Today’s article is a guest post from Nick Williams, see more info about Nick below.

Applying Displacement Techniques to Portraits
This tutorial will show you how to create an image with a displacement technique, which is commonly used for movie posters and similar media. The first thing you are going to want to do is to open up a portrait image, I just got this one of Hilery Duff from the Internet (no it wasn’t my desktop background). You are then going to want to cut out the face of the portrait – this does not have to be perfect.

Displacement with photoshop

Once you have cut the face out of the portrait you should place it onto a black background.


After you have done that you will need to apply a layer mask to the layer to do this go to Layer – Layer Mask – Hide All. Then grab the paint brush tool and paint in white over the area of their face, you could use a feathered brush at this stage like in the picture below but depends if you want a soft or hard edge. And then duplicate the layer.


Now select the original layer and you will want to apply these two adjustments to it, the first one being a shadow/highlights adjustment and you will want to set it the same as I have set it below. The next one is a curve adjustment and you will also want to set it to how I have set it. Both these adjustments can be found in Layer – New Adjustments Layer.



Once you have applied your adjustments you will want to select the layer mask on the copy you just created and use the paint brush tool with a low opacity of about 20% this can be found just above the Layer panel and just paint in some highlights.


Now you will want to lower the opacity of those 2 layers so you can still slightly see them. You will want to grab the pen tool and start to make selections of part of their face, we are going to make it look like her skin and features are layered on top of each other so make sure you keep the first selection away from her eyes and mouth but when you have drawn you shape hit Ctrl+ Enter and then copy and paste it into a new layer. We are going to want to do this a couple of times for each shape but you should make sure that the next shape is under this one and is slightly bigger than the one before.

photoshop displacement tutorial

Now you will have a couple of shapes but they are all the same colour and you can’t tell the difference between the different shapes so you will want to select the layer which contains the first shape you created which should be the one on top of the others. You are going want to double click on the layer and this will bring up the layer style window below or under the layers panel you will see a couple of icons look for the one which is an F and an X and click it and choose from that list. At the bottom of the list on the left hand side you will see something labelled drop down shadow you will want to click on this. Now you can set it to whatever you like depends what sort of look you want, you can also change the angle of the shadow depending on that angle you image is at.


You will need to carry on doing this for the rest of the face I would suggest doing it all in separate sections, Have the left check as on section, then right check as another and the forehead as another the do each eye separately, next do the nose as another and finish of with the mouth. Once you apply a drop down shadow to all of the shapes you should have something which looks like the image below. After doing this I would group them together.


Once you have done this I would hide those layers so you can only see the layers which have the layer mask on it. Now we are going to do the same thing we just did to create her face but on a smaller scale.

So all you want to do is grab the pen tool and draw little shapes on her check then hit ctrl + entre and the copy and paste them into another document. This will be going behind her face and this is the main part of the displacement effect. You will want to keep some of these shapes as skin color but most of them you will want to change the color of them I went for bright colors so you could see what I was doing.

You will want to place the shapes you created behind the face and have them also coming out from behind the face. This is where you could make it look like it is disappearing. As you can see I wasn’t happy with the shape of her face here so I needed to change it. You will want to create some curvy lines like I have done, this makes it look more fluid.


Now all you need to do I carry on adding those shapes and lines to the image until you are happy with how it looks. You might want to add some lighting to it or another effect but I’m happy with how this one looks so I’m just going to leave it there.


Nick works on Acuity Training’s Photoshop courses at their London & Guildford locations. When not
teaching others; Nick spends his time learning to code and thinking about writing short stories.