How to Create a Wintry Deer Portrait Photo Manipulation in Photoshop

What You’ll Be Creating

With every changing season, beautiful, fantastical creatures come alive. So in today’s tutorial, we’ll learn how to create a wintry, deer-inspired photo manipulation in Adobe Photoshop.

1. How to Build the Deer Portrait

First things first, we need to build this deer character from scratch.

Step 1

Set up a New Document in Photoshop at 2034 x 2708 pixels.

Then Copy and Paste the Woman Portrait onto a New Layer.

Add the portrait

Step 2

Now let’s remove the tan background so we can add a wintry scene behind her.

Remove the background
  1. Select the Magic Wand Tool (W) and click on the tan background to make a selection. Then Right-click and select Inverse
  2. After the selection is inversed, click on the Layer Mask option within the Layers panel to make a mask. For the most part, this step should eliminate the entire background.

Some areas around the hair will still need some fine tuning. So use a Hard Round Brush (100% Opacity, 80-100% Hardness) to mask away the remaining parts of the background that are still showing.

Lower the Brush Size and Brush Hardness whenever necessary to get into those tight spaces between the hair.

Mask the hair

Rename Layer 1, “Woman.”

Step 3

Great! Now add the background.

Copy and Paste the Winter Landscape background on a New Layer underneath the Woman layer.

To make this look as if she’s really sitting within this scene, hold Control-T to resize the background and make it large enough to fill in the space behind her. Try to make sure the snow-covered ground sits towards the top of her left shoulder.

Add the winter background

With the Move Tool (V) selected, tap the Arrow Keys on your keyboard to help position the background right where you want it.

Step 4

Now blur the background. Doing so will add more focus to our subject and create realistic depth.

Select the background layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Then add a Radius of 5 pixels.

Blur the background

Step 5

Many of the deer costumes I saw had beautiful elk antlers and flower crowns.

So let’s continue to style her.

Add the flower crown in Photoshop
  1. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to make a selection around the floral wreath from the Flower Crown Model. Then Copy and Paste it onto a New Layer above our subject.
  2. Resize (Control-T) the wreath to fit her head, adjusting the perspective if necessary. Then use a Layer Mask to mask away everything else except for the crown.
  3. Take your time. Use a Hard Round Brush (100% Opacity, 100% Hardness) to mask around the leaves and flowers as sharply as possible.

This floral crown image looks a little too sharp, so go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, adding a Radius of 1 pixel to blur it slightly.

Here’s the result when we’re through.

Deer portrait so far

Step 6

Before we move on to the coloring, let’s add the antlers! I’ll be using these 3D Elk Antlers from Envato Elements. 

First, download them at the angle you prefer—we’ll go with something more straight on like below.

Elk antlers from envato elements

Now use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to make selections around each antler. Copy and Paste both antlers onto separate New Layers beneath the flower crown layer.

Position each one on her head and resize (Control-T) them.

For this portrait, I want the viewer to concentrate more on the subject’s face, so don’t worry if the antlers don’t fit within the composition. That’s on purpose!

add the deer antlers

2. How to Paint Deer Makeup in Photoshop

As we move forward, it’s important to note that the next steps are heavily reliant on digital painting techniques. So a graphics tablet will be necessary to make these steps easier.

Step 1

Start by color correcting the flower crown and the bouquet she’s holding.

Select the Lasso Tool (L) and make a selection around the bouquet. Then hit the New Adjustment Layer button for Curves and set it as a Clipping Mask to the woman layer.

You’ll notice that this also means it’s been masked for that particular area too!

Adjust the curves for the RGB, Red, Green and Blue Channels as shown below for a more saturated look.

recolor the flower bouquet

Step 2

Color correct the flower crown next.

Create a New Adjustment Layer for Curves and Right-click to set it as a Clipping Mask to the crown layer.

Adjust the curves for the RGB, Red, Blue and Green Channels like the ones below for a more saturated look.

color the flower crown

Note: These colors might currently seem a little too saturated for the scene. But we’ll bring it all together later with more adjustments.

Step 3

Don’t forget the deer ears!

Add the deer ears
  1. Use the Lasso Tool (L) to make a selection around the left ear of this Deer Ears Stock.
  2. Copy and Paste the ear onto a New Layer, and then Resize (Control-T) it and position it underneath the left antler, behind the crown.
  3. Use a Layer Mask to taper the edges.
  4. Then hold Control-J to make a copy of this layer. Flip it by going to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Then position the second ear on the right side.

