Erik Johansson creates realistic photos of impossible scenes — capturing ideas, not moments. In this witty how-to, the Photoshop wizard describes the principles he uses to make these fantastical scenarios come to life, while keeping them visually plausible.



Have you ever used Photoshop? Do you know what it can be used for?





  • retain – continue to have (something); keep possession of
  • capture – record accurately in words or pictures
  • figure out – discover, determine
  • consider – think carefully about (something), typically before making a decision
  • pit – a large hole in the ground
  • come down to – (of a situation or outcome) be dependent on (a specified factor)


Think about it

Answer the questions below. For answers pause at times indicated in brackets.

  • To Erik’s mind, what was the difference between drawing and photography? (0:52)
  • What does Erik understand by “realism” in his pictures? (1:42)
  • What does Erik say about our brains and how they interpret reality? (3:05)
  • What three rules does Erik say are crucial for photographs to look realistic?  (4:15)
  • What does Erik say about finding a location and making one? (5:10)


Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the correct forms of the words in CAPITAL LETTERS.

So I wanted to create something _________ DIFFER, something where the process starts when you press the trigger. Photos like this: ________ CONSTRUCT going on along a busy road. But it has an ________ EXPECT twist. And despite that, it retains a level of ________ REAL. Or photos like these — both dark and ________ COLOR, but all with a common goal of retaining the level of realism.


Fill in the blank spaces with the missing words. Use ONE word per blank space.

________ I say realism, I mean photo-realism. Because, of course, it’s not something you can capture really, but I always want it to look like it could ________ been captured somehow ________ a photograph. Photos where you will need a brief moment to think to figure ________ the trick. So it’s more about capturing an idea ________ about capturing a moment really. [ . . .]

So ________ first rule is that photos combined should have the same perspective. Secondly, photos combined should have ________ same type of light. And these two images both fulfill ________ two requirements — shot _________ the same height and in the same type of light. The third one is about making ________ impossible to distinguish where the different images begin and end ________ making it seamless. Make it impossible to say how the image actually was composed. So by matching color, contrast and brightness in the borders between the different images, adding photographic effects like depth of field, desaturated colors and noise, we erase the borders between the different images and make it look like one single image, despite ________ fact that one image can contain hundreds _________ layers basically.


Explore it more

30 Perfect Photos You Won’t Believe Aren’t Photoshopped

Erik Johansson’s Website