, offer a free case. Also give them the option to send the review request and offer to the gift recipient, which takes me the second group of post-holiday Customers.
Holiday Gift Receivers
This is a bit tricky as far as collecting information, but we do have some opportunities to get these individuals more engaged. It is worth the effort because they are obviously a better fit for your products.
- Request a review email: To expand on my last point from the purchaser segment, giving them the option to forward the review request to the recipient will give you an opportunity to collect that email. The offer of a discount for a review, or better yet the offer that is tailored to the product purchased, will ring more true to the gift receiver and can get your relationship off on the right track.
- Returners and exchangers: Get a better understanding of how these prospective customers are interacting with your brand when they return or exchange items they received as gifts. This could be a return online or at a physical location. Ask for an email or send them to an online survey and promote a discount if they complete it. Just because they return an item, doesn’t mean they won’t buy something else.
In closing, here are three more pointers for Post-holiday Email Marketing.
Make an effort: It is not too late to try to engage the new customers you acquired during the Thanksgiving holiday and days leading up to the new year. Like I said, many of you already send standard shopping processing emails, you just need to take advantage of the increase open rate and add more value. It is a best practice year round, but can be extra effective this time of year.
Think about last year: If you have a database of purchasers from last year who may have not been active all year, it may be worth segmenting and crafting an email just for those individuals. They may be customers that you segment out all year because it is not worth the email cost, but we are creatures of habit. I don’t wear silly red hats all year, but I do every Christmas.
Remember the season: We often get caught up in revenue generation and forget that customers are more than just bank accounts. It is your first impression with the new emails you are acquiring, and scheduling a simple “Happy Holidays” email can do wonders long term. It can make your new customers feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It is also just a nice, human thing to do. Just don’t forget to link it to your website just in case they want to purchase something 🙂
Click the image to see the final result in full scale.
- Image: Full Moon Luc Viatour
- Image: Hogwards Castle by Dominic Kamp
- Image: Stock photo: Join me in the abyss…
- Image: Victorian Gustov 39 by Falln-Stock
- Texture: Texture No.14 from the Lost and Taken Subtle and Light Grunge Textures
- Brushes: Halloween Vectors Photoshop & GIMP Brushes
- Brushes: CD Scratch
- Font: Bebas
- Font: League Gothic
Step 1: Create the Photoshop Document
Start Adobe Photoshop and create a document with your desired poster dimensions (File > New). If you are planning to send your work to the printing press, use a high DPI (between 150-300dpi) and CMYK Color Mode (learn more in our guide on preparing files for print).
For this tutorial, I created a document sized at 1920x1200px, RGB Color at 72dpi (for web use).
Step 2: Create a Dark Gradient Background
Set the Foreground color to a very dark gray color (#1c2021) and the Background color to black (#000000). With the Gradient Tool (G), fill the Background layer so that the very dark gray color is on top, and black is at the bottom.
Step 3: Add the Moon
Grab the Full Moon Luc Viatour stock image and open it in Photoshop. With the Magic Wand Tool (W), click on the Moon’s background, then invert the Magic Wand selection by either pressing Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I or going to Select > Inverse. You should now have the outline of the moon selected.
Copy (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and paste (Cmd/Ctrl + V) the moon into our scene. Place the moon at the top of the canvas, with parts of it spilling out of the canvas.
Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast and lower the Brightness option to -40.
Let us give the moon a subtle glow. Set the Foreground color to a light gray (#d0d0d0). Create a new layer (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + N) and place it below the moon’s layer. Cmd/Ctrl + click on the moon layer’s thumbnail to load a selection around the moon.
Make sure you’re on the new layer (below the moon layer), then fill the selection with the foreground color (Option/Alt + Del/Backspace) and then deselect the selection (Cmd/Ctrl + D).
Apply Gaussian Blur with the Radius at 10px, then lower the Opacity of the layer to 50%.
Move the glow a bit to the right and a bit to the top.
Let’s create a shadow over the moon. Cmd/Ctrl + click on the thumbnail of the moon layer to load a selection around it again. Create a new layer and, on this new layer, fill the selection with black (#000000).
Apply the Gaussian Blur filter with Radius at 50px.
Move the shadow a little bit to the left.
Since we need the shadow to be just on top of the moon, Cmd/Ctrl + click on the thumbnail of moon layer to load a selection around it, and, making sure the active layer is still the shadow layer, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection to apply a layer mask to the shadow layer.
