2.5D Parallax Effect Tutorial in Photoshop

I was asked by my friend Nadia El Ferdaoussi from www.thedailyself.me to put together a series of my pictures and bring them to life using the 2.5D Parallax Effect in Adobe Photoshop. We both really loved the result so I’ve made a beginners guide to the 2.5D Parallax Effect in Adobe Photoshop for those budding content creators to make their own magic.

The ‘Anime-like’ Parallax effect is an interesting one that takes a still photograph and brings it to life using subtle movements of the foreground and background. I used Adobe Photoshop’s Timeline feature to convert my image selections into a video. The 2.5D Parallax Effect it works best when your images have a clear foreground subject against your background.

With the effect you can create a panning effect, a zoom effect or a combination of both.

2.5D Parallax Effect in Adobe Photoshop CC Tutorial

In this tutorial I will be using one of my pictures of the beautiful Elif Tanverdi from www.cizenbayan.com practicing yoga in the British Virgin Islands while I was shooting with The Soul Sail, www.thesoulsail.com in April 2016.


Selecting your Foreground Element(s):

With your background layer selected, use the Pen Tool if you want to draw freehand or use the Magnetic Lasso Tool in the Tools Panel to carefully trace around the edge of your foreground subject(s). Make sure you don’t include any of the background elements in your selection.

Close your path by right clicking and choose “Make Selection” and apply a 5 pixel feathering option to eliminate the selection’s hard edge. Copy and paste this selection onto a new layer.

You can see from my image that the foreground element is Elif in her yoga pose and the grass immediately around her. The sea, island and sky will be my background element.

This is by far the most tedious step in the tutorial, if you nail this your are on the home stretch.

Removing the Foreground Element(s) from the Background Layer:

Double click the background layer to make it a Workable Layer. With the background layer now selected, hold the Command Key and click the foreground layer’s thumbnail above to load the foreground layer’s selection onto the background layer.

With the background layer selected go to Select > Modify > Expand and enter 10 pixels to give Photoshop some room to move. Next, go to Edit > Fill and make sure the option is set to Content Aware and wait for Photoshop recreate the background where the foreground element is. 

As you can see from the above, the result from the content-aware fill isn’t perfect but this step will help disguise those background areas where the foreground selection exposes when it moves from its original position during the animation (which I will get to later in this tutorial).

If the Content Aware Fill is not ideal, I suggest using the clone stamp tool to make adjustments to the background layer.


Bringing your photo to life using the Zoom 2.5D Parallax Effect:

Ensure both foreground and background layers are visible and create a new Photoshop document. I want it to be a traditional movie aspect so I chose a 1920x1080 pixel document size, 72 pixel resolution, 8-BIT RGB Colour Profile. These options are entirely up to you, as I know all the people on Instagram have historically stuck to a square ratio.


Next, go back to the original picture document and select both layers then click and drag them into the new ‘video’ document you just created. Select each of the layers individually and choose ‘convert to smart objects’ from the right-click menu. This option will allow you to scale the image down without affecting the image quality. 

Next go to Window > Timeline

Make sure you create a Video Timeline NOT a Frame Animation. 

The next steps will be setting up key-frames at the start and end of the timeline for each layer to give a zooming effect.  

Make sure the play-head is at the start of the timeline and then click the drop-down arrow for background layer and click the little stopwatch icon to set a key-frame under the transform option. With the key-frame selected, Transform (Command + T) the layer and then hold SHIFT and click to scale the background to fill the majority of the frame dimensions.

Next with the background layer still selected, move the play-head to the end of the timeline and click the little key-frame icon again to set a new key-frame position. Again, transform (Command + T) the layer but this time scale up the background image slightly. 

Photoshop will automatically morph the image between those two key-frames to give the zoom effect to your background. Cool, huh!?

The image above is transforming my foreground layer for the beginning key-frame shown by the yellow diamond on the timeline.

Next, repeat the previous steps with your foreground layer but this time with the play-head at the start of the timeline transfer the key-frame layer up/larger. With the play-head at the end of your timeline, set a new key-frame and Transform the layer smaller/down.

In summary to give the Zoom effect, the Background layer is getting larger (small to big) and the Foreground layer is getting smaller (big to small). SIMPLE!

Press the play icon in the timeline to get Photoshop to render the transitions between the key-frames. It may be a little jumpy on the first go but from the second play onwards it should be super smooth.

This step if the most creative part of the tutorial. Feel free to have a play around with your start and end key frames of both layers to shorten/lengthen their movements including their direction. 

Finally, export your timeline to a video by going to File > Export > Render Video and choose the YouTube preset if you have the Adobe Media Encoder installed otherwise the H.264 format is fine as shown below. 

And that is the basic way to create a zoom Parallax Effect using Photoshop. From there you can add music to create a nice Parallax montage.

So in summary, here are the following key steps:

  1. Make your foreground selection and paste it to a new layer (your new foreground layer)
  2. Content-aware fill the background layer using your foreground layer selection
  3. Paste both layers to a new document and convert to smart objects
  4. Using the timeline feature add key frames at the start and end of the timeline for each layer
  5. Transform each layer at these keyframes to direct the Parallax movement.

Final Note:

You can experiment with the type of effect by adjusting each of your key-frames to slide left to right at different scales to make the panning Parallax effect or use a combination of both. The important thing is to reverse or adjust the foreground and background layers. 

Remember: subtlety is the key here, anything too drastic will look weird. 

I hope you enjoyed my tutorial on bringing your photos to life using the 2.5D Parallax effect. There are plenty of video tutorials on YouTube should you want to see things in more detail, I recommend you check this one out by Chris Spoon from http://blog.spoongraphics.co.uk: