How to Create a Haunted Portrait Effect in Photoshop

What You’ll Be Creating

Have you ever wanted to remove a person’s face? Maybe throw some worms in it? I am going to guess yes since you found your way here! Because today, we will be creating a portrait photo effect fit for a haunted mansion or spooky abandoned house.

What You’ll Need 

You’ll need the following resources in order to complete this project:

  • Redheaded Woman
  • Old Leather
  • King Worms
  • Rusted Metal Aged Background

Find more resources on Envato Elements!

1. How to Create a Dark and Grungy Color Grade  

First, I want to start everything off by setting up our color grade. In most cases, I save this for last, but given that it changes the image pretty significantly I am going to do it first, and then place all of the color adjustments into a folder so that I can then toggle it on and off as needed. 

So go ahead and place your subject onto your canvas. I will be using this very soft, almost fairy-like photo as I like the contrast of the flowers to the worms we will be adding later on.

Step 1

Create a Color Fill adjustment layer set to a deep forest green, with a Blend If setting set to what you see below. 

Color Fill Settings

  • Color: Forest Green #103700
  • Mode: Multiply
  • Opacity: 26%
blend if
color fill

Step 2

Create a Color Lookup layer set to Moonlight to darken things up a bit more, again with some Blend If settings.

Color Lookup Settings

  • 3DLUT: Moonlight
  • Opacity: 30%
  • Blend If:
2nd blend if

Step 3

Create a second Color Lookup layer set to Kodak 5218 2383 to brighten up the highlights.

Color Lookup Settings

  • 3DLUT: Kodak 5218 2383
  • Opacity: 29%

Step 4

Create a third Color Lookup set to 3stripe to up the saturation of the colors. 

Color Lookup Settings

  • 3DLUT: 3stripe
  • Opacity: 70%

Step 5

Create a fourth Color Lookup set to Foggy Night to bring some blues into the blacks.

Color Lookup Settings

  • 3DLUT: Foggy Night
  • Opacity: 50%
foggy night

Step 6

Create a fifth Color Lookup set to Edgy Amber to bring in some warm tones. 

Color Lookup Settings

  • 3DLUT: Edgey Amber
  • Opacity: 21%
edgey amber

Step 7

Create a sixth Color Lookup set to Kodak 5205 3510 to up the contrast slightly.

Color Lookup Settings

  • 3DLUT: Kodak 5205 3510
  • Opacity: 30%
kodak 5205

Step 8

Create a Selective Color adjustment layer affecting the Reds, Yellows Greens, and Whites.

Selective Color: Reds Settings

  • Cyan: -22%
  • Magenta: +11%
  • Yellow: +29%
  • Black: +19%

Selective Color: Yellow Settings

  • Cyan: -29%

Selective Color: Green Settings

  • Cyan: +100%
  • Magenta: +36%
  • Yellow: +93%
  • Black: +50%

Selective Color: Red Settings

  • Magenta: -40%
  • Yellow: -67%
selective color

Step 9

Create a Curves layer to darken things up a bit and bring some greens into the highlights. You will want to note the Blend If settings here as well.

Curves Settings

blend if

Step 10

Create one last Curves to bring up the greens inside the highlights further. 

Curves Settings

green highlights curve

Step 11

Let’s finish up the color adjustments by adding a grungy rusted metal texture over everything.

Set the texture to Overlay, Inverting the texture, then a quick Smart Sharpen.

Increase the contrast if you want an extra grungy look!


Step 12

Duplicate the texture.

Add a Layer Mask to the duplicate, masking out the middle portion of the texture and giving the corners of the portrait an even more grungy and decayed look.

Go ahead and set both textures to 8% Opacity, and that will be our color grade!

final layers

2. How to Create a Hollow Face Effect

Now onto the main effect: the gaping hole in the subject’s face!

Step 1

To start, we need to create the base of our hole. There are a few ways to go about creating the general shape of the pit. You could use the Brush Tool and paint it in by hand, for instance. 

