By Kirk Nelson

Final product image

What You’ll Be Creating

Adobe Photoshop is the premiere photo manipulation tool of our time—few people would dispute that. But do you need more to finely hone that craft?

If we were to compare photo manipulation to carpentry, then photos and pixels would be the raw wood, and Photoshop would be the woodshop. But those individual tools used to shape and form the material into something special? Those saws, sanders, drills, planes, and routers? That’s the equivalent of these resources.

Let’s take a look at some of the essential resources for a photo manipulation artist.


Brushes are one of the most used resources in Photoshop. There’s no better way to add specific marks to an image in exactly the spot you want. Custom brushes are ideal for breaking an image away from the perfect computer-generated appearance and closer to something you’d expect to see in reality.

Smoke Brushes

Cloud Brushes

Closely related to smoke brushes, cloud brushes can provide an easy means of crafting airborne vapor to create stunning landscapes. Be sure to use a good variety as obvious repetition will destroy the illusion.

Cloud BrushesCloud Brushes

Light Effects

Lighting effect brushes are a specialized set that may not be used regularly. But when you encounter the situation that needs them, it’s a massive time saver to already have a set of brushes to use instead of needing to craft the effect manually.

Light EffectsLight Effects

Ink Scratches

Much of a photo manipulator’s job requires adding realistic and believable wear and tear to a digitally generated surface. Having a set of dirty, scratchy brushes is just one way to make that task easier.

Ink ScratchesInk Scratches

Bird Silhouette Brushes

If you are working on a landscape, or an image of something the size of a building, one of the best ways to communicate scale is to use bird silhouettes. But if you don’t have to draw them, then it’s easier and faster for you to get back to focusing on the primary subject. These brushes are excellent for that.

Bird Silhouette BrushesBird Silhouette Brushes

Dust Brushes

In the real world, dust surrounds us. In the digital world, it doesn’t appear naturally at all. Use these dust brushes to add some of that dusty reality to your digital work.

Dust BrushesDust Brushes

Snow and Rain Brushes

Creating convincing weather effects can be a challenge if you are attempting to craft them by hand. But with this wide assortment of snow and rain brushes, the task is really quite easy.

Snow and Rain BrushesSnow and Rain Brushes

Dirt Brushes

These brushes are a step up from the dust brushes and offer a selection of really dirty and grimy effects that can add a distressed appearance to any digital surface.

Dirt BrushesDirt Brushes

Grunge Brushes

These grunge brushes are another excellent resource for messing up the place. Very high quality, high contrast, dramatic grunge effects.

Grunge BrushesGrunge Brushes

More Grunge Brushes

These brushes are more subtle and refined. And unlike the other sets of brushes, these are expected to be used as more than just a stamp.

More Grunge BrushesGrunge Brushes

Metal Sparks

When metal strikes metal, it often creates a spark. That’s an excellent visual indicator that contact has been made. Use these brushes to easily craft the spark effect.

Metal SparksMetal Sparks

Fog Brushes

At first glance you might think that adding atmosphere is just a simple gradient. But, in reality, fog behaves much more like a flowing liquid. Use these fog brushes to give realism to your atmospheric work.

Fog BrushesFog Brushes

Electrical Lightning Brushes

These electrical brushes are great for when you need to create a lighting strike, or a ball of energy. They produce much more realistic effects than any filtering trick you can produce inside Photoshop.

Electrical Lightning BrushesElectrical Lighting Brushes


Textures are similar to brush resources but are used slightly differently. Textures can generally cover more canvas space than brushes, and they offer the advantage of carrying color information while brushes don’t.

Stone, Concrete, Plaster Textures

These textures are excellent for nondescript backgrounds or to cover over areas in an image that need a bit of concealment.

Stone Concrete PlasterStone, Concrete, Plaster Textures

Scratched Concrete Textures

These scratched concrete textures are ideal to layer over a pristine surface, and then you can use a blending mode to combine the textures with the surface colors.

Scratched Concrete TexturesScratched Concrete Textures

Seamless Grass Textures

One of the challenges of filling an area with digital grass is getting the scale correct and still filling the expanse. These grass textures tile seamlessly so they can be set to a custom pattern and used to quickly fill a ground area without worry.

Seamless GrassSeamless Grass Textures

Bokeh Textures

Aren’t Bokehs beautiful? Our photographer brethren shouldn’t get all the fun of these breathtaking specks of blurry light!

Bokeh TexturesBokeh Textures

Natural Rock and Stone Textures

The textures created by natural rocks and stones are quite useful to break up a distractedly pristine surface. The fact that these tile seamlessly is icing on the cake!