Step 4: Add the Castle
Download and open the image of the Hogwards Castle. Isolate the castle from its background by first using the Pen Tool (P) with the Paths option selected in the Options Bar to trace an outline of the castle, then, in the Paths Panel (Window > Paths), right-click on the path you drew and choose Make Selection.
Copy and paste the castle into our main document. Use Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to make the castle a bit bigger and then rotate it a bit. Afterwards, move the castle in position; use the image below as a reference.
Desaturate the castle layer by either pressing Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + U or going to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.
Then lower the layer’s Opacity to 35%.
Cmd/Ctrl + click on the castle layer’s thumbnail to create a selection around it. Create new layer above the castle layer, and fill this new layer with black.
Use the Eraser Tool (E) with a very soft brush tip (0% Hardness) to slowly remove the black color from parts of the castle you want to be visible.
You should now have something like this:
Step 5: Create Some Fog and Clouds
Add a new layer on top of all the other layers and then set the Foreground color to black and the Background color to white by pressing D. Afterwards, go to Filter > Render > Clouds.
Change the Blend Mode for this layer to Screen and lower the Opacity to 30%.
Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All.
Set your Foreground color to white (#ffffff). With the Brush Tool (B) and a very soft brush (0% Hardness), paint white on the layer mask at areas where you want the fog/clouds to be visible; use the image below for reference.
Click on the fog/clouds layer in the Layers Panel and then duplicate it (Cmd/Ctrl + J). Change the Blend Mode of the duplicate layer to Multiply, and set the layer Opacity to 30%.
The fog/clouds reinforce our theme, giving it an eerie look.
Step 6: Creating Mysterious Light
Create a new layer, grab the Brush Tool (B), select an aqua green color (#49a69e), and, with a large, soft brush (800-900px Master Diameter) apply a big spot by the moon (as shown below).
Apply the Motion Blur filter on this layer (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur).
Change the layer’s Blend Mode to Lighten and lower the Opacity to 60%.
Step 7: Create a Human Silhouette
Open up the Victorian Gustov 39 image referenced in the Tutorial Resources at the top, and isolate the man from its background using your Pen Tool (P), similar to what we did with the castle in Step 4.
Place the man into our scene and scale him down with Free Transform (Edit > Free Transform).
Open the Layer Style dialog window and apply a black Color Overlay to the layer.
Soften the silhouette with Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and then lower the Opacity of the layer to 80%.
Create a new layer below the silhouette layer. Switch your Foreground color to gray (#7a8384). Create a light spot behind the silhouette using the Brush Tool (B) with a large, soft brush (500px Master Diameter). Lower the layer’s Opacity to 62%.
Create a new layer above the light spot layer. Set your Foreground color to a bluish gray (#7a8384) and your Background color to white (#ffffff), then go to Filter > Render > Clouds.
Give the clouds filter layer a clipping mask (Layer > Create Clipping Mask).
Then, change the layer’s Blend Mode to Color Burn.
Click on the silhouette layer to make it the active layer, duplicate it (Cmd/Ctrl + J), then press Cmd/Ctrl + T to enter Free Transform mode.
Hold down Cmd/Ctrl and pull the center-top transform control straight down until the duplicate silhouette is flipped vertically. This will become the silhouette’s shadow.
Move this shadow layer below the silhouette layer, apply Gaussian Blur with a 6px Radius, and then set the layer’s Opacity to 60% afterwards.
Here is a preview of where we are now:
Step 8: Add Trees
Open the Join me in the abyss… stock photo, desaturate it (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + U) and, with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), create a selection around the trees.
Copy and paste the selection into our scene. Flip the trees horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal).
Next, adjust the levels to render the sky white (Image > Adjustment > Levels).
Position the trees to the left of the silhouette with the Move Tool (V).
To blend the trees layer with the layers behind it and to hide the white areas, change the Blend Mode to Multiply.
Move the trees layer below the fog/clouds layer, but keep it above the castle layer.
Step 9: Add Bats
In this step, we will add bats to the scene. First, download and install these splendid Halloween Vectors Photoshop & GIMP Brushes. Create a new layer above the fog/clouds layer, but below the mysterious aqua green light layer.
Set the Foreground color to black (#000000), switch to the Brush Tool (B), choose one of the bat brushes, and start adding bats. I suggest that each bat should have its own layer. I know we will end up with a bunch of layers if we were to have one bat per layer, but it gives us freedom to adjust and modify each of them individually.
Reduce the Opacity of the bat layers so that bats father away into the distance are fainter.
Once you are satisfied, select all the bats layers and group them into a layer group (Cmd/Ctrl + G) named “Bats”.
