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How to Create a Fantasy Wolf Rider Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

Can you imagine traveling the wilderness on the back of your faithful animal companion, going on a fantasy adventure together? 

If you find such an image inspiring, I have something cool for you. In this tutorial I will show you how to place a rider on top of a huge animal with the power of Photoshop. You’ll learn all the basics of photo manipulation while working towards a beautiful end result.

What You Will Need

For the wolf rider:

For the outfit and tack:

1. How to Separate the Fluffy Dog From the Background

Step 1

Open the running husky image in Photoshop. It has a perfect pose, but the collar doesn’t really fit the concept. Let’s remove it!

Take the Patch Tool (J) and outline a part of the collar.

select part of the collar

Step 2

Drag the selection towards the area that would fit nicely inside the selection.

drag the selection to fill it
patch tool photoshop

Step 3

This method, though very powerful, is not flawless. Keep selecting smaller areas around until you achieve a convincing effect.

using patch tool to remove collar

Step 4

Use this method to remove the whole collar.

remove collar in photoshop

Step 5

Use your favorite method to select the whole body of the husky. It doesn’t need to be a perfect selection with all the hairs outlined—we’ll take care of them in the next steps. You can learn about various methods of selection in our course Selections and Masking in Adobe Photoshop.

imprefect selection photoshop

Step 6

Go to Select > Refine Edge. Change the View Mode to a black background to see the fur better, and then select Smart Radius and play with the Radius to make the edge of the selection smoother.

refine edge photoshop

Step 7

Use the Refine Radius Tool to “paint” the fluff around the edges. It should do quite a good job at separating the hairs from the background.

select hair in photoshop

Step 8

Finally, change the Output to New Layer and hit OK.

change output in refine edge

Step 9

A new layer with the isolated husky should appear—hide it. Go back to the original layer, duplicate it (Control-J), and hide it as well. Select the husky with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M). We’re going to remove it from the background!

select dog from the background

Step 10

Go to Edit > Fill and select Content-Aware. Press OK.

content aware fill photoshop
content aware fill how it works

Step 11

Like all the automatic functions of Photoshop, the Content-Aware fill is not perfect. Use the Patch Tool to remove any “seams”.

content aware cleaning

Step 12

This trick has removed the shadow under the dog’s legs, but we need it to keep the scene consistent. Show the copied background and add a Layer Mask to it. Fill it with black to make the content transparent, and then use a soft brush and paint with white to reveal just the shadow.

If this instruction sounds confusing, you can learn about using Layer Masks here:

use layer mask to reveal
layer mask instead of eraser

2. How to Turn a Dog Into a Wolf in Photoshop

Step 1

Open the wolf head image in Photoshop and separate it from the background the same way as you did with the dog.

cut wolf head from the background

Step 2

Copy and paste it into the file with the dog (you can flip the whole image of the dog, or just the head). Lower its Opacity to see the dog’s head beneath, and then use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to resize it properly.

resize wolf head

Step 3

Switch the Opacity to 100% again and use a Layer Mask to blend the wolf’s head with the neck. Then use the Lasso Tool (L) to remove the dog’s head.

replace head in photoshop
husky to wolf manipulation

Step 4

Obviously, our husky is colored in a different way than the wolf. Let’s fix it! Select the layer with the head, go to Window > Adjustments, and select Curves.

curves adjustment

Step 5

Drag the curve to make the head brighter. Don’t forget to clip the adjustment to affect the head only!

curves adjustment window
brightne head with curves

Step 6

Select the body now and add the Color Balance adjustment.

color balance adjustment

Step 7

Play with the sliders to make the whole body colder in its shade—more like the head. Clip the adjustment, too!

color balance window
color balance fixed

Step 8

Add the Hue/Saturation adjustment.

hue saturation adjustment

Step 9

Clip the adjustment and lower the Saturation to remove the warmer parts.