However, my preferred method is to use the Pen Tool. Set your foreground color to a deep, dark burgundy #260d00 color.

You can always adjust the color later on, so make a general guess for now!

Create a path around the face, making sure to follow the natural curves of the face. 

Once you’re happy with the path, Right-click > Fill Path. Refine the hole using a hard round Eraser brush.

create hole base

Step 2

To give our hole more dimension, we need to add a ridge to represent the edge of the face. Create a Color Fill layer, setting it to the color of your subject’s flesh tone.

Clip the fill layer into the “Hole” layer. 

Duplicate the “Hole” layer, clipping the duplicate above the “Color Fill” layer.

Select the Move Tool and nudge the “Hole Copy” over to the right until you get a simple ridge effect. How thick you want to make this is entirely up to you!

create ridge

Step 3

Create a New Layer under the “Hole Copy,” setting it to Soft Light.

Paint in some lighting and shading. Focus the highlights towards the center of the ridge while the shadows go towards the edges.

Keep the brush color set to skin tones, black and white, painting on a mixture of Softlight and Normal layers.

light ridge

Step 4

Add the light that would be hitting the inside of the face. Again, we want to stick to using skin tones, black and white with a mixture of Softlight, Overlay, and Normal layers. 

Keep the lighting within the “hole” portion of the face by Control-clicking the “Hole Copy” layer and then painting within the selection. 

Keep refining the light little by little, adding some soft shadows and contrast layers, continuing to build up the light slowly by setting your brush to a low 5% Flow rate. 

Don’t be afraid of creating layers here! Keep piling them on until you are happy with the result!  

light face

Step 5

Finish the hole by adding a leather texture to the inside of the face. 

Desaturate the texture by going to Image > Adjustments >  Hue/Saturation. Bring down the Brightness -38 and up the Contrast to 100.

Clip the texture over all the other layers in the “Hole” layer, setting it to Soft Light and 58% Opacity. 

Step 6

Easily mask out any part of the texture that is overlapping the ridge of the face by Control-clicking the “Hole Copy” layer.

Invert the selection by going to Select > Invert. 

Mask out any unwanted texture.

add texture

Step 7

Add a highlight to the texture but Duplicate the leather texture, and then set the duplicate to Color Dodge.

Mask out any part of the texture that isn’t hitting the lighter areas of the face. We don’t want to add any additional light to the shadowed regions.

And that’s it! You can also add ridges to the right side of the face if you want to keep the face empty. However, if that is the case, I’d also spend a bit more time on the lighting and textures. But as we will be filling this face with a bunch of slimy worms, a lot of our light will end up being covered anyway! So do what works best for you and your image!

add highlights to texture

3. How to Create a Pile of Worms

For our worms today, I will be using this stock of a pile of King Worms!

Step 1

Extract the worms using your method of choice. I used the Quick Selection Tool to mask out the white background, and then cleaned things up using a hard black brush. 

extract worms

Step 2

Once extracted, you want to duplicate the worms and place them over the hollowed-out face, just in the general area you’d like them to be.

Making sure to flip and rotate the duplicated worms so that they don’t look too repetitive.  

duplicate worms

Step 3

Go ahead and group the two worm layers.

Get a selection of the “Hole” layer using Control-click, and then add a layer mask to the group. The mask will take the shape of the selection!

Refine the mask using a hard round brush, set to white, to paint back any of the worms you’d like to “overflow” from the face. 

mask worms

Step 4

Let’s create and clip a couple of adjustment layers to the group. 

Brightness/Contrast layer to darken and up the contrast of the worms.

Then add a black and white Gradient Map layer to desaturate things, setting the Gradient Map to around 45% Opacity.  

color adjust worms

Step 5

To create even more worm “overflow,” Duplicate your “Worms” group, and then Right-click > Merge Group.

