How to Create a Galaxy-Themed Wanderlust Composite in Affinity Photo

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

Today we will be creating a wanderlust-inspired galaxy image using Affinity Photo—perfect for those of you out there who crave adventure! 

We will be going over how to use a mixture of adjustment layers and layer modes to help us achieve that ultra-colorful galaxy color scheme and intense lighting that will represent our love for all things travel! 

What You’ll Need

You will need the following resources in order to complete this project:

Find more great resources on Envato Elements!

1. How to Extract a Subject With Long Hair 

Extracting hair is one of the most meticulous parts of photo compositing, and with there being so many different options, none of which are foolproof and work on every image, it can be a bit overwhelming.

Luckily, I have worked out a solid base technique that has yet to fail me!  

Step 1

Drop the main subject image, the Girl looking out from a car window, onto our canvas. 

Canvas Settings

  • Size: 6720 px by 4480 px
  • DPI: 300
stock image

Step 2

Create a New Layer below the subject layer. Fill the layer with pure Black using the Flood Fill Tool. 

This will help us with getting a good clear look at our hair after we extract it. 

Step 3

Use the Selection Brush Tool, or the Pen Tool, to select the area of sky in the left and right car window. 

Ignore the hair for now. 

Step 4

Add a Layer Mask to the subject layer.

Fill in the selections with Black to mask those areas out using either the Flood Fill Tool or the Brush Tool. 

Use the Smudge Brush Tool set to a low Strength to blur out any of the edges that look too sharp. Keeping the original image’s depth of field is important!

extract windows

Step 5

Once you’re happy with the windows, make a rough selection of the hair strands using the Freehand Selection Tool. 

No need to be precise. 

Step 6

Hit the Refine button located in the top of the Freehand Selection Tool toolbar. 

Using the refine brush, drag the brush along the edges of the hair strands. They will become filled in with red. 

Everything filled with red is what’s not being selected, so we want to only select the sky so we can remove it. 

Step 7

Fill in the selection with Black. 

Use a mixture of the Smudge Brush Tool and the Paint Brush Tool to further refine the layer mask by hand. 

I like to use the Smudge Tool to add movement and the Paint Brush Tool to mask in parts I do want or to mask out parts I don’t want.

Don’t worry about any leftover sky/background showing in the hair strands!

extract hair

Step 8

Create and nest a New Layer inside the subject layer. Set its layer mode to Overlay. 

Using a white Brush, paint white on the highlights of the hair.  


Step 9

Repeat the previous step, only this time set the layer to Soft Light. 


Step 10

Create and nest a New Layer into the subject layer. Paint solid white onto the subject’s hair stands. 


Step 11

Create a New Layer below the subject layer. 

Using a small, soft, round Brush, paint white stands of hair to further add to the existing strands. These do not need to be hyper-realistic, just strands of light!

paint highlights

Step 12

Hide the black background layer.

Right-Click > Duplicate and then Right-Click > Rasterize the subject layer to make a flat copy of her and her hair.  

Drag the duplicate layer below the subject layer. 

Enlarge it significantly and then position it so that the duplicate and original hair mesh and blend. This will create longer and fuller hair for our subject. 

add more hair

Step 13

Use the Erase Brush Tool to erase any part of the car that is showing in the duplicate hair image. 

Fill the Hair layer with white using a Color Fill Layer Effect to completely blend the hairs together.

Use the Smudge Brush Tool to create movement. Do this by clicking and dragging on the hair strands. 

final layers

2. How to Create a Swirling Galaxy Background

Next, we will be creating our galaxy-inspired background using just two stock images! 

Step 1

Our base image will be the Night sky with stars and sea.

Place and adjust the night sky background behind our subject. 

add night sky

Step 2

Duplicate the night sky layer. Bring it above the original layer. 

Set the layer mode to Soft Light.

soft light

Step 3

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer above the soft light night sky layer. 

Color Balance Settings

  • Red: 55%
  • Green: -57%
  • Blue: +100%

Group all of the background layers together into a group named “Background”.

final layers

3. How to Create Glass and Reflections 

Next up, we will be adding a windshield to the car, along with some extra hair lighting!

