Photoshop Displacement Maps


Ever wondered how people managed to get that face-painted or tattooed look on photos like this?  Well it’s a lot easier than you might think and only involves a few steps. First you need two images, in this case a flag and one of my mate Gav. You need to cut your subject out from the original photograph for this to work effectively, this is probably the hardest step of the whole process, you can use any of Photoshops selection tools or a 3rd party plug-in if you have the money.


Once you have your two images open them both up as layers in Photoshop, we now have to create our displacement map which will be used to distort the flag to make it look like it is painted onto the subject. To do this select your subject layer and convert it to black & white using Image->Adjustment->Hue/Saturation (CTRL+U). Next we need to increase the contrast of the image using levels, and also blur the image, Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur, and set the radius to somewhere between 5 and 10. This blurred black & white image will be used to distort the flag image later.





Once we have a blurred, high contrast black and white image you need to save a copy of this image as a .psd file, call it map or something similar. Now we need to undo the last few steps removing the blur and the levels adjustment before the clever stuff happens.




Ddmap_4uplicate your background image so you have one copy below the subject and one copy above it. Now with the top flag layer selected go to Filter->Distort->Displace and you will see a dialogue box like this, set the horizontal and vertical scale to around 25 and click OK.You will now be presented with an Open file dialogue box, this is where you want to open your map.psd file. This will now distort your top flag layer around the displacement map image and the flag will look a distorted in the shape of your image.



Next we need to create a mask, to do this hold CTRL and click on the subject layer, this will select the cut out image.Now click on the top displaced flag layer and then click the Add layer mask icon. Now you should have a nice masked cut out of your flag in the shape of the subject.dmap_5


With the top layer still selected change the layer blending mode to Multiply or Overlay, which ever one you think looks better. Also reduce the Opacity down to around 60-70%, again the exact level is all down to personal preference. It helps to add a little gaussian blur to this layer too, a radius of around 2 or 3 will do.



Things should now be looking  lot more like our final image, you can adjust levels on our subject layer to add a little contrast to make things look better. To make the background make a little more realistic you can transform it a little, making it slightly bigger and moving it a bit off centre, also add some gaussian blur to this layer, try a radius of around 15-20. All of this will help to give a greater sense of depth and realism to the image.


Hopefully I haven’t missed any steps out, as I only learnt how to do this last night thanks to a fantastic video on youtube by Gavin Hoey

Leave a Reply