Place the worms over the edge of the face.

place worms

Step 6

Mask out some of the larvae using a hard round brush. 

mask out worms

Step 7

Do this as many times as desired. In my opinion, the more worms, the better!

Flip and rotate the copied worms so that, again, you have some variety in the worms. You want to avoid any repeating patterns.  

If you’d like, you can also paint a small ridge on the right side of the face, peeking out from under the larvae. Once you are happy with the flow of your worms, group them up!

add more worms

4. How to Add Light and Shade  

To create our shading and lighting, we aren’t going to do anything fancy; there’s no real method to my madness here. However, we are going to use about a million different layers. Maybe less maybe more, but just like the shading inside the hollowed-out face, you don’t want to be conservative with the layers—create as many as you need!

Step 1

Create a Brightness/Contrast layer and clip it into the “Final Worms” group to bring down the Brightness -65 and bring up the Contrast to 37.

darken worms

Step 2

To create shadows, you are going to use dark browns, and blacks set to Soft Light and Multiply. Focus on creating deeper shadows within and over the top of the worms.

paint shadows

Step 3

For lighting, you want to focus on enhancing the highlights and bringing in more light to the areas that are too dark.

Paint highlights on layers set to Soft Light, Overlay, and Normal. You can also use a masked Curve layer to brighten up severely darkened areas where painting won’t do the trick.

When painting both highlights and shadows, you want to keep your brush Flow nice and low so that you can build up the shadows and highlights slowly.

Your brush size and hardness will vary—remember that shadows and highlights have structure, so don’t be afraid to up the hardness of the brush when needed! 

And finally, my not so secret weapon: Blend If. I have a bit of a love affair with this tool. It helps shadows stay out of highlights and highlights remain out of the shadows.

How to Use Blend If

To access a layer’s Blend If settings, double-click on the layer. Towards the bottom of the Layer Style panel, you will see the Underlying Layer slider. Hold Alt and then click and drag to move the toggles independently.

paint highlights

5. How to Create Shadows

Let’s paint in some intense shadows to go with our harsh lighting!

Step 1

Use the same mixture of Soft Light and Multiply layers to paint in shadows below the worms, onto the chin and hollowed-out face of the subject. Keep the Flow low as always! 

paint face shadows

Step 2

To create your deeper and darker shadows, use a masked-out Curves layer!

Use a round brush set to black to mask in some shadows slowly. Keep the shape of the worms and the overall lighting in mind. 

paint deeper shadows with curve

6. How to Add a Colorful Bloom Effect 

And finally, to finish things off, I want to play more with the contrast of themes we have going on here by adding some colorful light blooms to the portrait. 

Step 1

Create a New Layer and set it to Screen.

Hide the “Color Grade” group, and then color pick colors from the flowers, leaves, and bright red hair. 

Now, with a very large, soft, round brush, paint blooms of light over the corresponding areas. 

Paint pink over the pink flowers, pale yellow over the white flowers, green over the leaves, and so on. We have some great purples here too, so take advantage of all the color this photo has to offer!

add blooms

Step 2

Bring down the layer’s Opacity to 25%.

lower opacity

Step 3

Finish up by adding an extra dose of contrast to everything.

First, place a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer right above the subject, setting it to Brightness 13.


Step 4

Paint in even more contrast using a couple of different layers set to Overlay. 

Bring down those layer’s Opacity if needed, and then paint in contrast using a brush set to black and white.

Making sure to keep the brushes Flow rate nice and low so you can build things up slowly and smoothly! 

paint in contrast
Final layers

We’ve Done It!

And there you have it! A hollowed-out face photo effect that will fulfil all of your dastardly needs or surrealist fantasies depending on the extra details you choose to add. That’s the best thing about tutorials, and art in general—while the final result might come off as niche, the techniques can be applied to anything, anywhere, in any genre. I give you the “bones”, and it’s up to you to do what you want with them! 

So as always, keep experimenting with different techniques and practicing. Don’t forget to post your version below, along with any questions, comments, or critiques!

final result

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