Step 1

Create a New Layer, bringing it below the subject layer but above the “Background” group. 

Paint a light wash of light over the windshield area using white. Bring the Opacity of the layer down to 50% if needed. 

paint white gradient

Step 2

Repeat step 1, painting a light wash of light directly behind the subject’s hair. 

paint white light

Step 3

Create a New Layer. 

Paint three soft, white stripes going down the middle of the windshield, angled to the left. 

Duplicate this layer to further intensify the stripes if needed. 

paint glass sheen

Step 4

Create a New Layer. 

Finish up the glass by painting a light wash of light around the border of the windows and adding more light behind the subject’s hair. 

Group all of these layers together into a group named “Car Lighting”.

final layers

4. How to Light and Color a Subject in Space

Now for the fun part, adding some color and lighting to our subject so she fits into her spacey environment! 

Step 1

Create a New Layer and nest it inside the subject layer, below all the other nested layers. Set the layer to Overlay.

Use a large, soft, round Brush to paint white light on the edges of the car windows.

paint light

Step 2

Copy the night sky background and nest it inside the subject layer. Set the copied night sky layer to Soft Light at 50% Opacity. 

duplicate background

Step 3

Create a New Layer and nest it inside of our subject layer, placing it below all other nested layers. Set the new layer to Overlay. 

Use a small white Brush to enhance the highlights of the subject’s face, arm, and hair. 

add light

Step 4

Create and clip a Curves adjustment layer into the subject, again placing it below all other nested layers. 

Curves Settings 

curves settings
final layers

5. How to Add a Quick Colored Glow to Any Photo

To finish up the lighting, we want to add some bounce light and glow coming off our subject. We want more than just pure white light so that the image doesn’t end up looking too washed out and flat.

This is a really quick way to add vivid light to any photo!

Step 1

Create a New Layer above all previous layers. Set the layer to Screen.

Using a large, soft, round Brush, paint purple #FF03AA and blue #4938FF blobs of light around the model. 

Focus the color onto her back and around the areas where light is shining through the most, such as her neck, her arms, and around her hair. 

Also, add some color around the edges of the windshield. 

paint light

Step 2

Further increase the glow by duplicating the original glow layer. Set the duplicate layer to 50% Opacity. 

Add a Gaussian Blur (Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur, set to 100 px) to diffuse the duplicate blur. 

duplicate light

Step 3

Drag and drop the stars in deep space stock image onto your canvas, above all other layers, placing it across our subject’s body. Set the layer to Screen and 73% Opacity. 

Add a Layer Mask and then, using a medium, semi-hard, round brush, mask out any hard edges. 

add stars

Step 4

Duplicate the stars in deep space stock image, bringing it above the original. Fill its layer mask with 100% black. Set the duplicate layer to Color Dodge. 

Using a medium, semi-hard, round brush, mask back in the stars on the duplicate layer to brighten them. 

Try to only mask back in the stars, without the nebulae. 

final layers

6. How to Create a Quick but Vibrant Color Grade

Finally, we will be adding an all over color grade effect to bring everything together and add both color and contrast to our image. 

This is one of the quicker ones, but it works great when you just want to punch up the colors and contrast of an image! 

Step 1

Create a Split Tone adjustment layer above all previous layers.

Split Tone Settings 


Step 2

Below the Split Tone layer, create a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. 

Brightness/Contrast Settings 

  • Brightness: 6%
  • Contrast: 51%

Group the two adjustment layers together into a group named “Color Grade” or “CC” for color correction. 

final layers

We’ve Done It!

There you have it: a slew of quick tips and tricks on how to create a vibrant, wanderlust-inspired photo composite, galaxy and all!

You’ve learned that sometimes it’s not about the number of steps or layers, but instead how effectively you use them! Creating simple lighting using a mixture of Screen, Overlay, and Soft Light layer modes is one of my favorite quick tricks to add an intense pop of light to a piece. Especially when layered on top of each other, they are extremely effective!

So, as always, keep experimenting with different techniques and practicing, and don’t forget to post your version below! Do you have any questions, comments, or critiques? Post them down below as well! 


Looking to learn more? I recommend the following tutorials:

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *