Being able to heavily manipulate and warp your images is not necessarily an essential skill to learn, but its applications are far reaching, from product photography, weddings, portraits, swimsuit – the options are endless really. It’s also quite fun, and generally simple once you know what you’re doing.

Puppet Warp is one of the main tools to use if you’re going to heavily manipulate the shape of an object. It allows you to make large adjustments to one area while leaving another relatively intact. While the Liquify tool is fantastic, you’ll struggle to make significant changes; moving an arm, bending an object, stretching, and so on.

That’s where Puppet Warp comes in. Puppet Warp creates a mesh across your image, and by placing points on the mesh and moving them, you can make significant alterations. In practical terms you could; move an arm, correct a head tilt, lengthen legs, completely re-shape objects and so on. There are so many things you can do with this.


How To Use Puppet Warp

Before we get going, lets quickly run through the various options on the Puppet Warp bar. Firstly, to access Puppet Warp go to Edit > Puppet Warp. Puppet Warp cannot be done on a blank layer, so if the option is grayed out, that’s probably why. The Puppet Warp bar contains the following options:

Mode – Determines the strength of your adjustments. For large adjustments use Distort and vice versa. I find Normal is fine for most tasks.

Density – This controls the spacing of the mesh. The more tightly spaced the mesh is, the more precise control you have. The only downside is an increase in processing time.

Sometimes you may run into an issue where Photoshop says you need to increase the number of available points. This happens when your pins are too close together for the mesh selected. In that situation, increase the Density to “more points”.

Expansion – Either increases or decreases the outer area of the mesh. See the photo below for an example of the mesh.

Show Mesh – Show or hide the actual mesh

Pin Depth – If you were to cross two points, this option allows you to determine which point would be in front and which behind.

Rotate – Allows you to enter a precise number for pin rotation, rather than doing it manually.


Essential Keyboard Shortcuts For Using Puppet Warp

I’m all about keyboard shortcuts. Whether you’re moving through Lightroom, editing in Photoshop (or any other program), shortcuts make the whole experience feel far more intuitive. They can take some time to learn but, believe me, it’s worth it.

With Puppet Warp there are a couple of essential shortcuts to learn:

1) Hold Alt / Option and move your mouse over a pin to bring up the rotation options
2) Hold Alt / Option and click on a pin to delete it. Or press Delete to remove the currently selected pin
3) Hold shift to select multiple pins. This is very useful for moving large sections

To help this concept sink in, I’ve found a couple of videos on Puppet Warp. The first is from Blue Lightning TV and does an excellent job of demonstrating the tool. It also raises an important point, although does not dwell on it for long; masking. While in some situations you can warp the entire image (white background for example), if you’re trying to manipulate an element within a scene, you will need to mask that element out first and place it onto a new layer.


In this 2nd video from Phlearn, Aaron Nace shows us another popular use for Puppet Warp. As you’ll notice, Aaron didn’t need to create a mask around his subject as there is no detail in the background.

Some Practical Examples Of Using Puppet Warp

Now you know what Puppet Warp is and how to use it, here are a couple practical examples. As has been demonstrated, we can use Puppet Warp to make some fairly significant changes, however, the alterations we make don’t need to be so severe. You can make very subtle adjustments to our images which can have a huge impact.


In the photo above, you can see a self-portrait I took while testing a portable lighting set up for headshots; clamshell lighting if you’re interested. Please ignore the fact that it is slightly soft. Aside from the softness the shot is pretty good, and, for once, I don’t look too bad; thanks to ‘the squinch’ and leaving some space between my lips. Anyway, I have no issue with the head-tilt but if it were for another purpose then that significant of a tilt could ruin the image. Never fear, we can easily fix this using puppet warp.



By placing a few points in positions that I don’t want to move (the shoulders etc.) and then placing one in the centre of the neck, an axis point where the body would tilt from, we can easily correct that tilt. Remember, hold Alt or Option and hover your mouse over a pin to bring up the rotation controls.


As you can see, Puppet Warp has allowed us to seamlessly correct the head-tilt. I’m sure many of you can think of a million instances where this could come in useful. An example like I have given, with a solid background, will be the easiest, however, with some decent masking you could apply this same technique to any image.


Using Puppet Warp To Unleash Your Creativity

I’ve been using Puppet Warp a lot lately within my product photography. I’ve been taking shapes like splashes and clouds, manipulating them, and adding them as elements in photos. My most recent creation involved creating clouds within a fish tank, as you can see above, and then using Puppet Warp and Liquify to turn these clouds into wings. You can see the final result below.


Evidently, a lot more than Puppet Warp went into the creation of those shapes, but it was a key element, and yet another example of this type of work can be seen in my last article. In that, I explain in detail how I created a high-end cosmetics shot incorporating paint splashes.



Starting off with RAW splashes like the one you see above, taken from the Photigy Splash Pack; find that here. I used Puppet Warp and all the techniques mentioned here to transform the shape into something suitable for the shot; with plenty of other editing as well.


Puppet Warp Summary

As you may be able to tell, I really like Puppet Warp. It’s a lot of fun to use and can have a dramatic impact on your photos. I hope this has encouraged you to give it a try for yourself. Whether it be some subtle adjustments within your portrait work, or something a little more significant and creative elsewhere, don’t ignore Puppet Warp any longer.

If you like the look of my test shot above be sure to read the article that explains the lighting setup. It’s so simple to achieve and produces some lovely images, click here. Once you’ve read that, you may find yourself wanting a little more lighting education. If that is the case, then be sure to head over to the SLR Lounge Store and check out Lighting 101 and 201. Both are excellent resources where you will learn a ton of useful information.