Step 10: Add Text to the Composition
Download and install the Bebas font. With the Horizontal Type Tool (T), type “Dark Castle”, with each letter on its own layer.
We are going to use the Character Panel (Window > Character) to modify each letter a bit so they have varying letter-spacing and font sizes; let’s start with letter “D”.
Next, modify the character options of “A”.
And then “K”.
This is what we have after the character option modifications:
Do the same for each letter in word “Castle,” but do it in reverse order such that as you go towards the last letter, the letters get bigger.
After making the character modifications, select all the text layers, Control-click/right-click, and then choose Rasterize Type in the menu that appears.
After rasterizing the text layers, make sure they’re still selected in the Layers Panel, then merge them into one layer (Cmd/Ctrl + E).
Cmd/Ctrl + click on the merged “Dark Castle” layer’s thumbnail to create a selection around the letters.
Create a new layer below the “Dark Castle” text layer, go to Select > Modify > Expand and expand the selection by 3px.
Fill the selection with red (#c90801).
Let us add more text to our poster. Download and install League Gothic. Use the Horizontal Type Tool (T) to place some text above and below the “Dark Castle” text using the League Gothic font.
Here’s what we should have now:
Step 11: Add Grunge and Scratch Textures
In this last step of the tutorial, we will distress the design a little bit using stock textures and a free Photoshop brush library. First, download Texture No.14 (or, alternatively, use one of the textures from the Grunge Grab Bag: Texture Pack here on Design Instruct) and place it on top of our composition.
Desaturate the texture (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate) to remove its colors, then set the layer’s Blend Mode to Multiply at 70% Opacity.
Next, add some scratches to the surface to give our design an aged, worn look. Download and install the CD Scratch brush pack for this.
Create a new layer on top of the grunge texture. Set the Foreground color to white (#ffffff), switch to the Brush Tool (B), choose one of the CD Scratch brushes, and then set the Brush Tool’s Master Diameter to something large (1920px) so that it will span the entire canvas.
On the new layer, click once to apply the brush. Then, lower the Opacity of the layer to 5%.
In this Photoshop tutorial, I showed you how to create a dark, mysterious horror movie poster design by mixing stock photos, textures, brushes, filters and blend modes. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments. Show your own final result by linking to it in the comments and posting it up on our community Flickr group pool.
Download Source Files
- horrormovie_poster_design (ZIP, 31.80 MB)
- Stock image: Bird in flight – “Budgie in flight 17” by Karen Zachariasen (deviantART)
Step 1: Isolating the Bird
We’re going to start things off by downloading the Bird in flight stock image and opening it up in Photoshop. Using the Zoom Tool (Z), zoom in to a level where you can begin to trace around the bird. Then switch over to the Pen Tool (P).
Use the Pen Tool to trace around the bird — this process may take a while to complete.
Step 2: Place and Desaturate the Bird
Next, create a new Photoshop document that is 7in wide by 5in tall. We want to create our work at a print size (roughly the size of a postcard). We can always scale it down later, but for now, we will stick with this dimension.
Fill the default Background layer with black (#000000) using the Paint Bucket Tool (G).
Next, copy the isolated bird into the new document. Use Edit > Free Transform (or Ctrl/Cmd + T) to make the bird bigger, holding Shift to maintain the bird’s proportions as you rescale its size. Whenever you make a raster graphic bigger, you will lose resolution fidelity, but fortunately, we can do this without reducing the quality of the bird too much.
Duplicate this layer by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + J (or dragging the layer to the Create a new layer button at the bottom of the Layers Panel) and turn off the visibility of the first bird layer.
In the Layers Panel, click on the duplicated bird layer just to be sure that it is the active layer. Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation (or press Cmd/Ctrl + U) to bring up the Hue/Saturation image adjustment window. All we are going to do is just slide the Saturation option all the way to the left to desaturate the layer.
Step 3: Boost the Contrast
Duplicate the black and white bird layer and then turn off the visibility so we can concentrate on the duplicate layer. Next, go to the Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.
Set the options to match up with the settings shown below, and then press OK to apply the image adjustment.
Next, change the blending mode of this layer to Overlay.
We will now merge this layer with the one below it by going to Layer > Merge Down (or pressing Cmd/Ctrl + E) — this should merge the top layer with the layer that we turned off earlier in this step.
Step 4: Blurring the Bird
Duplicate the layer we merged in the previous step, then apply Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur (Radius at about 60px) to the duplicate layer.
Change the blending mode of the blurred layer to Screen. The image below shows you the result of using the Screen blend mode versus Normal blend mode.