Natural Rock and Stone TexturesNatural Rock and Stone Textures

Luxury Leather Textures

Similar to rock or concrete textures, leather textures are ideal for adding some surface textures. These Luxury Leathers are perfect for human crafted items like book covers or handbags.

Luxury Leather TexturesLuxury Leather Textures

Shattered Glass Textures

If you’ve ever attempted to draw out a shatter effect, you will realize just how valuable these textures are for creating realistic broken surface effects.

Shattered Glass TexturesBroken Glass

Water Textures

Craft your own sea all the way to the horizon with this high-quality water texture set.

Water TexturesWater Textures

Hand-Stained Paper Textures

This gorgeous set of hand-stained paper textures is a great way to add gritty realism to any paper or parchment elements. They are also excellent for creating an overlaying effect.

Hand Stained Paper TexturesHand-Stained Paper Textures

Scratched Metal Textures

These textures are a favorite of 3D artists to use as materials on 3D surfaces. But they are equally useful for photo manipulation projects where you need to give an item a metallic sheen.

Scratched Metal TexturesScratched Metal Textures


There is no bigger time-saving feature in Photoshop than Actions. If you’ve been using actions just as a way to make it quicker to resize images or change color modes, then you haven’t even scratched the surface of the true potential of these tools.

Premium Action Set

This HUGE set of premium actions contains some of the best finishing effects you will ever need. All at the touch of the Play button! Don’t waste time trying to create your own high key, or aged HDR effect. Just use an action and let Photoshop do it for you.

Premium Actions SetPremium Action Set

Image Enlarger Action

Anybody who has done any extensive work with pixels understands the inherent limitations of the medium. Those limitations are no more apparent than when attempting to enlarge an image. That’s why actions like this Image Enlarger can feel like sorcery. There are still limitations, but this action pushes those back beyond what was previously possible.

Image Enlarger ActionImage Enlarger Action

Soft Focus Action

Pair this Soft Focus action with the Bokeh brushes for a truly dreamlike effect that can make even a mediocre photo appear like something special.

Soft Focus ActionSoft Focus Action

Luminosity Masks

This valuable action doesn’t do anything to the actual image. But what it does is build in controls to easily adjust specific tonal values within your image. This makes it simple to get seamless control over shadows, highlights, midtones, and more!

Luminosity MasksLuminosity Masks

HDR Photo FX

The HDR effect has seen a bit of a downturn in popularity recently, but with 25 different effects at the touch of a button, this action allows for some fine subtle HDR effects that are a great way to finish off your image.

HDR Photo FXHDR Photo FX

Background Removal Pro

How much time have you spent trying to extract a figure or object from the background? Once you use this action, your answer will be “too much.” This includes two options: a rapid remover for white backgrounds and an intense remover for colored backgrounds.

Background Removal ProBackground Removal Pro

Magic Retouch Pro

This action provides professional-level portrait cleanups at the touch of a button. This is hugely beneficial for working with model shots you want to comp into your photo manipulations.

Magic Retouch ProMagic Retouch Pro

Dispersion 2 Effect

This action is an update from the same author’s original dispersion effect. This one works even better than the original and creates an energetic effect that would take hours to create otherwise.

Dispersion 2 EffectDispersion 2 Effect

Double Exposure Effect

The double exposure effect is enjoying quite a bit of popularity recently. It’s not excessively difficult to produce by hand, but this action makes it extremely simple so you don’t have to.

Double Exposure EffectDouble Exposure Effect

Dodge and Burn Action

There are so many methods for dodging and burning in Photoshop that it’s hard to keep track of which one is currently considered the best. This action takes that guesswork out of the process.

Dodge and Burn ActionDodge and Burn Action

Natural Post Processing Actions

This action is a no-nonsense method of providing very natural finishing effects like sharpening and color boosting. All with stops to provide easy means of tweaking the effect to match your needs.

Natural Post Processing ActionsNatural Post Processing Actions

Isolated Objects

A major component of photo manipulations is having a robust library of natural objects to composite into a scene. Usually these are just regular ordinary types of objects that won’t draw attention but can be used to populate a background.

Isolated Tree

Trees are always a great element to have on hand. The biggest problem is that if you repeat them too often it becomes obvious, so you need to have a good library of different types. This is great starting place with a very basic large tree.

Isolated TreeIsolated Tree

Isolated Tree

A somewhat smaller, fuller, and greener tree works as a complement to the larger one.

Isolated TreeIsolated Tree

Isolated Tree on White, Oak (Quercus)

This is a great option for a tree that has to work with a bright daylight scene as there is obvious shadowing. Just be sure it matches the lighting of the overall scene too.

Isolated Tree on White Oak QuercusIsolated Tree on White, Oak (Quercus)

Isolated Tree on White, Willow (salix)

Differing types of trees help to fill out the library. This willow tree is helpful to break up the monotony of the elms and oaks.

Isolated Tree on White Willow salixIsolated Tree on White, Willow (salix)

Isolated Young Tree

It’s a mistake to assume all the trees in a scene will always be large and mature trees. It’s better to include some young saplings too.

Isolated Young TreeIsolated Young Tree

Isolated Hands in Variety Styles

Hands are always a challenge. Often a figure in a photograph has their hands in just the wrong position to work. That’s why having a library of alternate hand positions and gestures is helpful.

Isolated Hands in Variety StylesIsolated Hands in Variety Styles

Isolated Smartphone

Smartphones are everywhere now. Having an isolated one to mock into a photo manipulation will be more helpful than you think.

Isolated SmartphoneIsolated Smartphone

Isolated Hand Holding Smartphone

And of course, having a combination of a hand and phone is just as helpful as having each one individually.

Isolated Hand Holding SmartphoneIsolated Hand Holding Smartphone

City Skyline

City skylines are a good way to add depth to a landscape and give the impression of distance. While this element is clearly 3D rendered, it can easily be used as a silhouette against a sky.

City SkylineCity Skyline

Unfinished Building Construction Site

The iron bars, girders, and lattice work of this image means that it can be just as useful as a source for a destruction setting too.

Unfinished Building Construction SiteUnfinished Building Construction Site

Isolated Grass

Create easy low-angle cameras by putting the virtual camera into the grass.

Isolated GrassIsolated Grass

Isolated Laptop

Similar to the smartphone, a laptop is a ubiquitous object that can be found in almost any populated setting, whether it’s for business or at a cafe.

Isolated LaptopIsolated Laptop

Isolated Photo Frame

Polaroid cameras are not as common anymore, but the paper photo frames they produce are still well recognized.

Isolated Photo FrameIsolated Photo Frame


Backgrounds are intended to be overlooked by the viewer. But for the photo manipulation artist, the background is just as important as the rest of the elements, possibly even more so as it sets the tone of the piece.

Scratched Background Modern Grunge With Lighting

Instead of just a blank background, this pack offers a colorful, textured setting that can complement the scene without taking attention off the subject.

Scratched Background Modern Grunge With LightingScratched Background Modern Grunge With Lighting

Web 2.0 Background Pack

This pack is a little more energetic and colorful than the other entries, but can be used for an exciting surreal piece.

Web 20 Background PackWeb 2.0 Background Pack

Photo Studio Backgrounds

Classic, white studio backgrounds. They will never go out of style.

Photo Studio BackgroundsPhoto Studio Backgrounds

Clean Floor Reflective Background

This type of background is mostly used for product shots but can also be used as reflection maps for shiny elements within a photo manipulation.

Clean Floor Reflective Background Clean Floor Reflective Background

Mountain and Sky Backgrounds

If you need dramatic background settings, there are few things more dramatic than a colorful sunset over the mountains.

Mountain and Sky BackgroundsMountain and Sky Backgrounds

Mountain Backgrounds

To add even more drama, add more mountains! You can almost feel the rush of cold mountain air in this crisp, colorful mountain background.

Mountain BackgroundsMountain Backgrounds

Beach Background

On the opposite end of natural backgrounds, sometimes you just need the ocean horizon and sandy shore that this image offers.

Beach BackgroundBeach Background

Red Theater Curtain

Assigning a description of “dramatic” to this well-used background is a bit like cheating. But the classic red curtain on a stage is a staple background for any photo manipulation artist.

Red Theater CurtainRed Theater Curtain

New York Skyline

Big buildings on a colorful sky. When that’s what you need, there’s no substitute for the real thing.

New York SkylineNew York Skyline

Brick Wall

This image is the urban equivalent of the red curtain. The great thing about the bland colorization of the bricks is that it makes it easy to add custom colorization to get the exact hue you need.

Brick WallBrick Wall

Green Park

Outside in the park. Grass, trees, sunshine. You can already imagine the scene you can build with this image.

Green ParkGreen Park

Powerful Backgrounds

This collection of energy and electrical backgrounds is ideal for incorporating into science fiction settings.

Powerful BackgroundsPowerful Backgrounds


Along with the tools needed to create photo manipulation effects, it’s important to have the skills to wield them. These free tutorials are a great place to start honing those skills.

How to Create a Misty Landscape Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop

Moody and magical, this tutorial has some excellent atmospheric techniques to learn.

How to Create a Misty Landscape Photo Manipulation With Adobe PhotoshopHow to Create a Misty Landscape Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop

Create a City Destruction Scene Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

This effect is a frequent one for post-apocalyptic settings. Learn how to digitally destroy buildings.

