Photoshop”Gritty Gangster” Effect

This was one of those times when you see an image and just feel like you have to make something cool with it. I was actually on looking for another image, but stumbled upon this one and was hit with an idea. I have seen this effect in many movie posters and, as you’ll see, the results speak for themselves. The moral of the story is: keep an open mind.



Begin by opening the file of the gangster. (You can certainly use one of your own images, but I would suggest using this one, which I’ve made available for download on the book’s companion webpage, mentioned in the book’s introduction. Once you get the technique down, then you can experiment with your own images.) Then, go under the Image menu and choose Duplicate to make another version of the file. Now, put this duplicate aside or just minimize it—we’ll come back to it in a bit.


Get the Quick Selection tool (W) from the Toolbox and select the background (as seen here). Then, go under the Select menu and choose Inverse, so that the subject is now selected.


Let’s enhance the selection by clicking on the Refine Edge button up in the Options Bar. Overall, the selection looks pretty good—there aren’t any really soft edges that need the Refine Radius tool. But, if any of the edges look rough, just go over those areas with a small brush (I pushed in the Radius, in the Edge Detection section, just a bit to take care of any small imperfections I may not see). Then, choose New Layer from the Output To pop-up menu and click OK to copy the selection to a new layer (as seen here).


Now, go back to the duplicate file we created back in Step One, and then go under the Image menu, under Adjustments, and choose HDR Toning. Like we did in the previous project, and as I always do, start by bringing the Saturation down to –100% to remove the color. Then, decrease the Shadow setting and increase the Highlight setting. Next, increase the Detail quite a bit. You will see the changes in the image as you make them. Sometimes increasing the Detail will make things brighter, so you can compensate for this by lowering the Exposure just bit. I also increased the Gamma just a bit, as well. Next, go into the Edge Glow section and tweak the Radius and Strength sliders until you get the right amount of grunge and detail. I rarely ever set the Radius higher than the Strength, but you never know—all images are different. All you have to do is try it and see. When you’re done, click OK.


Get the Move tool (V) from the Tool­­box and then click-and-drag this HDR-processed image onto the original file. Remember to hold the Shift key while you drag-and-drop, so the images align. With this new layer active, press-and-hold the Command (PC: Ctrl) key and click on the layer thumbnail of the extracted subject to load it as a selection (as shown here).


Press Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to copy the selected area to a new layer. Then, press Command-L (PC: Ctrl-L) to open the Levels dialog. Click on the black (Shadows) eyedropper on the right, and then click on a dark gray area of the subject to force most of the image to black, resulting in a stylish contrast. Now, grab the white Input Levels slider under the histogram and push it to the left just a bit to lighten some areas a bit more. Click OK when you’re done.


Go under the File menu, choose New, and create a new document that’s about 5 inches wide by 8 inches tall at 150 ppi. Go back to your subject image and, with the Move tool, click-and-drag the top layer (Layer 2) onto the new document. It’ll need to be resized, so press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform, and then press Command-0 (zero; PC: Ctrl-0), so you can reach the corner handles. Press-and-hold the Shift key (to keep things proportional), and then click-and-drag a corner handle inward to fit the subject in the image. Move your cursor outside the bounding box, and then click-and-drag to rotate him so he’s angled (as seen here).


Click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to create a new blank layer at the top of layer stack and change its layer blend mode to Overlay. Then, get the Brush tool (B) from the Toolbox and choose a small, soft-edged brush from the Brush Picker in the Options Bar. Click on the Foreground color swatch and, from the Color Picker, choose a red color. Now, paint in red on the man’s tie (as shown here). This will be the one color element in this design.


Create another new blank layer at the top of the layer stack, and then get the Gradient tool (G) from the Toolbox. Press D, then X to set your Foreground color to white. In the Options Bar, choose the Foreground to Transparent gradient from the Gradient Picker and then click on the Radial Gradient icon (the second icon to the right of the gradient thumbnail). Now, create a gradient in the top left of the image (as seen here).

STEP 10:

Now, let’s add a smoke element to the gun barrel. Here, I have a simple image of smoke on a black background. Open the image and then open the Channels panel (under the Window menu). Press-and-hold the Command (PC: Ctrl) key and click on the RGB channel thumbnail (as shown here). This will load the luminosity, or brightness, of the image as a selection. Since it’s just white smoke on a black background, that’s all that will be selected. Now, go to the Layers panel and create a new blank layer. With your Foreground color still set to white, press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill the selection with white. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect.

STEP 11:

Get the Move tool, once again, and then click-and-drag this new smoke element (Layer 1) over onto our working file. Press Command-T (PC: Ctrl-T) to bring up Free Transform, press-and-hold the Shift key, and then resize and rotate the smoke, so that it’s coming out of the barrel of the gun. Then, click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a white layer mask to this layer. Get the Brush tool, press X to switch your Foreground color to black, and then just paint over the edge areas of the smoke to hide them. If the smoke doesn’t seem bright enough, duplicate the layer. If it’s too bright, just lower the layer’s opacity.

In the final image, shown below, I added some text using the font Swiss721BT, then added a white layer mask to the type layer, and painted in black on the layer mask using a brush I created to add the effect to the type. (Note: You can see how I created this custom brush on the book’s companion webpage, mentioned in the book’s introduction.)


Excerpted from Photoshop Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers, Vol. 2 by Corey Barker.