Here’s the result so far.

Deer photo manipulation so far

Step 4

Now recolor the flower bouquet!

Create a New Layer and set it as a Clipping Mask to the woman layer.

Set the Layer Blend Mode to Hue. Then use a Soft Round Brush (100% Opacity, 0% Hardness) to paint brown #654533 over the bouquet of flowers.

Change the color of the bouquet

Step 5

Do the same for the flower crown.

Create a New Layer and set it as a Clipping Mask to the crown layer.

Set the Layer Blend Mode to Hue. Then use a Soft Round Brush (10-30% Opacity, 0% Hardness) to paint brown #654533 over the flower crown.

Recolor the floral crown

Step 6

Now let’s paint some deer makeup!

Again, this makeup is heavily inspired by YouTube makeup tutorials from beauty gurus. So make a quick search online to see how you would like to paint this makeup for your own special effect.

Let’s start by giving her a “deer tan.”

Apply a tan in photoshop

Create a New Layer and set it as a Clipping Mask to the woman layer.

Use a Soft Round Brush (50% Opacity, 0% Hardness) to paint dark brown #342d28 all over the woman. Then contour her face (eyes, nose, etc.) with more brown to deepen those areas. Set this Layer Blend Mode to Soft Light, adjusting the Layer Opacity if necessary.

Step 7

We’ll continue to add Clipping Masks to our model to keep all the painting anchored within her frame.

Set another New Layer as a Clipping Mask above the last layer. Set it to Hard Light and use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 20-50% Opacity) to paint medium brown #472f1b all over the model.

Paint more tanned skin

Build more contouring around her face, arms and shoulders. This layer will be used as a base for more deer-inspired makeup. So we essentially need her to be more tan so that the makeup will pop against it.

Step 8

Now begin painting the actual deer makeup.

Set a New Layer as a Clipping Mask to the woman layer. Then change the Blend Mode to Multiply. Use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 80% Opacity) to paint soft brown #372219 eye shadow underneath her eyes.

Then paint the eyeliner, rounded nose, and dark upper lip with a Hard Round Pressure Size Brush and a deep brown color #22150f

paint the deer makeup

Step 9

Continue building the shadow.

Paint more soft brown shadows around the model to create realistic lighting conditions and additional contouring on the flowers, face, and hair.

You can also take this moment to set New Layers as Clipping Masks to the antlers and flower crown layers too. With each section, set the Layer Blend Mode to Multiply to focus the shadow towards the bottom of that object.

paint more shadow
The areas I’m pointing out have more concentrated shadows. Take your time building this up for a realistic effect.

We’ll be using the same brown colors as before. The lighting is coming from above, so we’ll keep the shadows low.

Step 10

Brighten the makeup. Set a New Layer as a Clipping Masking to the woman, changing the Blend Mode to Overlay

Use this layer to paint soft white highlights on the model’s face and flowers. Concentrate these highlights on the high points of her skin using a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 10-40% Opacity).

paint highlights

Step 11

Before we recolor this entire portrait, let’s take some time to clean up the deer makeup.

Use this moment to add New Layers set as Clipping Masks to the woman.

Keep the Layer Blend Mode set to Normal. Use the Eyedropper Tool (E) to pick up nearby colors on her face to paint with. Then begin painting additional details to smooth out her skin. Paint freckles with small brown dots, and then paint more shadows under the flower crown.

Paint freckles and more shadows

Step 12

Next, we’ll create the look of a backlit lighting effect.

And since many deer have white spots on their coat. Let’s add some!

Paint white dots and highlights
  1. First, set a New Layer as a Clipping Mask to the woman. Then use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 10-20% Opacity) to paint soft white light along the edges of the model. This will add a quick backlit effect and show that the snow is reflecting on her skin.
  2. Then set New Layers as Clipping Masks to the crown and antlers too. Continue adding soft touches of white to really start setting this model into the wintry background.
  3. Then go back to the layer clipped to the woman and paint some dots. Use a Hard Round Brush (100% Hardness, 30-80% Opacity) to paint white dots on her face and body. Soften them with the Eraser Tool (E).

Be sure to use your deer makeup references for more help.

3. How to Make a Winter Scene in Photoshop

If you’ve made it this far, great work!

Now we’ve got to create more color harmony. Currently, the portrait is really warm, and I ultimately want this manipulation to appear more blue.

Step 1

Let’s work on the mood.

