Dreams that seem real can keep us thinking for days. Mexican photographer and digital artist Felix Hernández creates dreamlike worlds that make us think. Take a closer look at how he combined photos of a scene he built in his studio with his subtle use of Adobe Photoshop to make us wonder what happened on a snowy night in the middle of nowhere.

Snowstorm on a tabletop

To set the scene, Felix has to take a trip to his pantry and his sons’ toy box. In his studio, he uses flour to create a snowy landscape. A bit of dried dill, properly placed, gives the effect of tire tracks in the snow. Finally, some cigarette smoke, more flour, and a tabletop fan create the illusion of a blustery winter wind. With the props in place and the studio lighting set up, Felix takes a series of photos of the landscape and its extreme weather conditions.

4 images - 1: Strainer, dill, & flour; 2: Strainer sifts flour on car; 3: Felix adjusts snow; 4: Felix blows smoke into scene

Caught in a blizzard

For the weather swirling around the car, Felix imports six different photos of the car, each in various phases of the storm. Some photos show the car with a light dusting of snow, while others show the wind, in the form of smoke or flour, being blown in from different directions.

Felix uses a layer mask and reduces the opacity to create realistic lighting through the car windows. He continues to use layer masks on the weather layers to paint himself out of the scene and to reveal the wind and fog. He reduces the opacity on other layers to create the right visibility for the winter scene conditions.

Image preview shows car in snow, Layers panel has 6 layers with layer masks on 5, 1 mask for windows, 3 for fog, 1 for storm

Forest fading into the background

Felix creates a wintery forest background from a stock photo. First, he imports the snowy tree image, then applies a Black & White adjustment layer and adjusts the color channels to refine the tint. Felix then applies a gradient layer mask to blend the trees into the background and adjusts the Levels to tweak the tone and color balance. Finally, he paints with black on the mask to blend the edges of the photo into the scene.

To fill the view of the horizon, Felix duplicates the tree image, scales it down, and moves it to the left to create the illusion of depth and perspective of the forest. Again, he paints on the mask to blend the edges of the image and reduces the layer opacity.

Image preview shows car in snow, Layers panel shows Black & White adjustment layers applied to trees

Headlights and high beams

In another creative use of stock imagery, Felix imports two images to create the effect of headlights turned on. He takes the first image, a beam of light in the starry sky, and adjusts the Levels and Hue/Saturation to his liking. For the second, light shining through wisps of smoke, he tweaks the Curves and Levels to achieve the desired look of headlights glowing through fog and snow. 

For the headlights, Felix rotates and scales the constellation image, adds a horizontal motion blur, reduces opacity, and stretches the image horizontally. He finishes the headlight layer by setting the blend mode to Screen. To create the simulation of high beams, he does a similar manipulation to the smoky light image layer.

4 stages to add headlights from an image of a light beam with added rotation, motion blur, lower opacity, & ‘screen’ blending

Fingerprints on the glass

For a touch of mystery, Felix imports a frosty handprint and adds it to the back window. He rotates and scales the hand, then moves it into place. To blend the effect, he adjusts the Levels for the hand layer and creates a clipping mask, sets the Blend Mode to Soft Light, and readjusts the Levels. Then, he adds a layer mask and paints with a black brush with a lowered opacity to blend the edges of the handprint photo. Finally, he applies a Gaussian Blur to create a grittier effect to match the scene of the ice and snow on the window.

4 stages to add handprint image to car window – rotation, Levels adjustment, ‘Soft Light’ blend mode, Gaussian Blur

Vignetting and a bit of color

Felix adds finishing touches to set the overall mood of the composition. A vignette helps draw the viewer’s eye, and a bit of color adds ambience to the backdrop. To create a similar vignette, you can apply a Gradient Overlay to the layer, set the Blend Mode to Multiply, adjust the Opacity, choose a Gradient preset, and tweak its settings. Use some layer adjustments to apply color correction.

Before/after slider showing car in snow, then with forest, vignette, and Gradient Overlay added for final result Before/after slider showing car in snow, then with forest, vignette, and Gradient Overlay added for final result

About Felix Hernández:

Felix Hernández lives in Cancun, Mexico — what he calls paradise on earth for him, his wonderful wife, and two amazing sons. Whether he’s working or playing, he’s creating. Felix is a director and partner in a small creative firm and simultaneously runs his own studio, Hernández Dreamphography.

He studied graphic design in college at a time when there were no computers or digital cameras, so he learned digital manipulation and photography through a series of workshops, tutorials, and a lot of trial and error.

While working at smaller firms, he didn’t have the luxury of a big budget to hire high-end photographers. So he became one himself and brought his own ideas to life.

His interest in design started as a kid, and his imagination has stayed strong through the years. As a child, Felix was always drawing, playing with clay, and building things. He spent his free time sketching furniture and car designs, drawing airplanes, and drawing up plans for his dream house, complete with a movie theater and bowling alley.

He says it’s a blessing and a curse that just about everything inspires him — from music to books to movies, to the many talented creators who display their work on Behance. As is the plight of many artists, he has so many ideas, but not enough time to see them through.


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