In this Photoshop tutorial, we’re going to walk through the many different ways to create this pixel dispersion fragmenting effect to make your model or object look like it is bursting into little particles and pieces.
We’ll look at quickly cutting out the subject of the photo (whether it’s a person, a car, a building, or anything,) masking to create the effect, adding elements to fake depth and give the image a 3D look, adding the spinning tornado effect (mine in this video didn’t turn out too well, but you’ll get the point when you see me do it) and doing all the color effect work to make this image look really, really cool.
Getting Started: Widen the Image
We need to add width so we have an area to paint our fragmenting dispersion effect. We will do this by unlocking the background layer (double click on it) and then go Image>Canvas Size and set the width to about double what your image is right now.
I also chose the canvas size to push from the left to the right so the image would extend out to the right.
Fill the Background
Grab the Rectangular Marquee tool and drag out a selection over an area of just the gray background to the right of our model. Go Edit>Content-Aware Scale and drag this out to the right to fill in the transparent area and extend the background.
Note: It probably doesn’t look all that great even with Content-Aware Scale because you’re still going to be stretching the pixels a fair amount. We’ll be blending a lot with this background so it shouldn’t matter.
Cutting Out the Subject
There are a wide number of methods you can use to create a decent selection around your subject. I used the Quick Selection tool and then entered the new Select and Mask workspace and edited and refined my selection to get an OK selection.
Note: You don’t need a perfect selection, just something that is close. A great selection is awesome, but not necessary either.
Duplicate Layers with Model
Now that you have your selection around the subject, you may want to right click within the selection and choose “Save Selection” and save this as a channel so we can quickly load it layer on in the tutorial. With her selected, I will hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to pop her up onto a new layer, and then I’ll hit Cmd/Ctrl + J again to get a second copy of her.
I also added a layer mask to both layers by going Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All for each layer.
Stretch or Liquify or Clone to Bring the Pixels Over
Shut off the top copy of the girl by clicking on the eyeball icon in the Layers panel. Select the lower of the two model layers, and then go Filter>Liquify. Use the Forward Warp tool and drag the dress over to the right as I have done in my screenshot.
Commit this Liquify change and then select the mask on this layer and fill it with black. This will hide all the liquify changes we just made.
Find Great Brushes
Go to a website like Brusheezy and find some great grunge or fragmentation brushes and download them and load them into Photoshop.
Mask the Edge of Your Model Away
Select the top-most of the two model layers, grab one of the new grunge/fragmentation brushes that you downloaded, and gently click a few times along the right side of the girl to start “cutting away” at her body.
Mask the Liquefied Layer In
Select the mask for the layer that we applied that Liquify filter to earlier, and use a slightly larger brush and click a few times to bring back fragmented bits of dress color to the open area of our image to the right of our image.
We now have the first part of our fragmentation effect in place.
Tip: It can be a good idea to use a large brush when you’re closer to your subject and make the brush smaller as you get further away so the debris floating off of the subject will look like it’s breaking up as it drifts further away from your subject.
Make Some Bigger Debris
Duplicate that liquefied layer and drag it to the top of the layers stack. Refill the mask with black as well.
Grab another brush, but make sure it is much larger and paint a couple times around the middle of your subject. We’re trying to begin building layers of debris that would be spinning around her or breaking away differently than the other debris.
Copy Bigger Debris Layer and Blur
Duplicate that somewhat larger debris that we just made, use Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to scale the debris up a bit larger, and then go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and blur around 4-6px depending on the size of your image and the size of your debris.
Set this layer to the blend mode: Screen and reduce the layer’s opacity to 85%.
Duplicate that Debris and Blur TONS
Duplicate that debris/fragmentation layer and Free Transform it again, but this time scale it up 300-500% to make it really big and then blur it 50-70px to make this debris look like it’s right in the foreground of our image to fake depth between where the camera is sitting and where our subject is standing. Mask away any larger bits of debris that block our your main subject if needed.
Tip: Use a soft-edged brush or blur your mask again after you mask away some of this larger, blurrier debris.
Bonus Tip: Adding the Spinning Blur Effect
Adding this effect requires you to merge all of your current layers to a new layer using the very long hotkey Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt/Opt + E, converting it to a Smart Object, loading up your saved selection by going Select>Load Selection, and then Inversing that selection by going Select>Inverse.
See how I apply a path blur to this smart object in the video above for a much better visual example of how it works. Check out the 35:19 mark in the video to see exactly how I did this.
+85 Vibrance Adjustment Layer
Add a Vibrance Adjustment Layer and boost the vibrance of the image +85.
Pump Blacks, Midtones, and Whites with Selective Color
Add a Selective Color Adjustment Layer and check out the Blacks, Midtones, and Whites from the drop down menu. Use the sliders to add blues, add magentas, and add reds.
Tip: Red is the opposite of cyan, green is the opposite of magenta, and blue is the opposite of yellow. Use the sliders to push or pull those colors.
Boost the Contrast
Add a Curves Adjustment Layer and add a slight “S” curve in your curve line just as I have in the screenshot here.
Finalize Rich Colors with Color Balance
Add a Color Balance Adjustment Layer and again pump the different areas of your image in the drop down menu with Red, Magenta, and Blue.
Tip: You can add some yellow and green into the highlights of the image if it makes your image look better.
About the author: Nathaniel Dodson is a young web designer and commercial photographer specializing in music, business, and athlete portraiture. You can find many more of his tutorials through the tutvid website or by subscribing to tutvid on YouTube. This tutorial was also published here.