Create a New Layer at the top of the Layers panel.

Use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to fill it with gray #b2b1af and lower the Opacity to 11%.

add a color fill
This layer gives it a nice dusty look.

Step 2

Create another New Layer above that one to add some light and snow.

Use a Soft Round Bush (0% Hardness, 10-20% Opacity) to paint white streaks in the background. This will create the subtle appearance of wind kicking up in the forest.

Then move on to a more textural brush. Use a Pastel Medium Tip from the Dry Media Brushes set to paint soft white snow on the antlers, flower crown, and lower bouquet.

Dust the top of her hair and shoulders with it, as well, for some light, snowy textures.

Paint snow and highlights

Step 3

The remainder of this portrait mostly requires lots of Adjustment Layers. Let’s try to knock them out as quickly as possible.

Start with a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup.

Set the 3DLUT File to Bleach Bypass.look for a brighter portrait. Lower the Layer Opacity to 18%.

add a color lookup adjustment

Step 4

Continue to transition the color scheme. We’ve got to remove as much of that burnt tan effect as possible. So let’s really make her sit in this snowy landscape.

Create a New Adjustment Layer of Curves.

Adjust the curves of the RGB, Blue and Red Channels like the ones below.

add a curves adjustment

Then add a New Adjustment Layer of Gradient Map.

Add more of that dusty look to the portrait.

Set it to a silver #ededed to gray #b5b4b3 Linear Gradient. Then set the Layer Blend Mode to Pin Light and lower the Opacity to 5%.

add a gradient map

Step 5

Let’s finally make this portrait more blue!

Add a New Adjustment Layer of Levels.

Set the values to the following below:

  • RGB Channel: 0, 0.82, 255, 0, 255
  • Green Channel: 7, 1.08, 242, 0, 242
  • Blue Channel: 0, 0.88, 212, 19, 248
add a levels adjustment

4. How to Add Snow to a Winter Scene in Photoshop

Here’s our portrait so far with the updated color scheme!

Lookin’ pretty frosty!

Let’s keep going!

deer manipulation after levels

Step 1

Take this opportunity to clean up the portrait as much as you’d like. This may mean that you paint on New Layers directly over the model to smooth out the skin, hair, decorations, or makeup.

Then add a New Layer set to Overlay and add more white light to the portrait. Use a Soft Round Brush (0% Hardness, 10-20% Opacity) to paint white softly on both sides of the subject. Adjust the Opacity if necessary.

paint more white light

Step 2

Before we complete the color editing, add some snow!

Select the Snowflake shape from the Custom Shape Tool (U) and place several white snowflakes at varying Layer Opacities all around the scene.

Then Rasterize each shape layer and Blur them for more movement and depth of field.

Select each rasterized layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian, setting the Radius to 7 pixels.

Add snowflakes

Step 3

Our first round of snowflakes is pretty literal. So let’s add some scattered snow for a realistic effect.

Download this Real Snow Overlays pack.

Copy and Paste the images for #2 and #10 from the pack onto two New Layers at the top of the Layers panel.

Set each layer to Screen so it removes the background and leaves the snow particles. Use a Layer Mask, if necessary, to remove any snow you don’t want.

add more snowflakes
The middle black section shows how #2 and #10 would look before changing the Layer Blend Modes.

Step 4

You can always stop here if you like the current color scheme. But if you want to add a super chilly winter effect, let’s add a few more Adjustment Layers.

Start with a New Adjustment Layer of Color Lookup.

Set the 3DLUT File to TensionGreen.3DL. Then lower the Layer Opacity to 20%.

add a color lookup adjustment

Step 5

Then add a New Adjustment Layer of Color Balance.

Set the values to the following for the Midtones and Highlights:

  • Midtones: 11, 11 ,10
  • Highlights: 0, 0, 15
Add a color balance layer

Add another New Adjustment layer of Color Balance.

Set the values to the following for the Midtones and Highlights:

  • Midtones: 0, 16, 0
  • Highlights: 0, 0, 10
add another color balance layer

Step 6

Finish up with one last Adjustment Layer of Brightness/Contrast.

Set the values to the following:

  • Brightness: 5
  • Contrast: 35
add a brightness and contrast adjustment

Great job! Check out the final result below!


You can grab inspiration from almost anywhere to make Photoshop portraits of fantasy creatures. And I hope this tutorial has inspired you to make a wintry deer photo manipulation of your own! Make sure to bookmark this lesson and take your time with each step!

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