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Photography: Create a Glitch Effect Photo


A glitch, in the world of IT and audiovisuals, is nothing more than an error, a mistake that we didn't foresee that negatively effects the products functions. From this, we have what is known as glitch art, that uses these technical errors to obtain an artistic result, turning those imperfections into works of art and even into a video effect, as we might see in movies like Saw.

Even though glitch art is a great container where we might place most images associated to this effect, we might find other more mainstream images that clearly take advantage of this, like with Vaporwave. You can see below an image by Heitor Magno, that illustrates what glitch art can be defined as.

In this tutorial, we're going to learn to make a simple glitch effect in Photoshop with which you can give your images a super cool look! Are you ready?

Preparing our document

A really important step is to choose a good image to work with (a great option is to choose an image that has a background that's not going to distract us too much, maybe in a solid color). For this tutorial, I've used a photo by  Lalo Ferres, a photographer from Malaga, that I'm going to recommend you check out, and who has agreed to lend us his photo for this tutorial. You can download the photo here. In any case, I'm also going to say that you can investigate other options and try this with other photos.


Firstly, we should create a new document with the measurements of the image we're going to use. After, we're going to click on File → Place embedded. Another option is, if you have the document open, to simply drag the image on to it. 

This is the most conventional option to embed our image, but I prefer to go to the file where the image is, right click on the image and then → Open with → Adobe Photoshop.

Step 1 — Convert the image into a smart object

Smart objects keep the original content of the image with all of its features in such a way that it allows us to edit the layer we're on without being destructive. It's very important, not just for this tutorial, but for all of your work flow in general, for you to get used to making non-destructive photo edits, and for this reason, smart objects are an essential element.

If you included the image with using the "Place embedded" option, the file will already have been included as a smart object in Photoshop (something you can see in the icon that shows up in the bottom corner of the layer we just added). If you've opened the image with the second method, you'll need to right click on the layer → Convert to smart object.

Once we have this done, we'll see the different methods to do this exercise.

First steps

Step 1

Firstly, with our layer selected, we're going to go to Image → Settings → Hue/Saturation... (or we can press Ctrl + U) and we're going to lower the image's saturation to -100.

Step 2

We can click on the smart object and duplicate the layer dragging it over the "new layer" icon in the Layers panel, or by pressing Ctrl + J.

Step 3

Now, in the second copy of the image, we're going to go into the panel Layer Styles. To open that panel, we can do it in different ways. On of these ways is to click on the button in the tool bar of the Layers panel and clicking on Blending Options, although I normally double click on the layer to open it.

Once we're in the Layer Styles panel, deactivate the red channel of the image, unchecking the box, and keep the blue and green channels activated.

Step 4

We'll move the top layer a little to the left or to the right to see how this would show our image with a blue and red outlines, due to the offset of this layer. 

TV Scanline

Now, to give this effect a little more realism, we're going to add in some lines that are going to simulate the ones old televisions used to generate due to the scan line. With this, we're going to give our image the appearance of having some kind of error as the images are out of their place. For this, we're going to create a new layer in white.

We're going to click on Layer → New Fill Layer → Solid Color... And we're going to choose white. Once we've created this layer, we're going to go to the Layer Styles panel and we're going to activate "Pattern Overlay".

We're going to choose the pattern that you can see in the image and we're going to put the scale at approximately 900%. I think that this intensity is going to be sufficient, but you can always play with this and try out different combinations to see how they look. If you want to go along seeing how the effect is going to look, don't forget to have the preview box checked. When you're ready, press OK.

We're going to select this layer, we're going to lower the opacity to 33 % and we're going to set the blending mode to Overlay. This blending mode overlays the pattern above the existing pixels at the same time that it keeps the highlights and the shadows without affecting the color on the bottom layer, but always respecting the values in brightness and darkness.

Create a linear distorsion

Step 1

Now we're going to select all of the layers and we're going to create a group. This is something you can do with all of the layers selected by right clicking → Group From Layers...; or, also, with all of the layers selected and clicking on the folder icon that we can see in the Layers panel.

Step 2

We're going to select our group, we're going to duplicate it pressing Ctrl + J and we're going to create an inteligent object by right clicking → Convert to Smart Object.

Step 3

We're going to select the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) and, on the layer above, we're going to create rectanglular frames with the shape that we want for our glitch. Once we've selected any of these, we're going to select the Move tool (V) and we're going to move this fragment of the images with the directional keys.

Just as we can see below, we have our group with the image without the glitch, we're not going to see any blank spaces when we move the image (you can test this when you look at the transparent spaces when you hide the layer below).

Step 4

Although this wouldn't be ideal, once you've made your first selection, you can add in more by holding Shift. This way, we'll be able to move more than one at the same time. Remember to hold Shift after you make your first selection and not before because, if not, what the Rectangular Marquee tool is going to do is select in a square shape.

Step 5

Something that works really well with this style of image is to apply a subtle wavy effect on the spaces where we applied the glitch. This can be achieved with the wave distorsion filter. With our selections of the glitch rectangles ready, we can click on Filter → Distort → Wave...

Repeat these last steps until you get that effect that you're looking for. And there you go, there we would have our image with a glitch effect on it, to enrich our portfolio.

Error 404! — Glitch found

And we're done! As you can see, this is kind of a question of experimenting with this; so, yeah, try out the tools and the resources, and share this with us in our projects tab. If you have any questions, don't even doubt on asking them in the tutorial's forum.

What’s your opinion of this tutorial?

Carlos Mérida Benamrane
Carlos Mérida Benamrane
Carlos Mérida BenamraneAdmin

Currently I'm a video editor for Tutpad. I have a degree in Media Studies from the University of Malaga and a certificate in Editorial Design. I've worked as an events videographer and editor for various companies, applying my knowledge in video, typography and the recording process.


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