Step 5: Creating a Radial Gradient
Create a new layer just above the Background layer. Set your Foreground Color to white (#ffffff). Choose the Gradient Tool (G) and, in the Options Bar, pick the Radial Gradient option and use the Gradient Editor to set up the gradient to fade from white to transparent (you could use the Foreground to Transparent preset).
With our Gradient Tool good to go, we can click-hold-and-drag from the center of the bird and outwards to apply the radial gradient on the new layer. After this, we are just going to reduce the layer’s Opacity to around 20-25%. This should result in an interesting glow effect behind the bird.
Step 6: Texturize the Background Using the Noise Filter
Create a new layer above the gradient layer and then switch over to the Paint Bucket Tool (G). Choose a medium gray color — I am using #767676. Fill your new layer with this color and then go to the Filter > Noise > Add Noise.
Use the Add Noise filter settings shown below:
After applying the filter, change the blending mode of this layer to Soft Light. Because we are using the Soft Light blend mode, the noise will only seem apparent on the glow effect. You should now have something like this:
Step 7: Adding Smoke
- Smoke Brushes Set 1 by Falln-Brushes
- Smoke Brushes Set 2 by Falln-Brushes
- Smoke Brushes – Six by Jon Bee
Next, create a new layer at the very top of the Layers Panel for the smoke brush. Switch to the Brush Tool (B) and, in the Options Bar, set its brush tip to one of the smoke brushes.
Press the right bracket key (]) a few times to increase the size of the brush to about 2000px, click once on the canvas to apply the smoke, and then use the Move Tool (V) to position it as shown below.
Use the Eraser Tool (E) with a soft, round brush tip to remove the area of the smoke brush that is above the bird.
Step 8: Adding More Smoke
Create a new layer for more smoke. Choose another smoke brush and scale it up to about 2200px.
Click once on the canvas to apply the smoke brush, then press Cmd/Ctrl + T to activate the Free Transform command. Rotate the smoke so that it matches the positioning of the image below. Also, Use the Eraser Tool (E) to remove the smoke at the highlighted areas below.
Here is what our piece should look like by now:
Step 9: Create Smoke Around the Bird
On a new layer, we are now going to use another smoke brush (set to about 2200px). After adding the smoke, rotate it and position it near the head of the bird.
Moving along, I am going to repeat this process using another brush tip and placing it near the wing.
The main objective of what we’re doing in this step is to use a variety of smoke brushes and then flipping, rotating, transforming, and moving them into positions that seem to follow and exaggerate the shape of the form you want to create with the smoke.
Here is what I ended up with:
Step 10: Create Smoke Inside the Bird’s Body
Before proceeding, select all of your smoke layers thus far, then either press Cmd/Ctrl + G or drag them to the Create a new group button at the bottom of the Layers Panel to put them into a layer group. Once you have done that, temporarily turn off the visibility of the layer group so we can focus on the new set of smoke effects.
On a new layer, use an assortment of smoke brushes to paint over the bird — we don’t have to worry too much about being neat because we will be masking this soon. If you want to paint brushes on different layers, go for it.
Select all of your smoke brush layers (excluding the smoke brushes layer group) and press Cmd/Ctrl + E to merge them together. Hold Cmd/Ctrl and then click on the layer thumbnail of the black and white bird layer to load a selection around the bird.
Click on the merged smoke brushes layer just to make sure that it’s the active layer in the Layers Panel, then press Cmd/Ctrl + J, which will duplicate just the smoke inside of the bird, on a new layer.
You can now delete the merged smoke layer beneath the new layer. Then, turn on the visibility of the smoke layer group that we hid temporarily at the beginning of this step.
Step 11: Adding (Even) More Smoke
We are now going to add some additional smoke around the outer contours of the bird. We can add these new smoke layers inside of the existing smoke layer group containing our other smoke brush layers. The process is the same as earlier — use varying brushes and transform them into a position that complements the bird’s shape, then erase certain areas as needed.
Step 12: Bring the Bird Back
Remember the black and white bird layer we turned off earlier? Well, we are going to be bringing it back. Turn the visibility of the layer on, and drag the black and white bird layer to the very top of the Layers Panel.
Now that we have reintroduced the bird back into the scene, the result is looking pretty good in my opinion.
Step 13: Add Some Light
Create a new layer at the top of the Layers Panel. Switch to the Gradient Tool (G) and check to make sure that you still have the Radial Gradient option selected and that the gradient is still set to go from white to transparent; we used this tool earlier in Step 5, so it should already be set up for you. What we want to do here is just click and drag outwards to create a small- to medium-sized radial gradient.
