The Portal: An Affinity Photo Editing Tutorial


The following tutorial shows you how to turn a perfectly nice image into a dramatic, spooky scene.

You'll learn how to use some basic and advanced Affinity Photo features, and have fun doing it!

While following the tutorial, you can click on the images to view a larger version in a new window or tab.

You can also learn this technique by watching our YouTube video below, or directly on YouTube.

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If you'd like, you can download the Affinity Photo project, to help you follow along.


Open a photo. Start by creating a Vignette filter by clicking the Live Filters icon, and then Vignette Filter.

Bring the Exposure slider all the way down to -4 and set Hardness to about 20%

Bring the Scale slider up so the Vignette effect is at the edges of the screen - about 150% for the photo in the sample project.

Adjust the shape filter so that the shape of the Vignette matches the shape of your photo. In the sample project, we've gone with 62% since this photo is more rectangular.

By default, the Vignette Filter effect will be created as a layer inside the default Background layer. Drag it outside and above the background layer.

Add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment by selecting the Adjustments icon, then Brightness and Contrast. We'll be using this Brightness/Contract adjustment to make the center of the scene brighter. Move the newly created Brightness/Contrast layer below the Vignette layer. Doing this prevents the Vignette from being affected so much by the Brightness/Contrast adjustment.

Using the slider, increase the Brightness to 24%.

Make sure the top (Vignette) layer is selected, and add an HSL adjustment by clicking the adjustments icon, then HSL. Using the slider, bring the Saturation down to -80% (minus 80). Shortly we will be bringing the colours back by targeting specific colours.

Notice that the dropdown menu at the top of the HSL dialog currently displays "Master". This means we have just used the master control to de-saturate all of the colours in the photo. Next, we are going to select specific colours to saturate.

Open the dropdown menu, and select Reds. Bring the Saturation slider to 55%.

Use the Hue slider to bring the reds more towards brown. The textbox next to the Hue slider should display -18.1 (minus 18.1).

Select Greens in the dropdown menu. Bring the Saturation slider all the way to the top, 100%.

Now we're going to add some orange and teal. For this photo, we're going to use the Channel Mixer to achieve the effect. It a nice, quick method that will suit this particular photo.

Select the Adjustments icon, and then Channel Mixer.

Select the Blue channel on the dropdown menu.

In the text boxes next to the sliders, enter the following values:

The orange and teal look has now been applied, but it's a bit overdone for this photo. Using the Opacity slider at the bottom left of the Channel Mixer dialog, bring the opacity down to about 34%, to reduce the effect.

That's it for orange and teal. Next, we're going to make the photo look much more dramatic.

Select the Adjustments icon, and then Shadows / Highlights.

The Shadows / Highlights adjustment is normally used to increase the shadows and decrease the highlights. But for this photo, and for this effect, we're going to be using it the opposite way around. This will add drama, and detail - especially in the highlights.

Using the slider, bring the shadows all the way down to -200. You should notice straight away that the image looks much more dramatic!

Using the slider, bring the highlights all the way up to 200.

You should notice that the photo now has deep, detailed shadows and bright, detailed highlights. If you're using the sample project, you may notice that the wall detail is much more clear, and the scene has a "grunginess" effect.

You may want to make this effect even more prominent. Create another Shadows / Highlights filter by repeating the previous Shadows / Highlights steps, but this time, bring the opacity down to 11%, by using the slider at the bottom left of the Shadows / Highlights dialog.

Next, we're going to make the light in the tunnel glow, almost like some kind of doorway to another dimension!

We'll be using Blend Ranges for this effect. Click the Layer Menu at the top, then New Fill Layer. Make sure the layer is black, by selecting black in the colours panel. This will help us see what we're doing later on.

Move the fill layer to the bottom of the layers, this creates a black background behind all of the layers.

On the layers panel, right-click the top layer, then left-click Merge Visible. We now have a single layer at the top of the layers stack that contains all of our adjustments. In PhotoShop, this is known as a stamp layer.

Turn off all layers apart from the top layer (the one we just created) and the bottom layer (the black background layer). You can do this by right-clicking on the second-from-top layer, then holding shift and left-clicking the second-from-bottom layer, then unchecking one of the ticked boxes next to one of the selected layers.

Click on the layer we selected earlier (the merged layer), click the little cog in the panel above. The Blend Ranges dialog for this layer will appear.

Blend Ranges are a little outside the scope of this tutorial, but basically they enable you to change the opacity of a layer, based on the luminance.

For this tutorial's effect, we are going to reduce the opacity of the dark colours, while leaving the lighter colours as they are.

In the Source Layer Ranges grid, drag the first point all the way down, and five eighths plus a tiny bit more across, as in the following image.

Close the Blend Ranges dialog, make sure the top layer is still selected. Click Select on the top menu, and then click Selection From Layer. This creates a selection based on the layer's luminance. The brighter parts of the selection will be more visible, and the darker parts of the selection will be less visible.

Make a copy of the selection by pressing Ctrl+C, and then Ctrl+V. You will now have a new layer with the doorway. Its dark parts are invisible, and its lighter parts are fully visible.

Turn off the second layer down (our merged pixel layer).

Turn off the selection with the little red slash icon on the menu at the top.

Now it's time to turn back on our original working layers. As before, click the first one (currently the third one down), hold shift, and click the last one (currently second last). Then click one of the currently-not-ticked tick boxes next to one of the selected layers. This will turn them back on, and the ticks will re-appear.

Select the very first layer in the layer's stack, and click Filters in the top menu, then Blur, then Gaussian Blur. At this point you can see this tutorial's effect already taking place.

We want to bring up the intensity of the effect, so, using the slider, set the Blur radius to around 50px. We've gone with 52.2px.

You may like to bring the overall brightness of the photo down.

Click the Live Filters icon, which looks like a sand timer, then select Live Shadows / Highlights. This should not be confused with the Shadows / Highlights adjustment layer used previously in this tutorial. This Live Filter gives you much more control.

The filter will be created inside the top layer, drag it outside and above the top layer.

Using the slider, set Highlights Strength to 11%. This will have the effect of slightly reducing the brightest colours in the photo.

Congratulations, you've completed the tutorial!

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