desaturate image
destaturated husky

Step 10

When you’re ready, select the body’s and head’s layers along with their adjustments and merge them (Control-E). Fix any obvious seams by copying parts of the fur, blending it with a Layer Mask, and merging it with the rest.

fixing fur

Step 11

Curiously, the faces of big animals have slightly different proportions. To make our wolf look huge, make its eyes and ears smaller, and the muzzle shorter and thicker. Go to Filter > Liquify to add these changes.

liquify filter window
wolf modified with liquify

Step 12

Dogs like to keep their tails high up, but for a wolf this is not a normal position. Let’s put it lower! Select the tail, for example with the Lasso Tool (L). Cut it and place it under the body layer.

cut the tail

Step 13

Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to rotate the tail properly…

rotate the tail

… and use the Warp Mode to reshape the tail. Merge the parts when you’re done.

reshape the tail

Step 14

To make the wolf look even bigger, let’s modify its body even further. Use the Liquify filter to make the paws and torso thicker. You can also play with the facial features a little to give the wolf a more serious look.

liquify adjustments

Step 15

For me the whole wolf looks still a little bit too colorful, so let’s lower its Vibrance.

vibrance adjustment
vibrance panel
husky lowered vibrance

3. How to Put a Rider on the Wolf’s Back

Step 1

Our image with the wolf is not very big, so let’s resize it to have better access to details. Go to Image > Image Size and change the Width to 6000 pixels.

image size change

Step 2

Use the Crop Tool (C) to make more space.

crop image

Step 3

Open the image with the girl rider in Photoshop and cut it from its background as before. Include the saddle, too!

cut the girl rider from the background

Step 4

Paste the girl into the main file and use the Free Transform Tool to adjust her size and position her on the back of our wolf.

place the girl on the wolf

Step 5

Crop the image for a better composition.

crop the image again

Step 6

The background is now bigger than the original one, so let’s use the Content-Aware Fill to fill the empty areas with snow.

content aware fill background
new background

Step 7

The girl on a horse had a different perspective, so let’s fix it subtly. Select the farther arm, cut it, and place it behind the body. Rotate it to better fit the perspective of the wolf.

rotate the arm
change persepctive of the rider

Step 8

Use the Liquify filter to fix the torso, too. Merge the parts when you’re done.

fix perspective with liquify

Step 9

The Liquify filter will also help you adjust the saddle to the body of the wolf. Just make sure you use the backdrop with the wolf’s layer only.

adjust the saddle

Step 10

The girl has come from a differently lighted environment, so now we need to fix it. Add the Color Balance adjustment to make the girl colder in her hue…

adjust color balance

… and the Hue/Saturation adjustment to make the colors less striking. When you’re done, merge the body layer with its adjustment layers.

hue saturation desaturate body

Step 11

In the girl’s photo there was much more direct light, and our wolf is illuminated in a more ambient way. Brighten the dark shadows on the girl’s body with the Dodge Tool (O) in Shadows mode.

dodge shadows
subtle shadows

Step 12

The image with the girl had a high resolution, but the one with the husky didn’t—and we had to resize it. Because of that, the girl looks much sharper than the wolf, which breaks the illusion we want to achieve. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to fix it.

gaussian blur

Step 13

To make the whole scene more interesting, let’s add a new background—a winter forest. Place the image behind the girl and the wolf, and resize it properly.

resize the background

Step 14

Apply Gaussian Blur to the background to give an impression of depth.

change focal length

4. How to Add the Accessories of a Fantasy Rider

Step 1

We have a girl riding a wolf, but it doesn’t look very convincing. Let’s give them both special fantasy outfits to make the whole illustration more interesting.

Open the chainmail image and place it inside the main file. Cut the part you need.

chainmail stock image

Step 2

Lower the Opacity of the chainmail to see the saddle beneath, and then adjust it to the shape of the blanket.

adjust blanket shape

Step 3

Use a Layer Mask to reveal the saddle and the girl, keeping the chainmail over the blanket only.

erase with layer mask

Step 4

Open the image with the armor and cut its breast element the same way as before.

cut the breast armor

Step 5

Put this armor part over the neck of the wolf.

pur armor on the neck

Step 6

Cut the parts that don’t fit the perspective.

cut wring parts of armor

Step 7

The lower part of the armor will be useful, too! Copy it…

copy lower part of armor

… and put it over the back of the wolf.

put armor on wolf back

Step 8

Copy it, put the copy beneath, and transform it to give more segments to this element.

give more segements to armor
segmented back armor

Step 9

Open the image with the leather armor now. The armor looks nice, but there’s so much hair in front of it! Use the Patch Tool (J) to “clean” it.

clean thw armor from hair

Step 10

Cut the armor from its background the same way as before. Then copy the fur part as well, refining its edge carefully.

cut the leather armor

Step 11

Place the fur over the shoulder of the girl.

place fur over the shoulder

Step 12

Place the rest of the armor under the fur, transforming it to fit the girl’s torso.

transform armor to the torso

Step 13

Use the Liquify filter to modify the armor even further. Pay attention to the perspective!

adjust armor with liquify

Step 14

Open the image with the sword and copy it to place it on the side of the girl.

put the sword on the side

Step 15

Our wolf needs a bridle, too! Open the image with the horse and copy parts of its head gear step by step, always refining the edge of selection first to make it softer. Place it in the main file and adjust the shape to the wolf’s head, trying to keep it all functional.

select aprt of bridle
paste and wrap around wolfs muzzle
long bridle band
bridle band on the side
mouth part
mouth part wolf
forehead part
fiorehead part on the wolf

Here you may need to copy a part of the band to make it longer:

make band longer
reins beginning
reins beginning ready

Step 16

The reins will be a bit tricky. Copy them as before…

copy the reins

… paste them and resize in the main file. To reshape them in a controlled way, use Edit > Puppet Warp. Uncheck Show Mesh to make the image clearer, and then place pins all along the length of the reins.

place pins with puppet warp

Step 17

Drag the pins to reshape the reins. Press Enter when you’re done.

reshape the reins with puppet warp

Step 18

You can use the same method to decorate the reins with sapphires.

decorate the reins
change shape of decoration

5. How to Make the Photo Manipulation Consistent

Step 1

All the elements are in place, but it doesn’t take a detective to tell that it doesn’t look realistic. We need to spend some time tweaking all the parts carefully using the same methods as before.

First, adjust the torso of the girl. Make sure the leather has a proper shape and that the sweater is beneath it.

adjust the clothes

Step 2

Adjust the color of the armor to make it as cool as the background and less contrasting.

change hue of the clothes

Step 3

Add some Gaussian Blur to hide the sharp edges.

hide sharp edges

Step 4

Add another Hue/Saturation adjustment and brighten it strongly. Then fill the mask of the adjustment layer with black to hide the effect.

brightening adjustment

Step 5

Use a soft brush and paint with white on the mask to reveal the brightness around the sides of the armor—this will give it a proper ambient lighting.

create ambient lighting

Step 6

Add another Hue/Saturation adjustment to color the whole girl brown. Check Colorize for a better result.

colorize the clothes

Step 7

Fill the mask with black, and then paint on it with white to reveal the parts you want to color brown. This will give a more traditional look to the outfit.

make the outfit more traditional

Step 8

Use the same method (an adjustment layer with black mask, painting with white) to paint the shadows on the chainmail.

shade the chainmail
chainmail with layer mask

Step 9

Darken the saddle the same way, too.

darken the saddle

Step 10

Use this method to give a more fitting shading to the armor. You can use the Hue/Saturation and Levels adjustments to create both shadow and light.

create shadow and light
shade metal
armor shaded

Step 11

Desaturate the whole bridle to fit its color to the whole scheme.

desaturate the bridle

Step 12

Use the Levels adjustment to give more contrast to the bridle.

give more contrast to bridle

Step 13

Shade the bridle with the Hue/Saturation adjustment.

shade the bridle
shade using adjustment layer
darken the bridle

Step 14

There’s one more thing we need to add for more realism: the straps. Copy them from the image with the medieval armor.

copy the straps

Step 15

Use Puppet Warp to adjust the shape of the strap to the wolf’s neck.

adjust the shape of strap

Step 16

Remove the rest of the strap with a Layer Mask.

erase strap with layer mask

Step 17

Use the same method to attach the sword with a strap.

attach sword with strap
clean the strap
add more straps

Step 18

I’ve also noticed that the girl has been copied with a soft edge from her previous background. If you have the same effect, remove it carefully with a Layer Mask.

clean border with layer mask

Step 19

The bridle should sink a bit into the thick fur on our wolf’s face. To achieve this effect, copy a part of the fur from the wolf’s layer and place it over the bridle.

copy fur

Step 20

Right click the fur layer and select Blending Options. Drag the upper black marker to remove the dark parts of the layer. Hold Alt to split it for a smoother effect. You can learn more about this great tool from the tutorial below:

Use the same technique to add covering fur wherever necessary.

blend if panel
add realsitic fur

Step 21

Time to add some shadows between the gear and the wolf’s body. Do it carefully and sparingly to avoid an airbrushing effect.

shade the fur
delicate fur shading

6. Final Tweaks and Adjustments

Step 1

Our photo manipulation is almost complete now, so let’s take a closer look at it as a whole to find any inconsistencies.

First, metal, even when it’s old, is reflective. That means it reflects both the brightness and colors of the objects around to a certain extent. To simulate this effect, create a New Layer over the metal parts, use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the color of the surroundings, and carefully paint over a part of the metal. Clip the layer (Control-Alt-G) to keep the effect to the boundaries of the layer below.

create reflective metal

Step 2

Use the Blending Options to remove the color from the dark crevices by dragging the lower slider.

remove coor from dark crevices
properly shaded metal

Use this trick for all the metal parts.

make all metal reflective

Step 3

Take a good look at all the elements. Does everything cast a shadow as it’s supposed to? Make sure there are no missing shadows in your scene.

search for missing shadows

Step 4

To make the scene more dynamic, we can add some blur. Go into Quick Mask Mode (Q) and paint a part of the hair with a soft brush. Then go out of the mode (Q), Select > Inverse, and hide the selection (Control-H).

select with quick mask

Step 5

Now you can use Filter > Blur > Motion Blur on the selection.

add motion blur to selection

Step 6

Use the same trick in other places you want blurred. Just remember not to select too many at once, or they’ll seem flat.

blur more parts

Step 7

We’re going to add snow to the scene, so let’s give a snow-mist to the background by increasing the Lightness in the Hue/Saturation adjustment.

brightne the background

Step 8

If you are sure you don’t want to fix any more details separately, select all the layers and merge them (Control-E). Duplicate this merged layer (Control-J) and apply Filter > Blur > Motion Blur to the copy.

add motion blur to whole scene

Step 9

Add a Layer Mask to the copy and reveal the most important parts of the scene. The ones you leave will stay blurred, giving the whole silhouette a sense of motion.

create selective blurring

Step 10

Time for the snow! It will not only add a special atmosphere to the scene, but it will also unify all the elements. You can learn how to create realistic snow from the tutorial below. Just remember to add more blur than normally (especially motion blur), because our characters are moving fast.

add snow to the scene

Step 11

One more look: is anything missing? At this point, you can add special details like snowflakes on the hair or reddened cheeks. It’s up to you how you decide to finish it!

final details

Step 12

To unify the scene for the last time, change the Color Balance of the whole image to something cold.

final color correction

Step 13

After you merge the layers again, you can add Filter > Noise > Add Noise to unify the level of noise across the picture.

add noise

Good Job!

This was a long tutorial, but I hope you enjoyed it and learned something about creating a fantasy photo manipulation in Photoshop today. If you want to learn more, you may be interested in these tutorials as well:

create a fantasy wolf rider photo manipulation