Afterwards, change the blending mode of this layer to Overlay and reduce the layer’s Opacity to 50%. Then use the Move Tool (V) to position the radial gradient over the breast of the bird.
The image below shows our work without adjusting the layer’s blend mode:
The image below shows our work with the Overlay/50%-opacity blend mode:
Step 14: Adding Dynamic Foreground Smoke
Create a new layer, make sure your Foreground Color is still set to white, switch to the Brush Tool (B), select a new smoke brush, and change the brush size to about 2200px.
Click on the canvas once to apply the smoke brush, use the Move Tool (V) to position the smoke at the upper-left corner, and then use the Free Transform command to angle it slightly.
Make sure Free Transform mode is still active, hold down Cmd/Ctrl and then, on the canvas, right-click inside the smoke, which should display a contextual menu.
In the contextual menu, choose Warp, and then modify the smoke to make it appear as if it’s creating a dynamic, swooping motion (as shown below).
Next, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a blur with a Radius of 30.9px.
Step 15: Adding More Foreground Smoke
Create a new layer and select another smoke brush using a Master Diameter of 2200px. Click on the canvas to apply the smoke brush on the new layer, and move it to the upper-left corner, aligning it so it almost matches up with the smoke we applied in the previous step.
Like before, transform and warp the smoke slightly, and then soften it up with the Gaussian Blur filter using the same settings. A quick way of reusing the previous filter with the same setting is to press Cmd/Ctrl + F.
Step 16: Add Swooping Smoke
Using the same techniques, continue to use different brushes and transform them in order to make a trail of smoke that flows down into the right corner of the canvas. Working this into our design will help to push the depth even further, and it will also add some more movement and dynamism to the scene.
After experimenting with a few brushes, you may begin to create some interesting shapes with the smoke. Remember, you can always cut or erase parts that you don’t want, or copy them in new layers and use them in a different area.
Step 17: Modify the Placement and Arrangement of Smoke
Next, we are going to take the blurred smoke that we made in the upper-left corner and just move it off the canvas a bit more so it doesn’t dominate and take away from the subject (the bird) too much. After that, copy the foreground smoke and flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal) so that you can position some of the smoke in the opposite corner.
Play around with the positioning and, when you are satisfied with the result, lower the Opacity of the smoke at the upper-right to about 60%.
This will make it feel like the bird has flown around in a circular motion before coming towards the viewer, but at the same time, we don’t want it to be too distracting because the focal point should be directed to the center of the scene.
Step 18: Duplicate And Merge
Select all the layers in the Layers Panel. Next, drag all of the layers down to the Create a new layer button at the bottom to duplicate all the layers.
While all of the duplicated layers are still selected, press Cmd/Ctrl + E to merge them into one layer. You should now have a flattened copy of the image at the top of the Layers Panel, above all of the original layers.
Step 19: Creating Shattered Shards of Smoke
On the flattened layer, use the Pen Tool (P) to create a path in the shape of a triangle near the wing. Next, right-click inside the triangular path and choose Make Selection from the contextual menu that appears.
You will then be prompted by the Make Selection dialog window; just press OK to accept the default options.
You should now have a selection around the triangle — press Cmd/Ctrl + J to duplicate this selection onto a new layer. After doing this, you can turn off the visibility of the flattened layer, reduce the size of the triangle using the Free Transform command, and move your triangle slightly off to the side using the Move Tool (V).
We are going to repeat this process to create a few more shapes so we will need to toggle the visibility of the flattened layer on and off so that we can make our selections, then position them without distraction.
Rotate, flip, transform, and play with the opacity of the triangles to create variations. A way of enhancing depth is to use a soft, round eraser at a low opacity and erasing some of the shapes a bit so that they appear to be receding into the background.
Step 20: Finishing Up
Before we finish up, I am going to do some housekeeping and organize the layers by placing them into layer groups — this is good practice and helps keep things in order for whenever we need to revisit this Photoshop document later on.
Once that is done, you can save your work and take another look at what we have just created:
This Photoshop tutorial showed you how to create an interesting monochromatic scene with a smoking bird as the subject. We applied smoke effects, played with blend modes, created simple light and glow effects using the Gradient Tool, used Photoshop filters, and created shattered shard elements from scratch to make our work even more intriguing.
Thanks for following along with me and I hope you have learned some useful techniques. Happy Photoshopping!
Download Source Files
- surreal_smoking_bird (ZIP, 72.30 MB)