Create a City Destruction Scene Photo Manipulation in Adobe PhotoshopCreate a City Destruction Scene Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

Photo manipulation is one of the few art forms that can really unlock the imagination of the artist. This tutorial is a prime example of how to capture those surreal visions with pixels.

How to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in Adobe PhotoshopHow to Create a Surreal Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

How to Create a Surreal Underwater Scene With Adobe Photoshop

The real value of this tutorial is showing how to incorporate the areas both above and below the water surface in a believable way.

How to Create a Surreal Underwater Scene With Adobe PhotoshopHow to Create a Surreal Underwater Scene With Adobe Photoshop

Create Unique Rust and Distress Effects in Adobe Photoshop

Build a robot and bang it up with this tutorial on using rust and distressing effects.

Create Unique Rust and Distress Effects in Adobe PhotoshopCreate Unique Rust and Distress Effects in Adobe Photoshop

How to Add Realistic Falling Snow to a Photo in Photoshop

Weather effects are fun and challenging. This tutorial shows how to bring the winter home by crafting some fresh falling snow.

How to Add Realistic Falling Snow to a Photo in PhotoshopHow to Add Realistic Falling Snow to a Photo in Photoshop

Create a Post-Apocalyptic Movie Poster in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign

Some of the best applications of photo manipulation techniques are found on movie posters. This tutorial explores how to craft one with striking results.

Create a Post-Apocalyptic Movie Poster in Adobe Photoshop and InDesignCreate a Post-Apocalyptic Movie Poster in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign

Create a Surreal “Parting of the Sea” Photo Manipulation

Create fun and impossible scenes by putting elements together that reality keeps apart. Perform digital miracles with this parting of the sea tutorial.

Create a Surreal Parting of the Sea Photo ManipulationCreate a Surreal “Parting of the Sea” Photo Manipulation


For more in-depth instruction of photo manipulation techniques, try these courses. The courses have the benefit of being video-based, and you can see exactly how the effects are produced.

How to Create a Surreal Scene With Photo Manipulation

This course features some excellent compositing work and techniques to match several elements into a single cohesive scene.

How to Create a Surreal Scene With Photo ManipulationHow to Create a Surreal Scene With Photo Manipulation

Using Light and Shadow in Photo Manipulation

Understanding light and shadow is a critical skill when crafting a believable photo manipulation. This course explores all you need to hone that skill.

Using Light and Shadow in Photo ManipulationUsing Light and Shadow in Photo Manipulation

Advanced Adobe Photoshop Techniques

Create grand, epic, surreal scenes with this course on advanced Photoshop techniques.

Advanced Adobe Photoshop TechniquesAdvanced Adobe Photoshop Techniques

Advanced Photo Manipulation for Advertisements

Advertisements have a very specific requirement for how the product should look. Learn how to work with those requirements in this course.

Advanced Photo Manipulation for Advertisements

Photo Manipulation Fundamentals

This course is an excellent primer on how to approach some of the basic tasks required for Photo Manipulation artwork.

Photo Manipulation FundamentalsPhoto Manipulation Fundamentals

Fluid Photo Manipulation: Transform, Warp, Liquify

Craft a fun caricature using the power of the transform, warp, and liquify features in Photoshop. Learn how with this course.

Fluid Photo Manipulation Transform Warp LiquifyFluid Photo Manipulation: Transform, Warp, Liquify

Creative Lighting Effects in Adobe Photoshop

Controlling light in a photo manipulation project is about more than just shadow agreement. This course explores some creative applications of lighting effects.

Creative Lighting Effects in Adobe PhotoshopCreative Lighting Effects in Adobe Photoshop

Advanced Retouching Techniques for Advertisements

Advertisements need to grab attention. Frequently that’s through photo manipulation and retouching. See those techniques in this course.

Advanced Retouching Techniques for AdvertisementsAdvanced Retouching Techniques for Advertisements

Mastering Blending Modes for Adobe Photoshop

Blending modes are a workhorse feature of Photoshop that can do what other features can’t. All without fuss or ceremony. Learn their power here.

Mastering Blending Modes for Adobe PhotoshopMastering Blending Modes for Adobe Photoshop

Selections and Masking in Adobe Photoshop

Nobody enjoys making difficult selections in Photoshop. It’s even less fun when those selections turn out poorly. Learn how to make good selections, even of difficult elements, in this course.

Selections and Masking in Adobe PhotoshopSelections and Masking in Adobe Photoshop

What Other Resources Do You Use?

I’ve listed quite a few resources here. But there’s even more out there. Let me know in the comments what resources you use for your photo manipulation work.

Read more here:: Essential Resources for Photo Manipulation Artists