Man with red jacket jumps in air, multi-colored circle extends from his left hand to right foot Man with red jacket jumps in air, multi-colored circle extends from his left hand to right foot

How to Make a Stretch Effect in Adobe Photoshop

Joe Cavazos stretches the limits of his compositions with a technique he calls “circular pixel stretch.” See how he creates this look using selections and Polar Coordinates in Adobe Photoshop.

Joe Cavazos is an independent artist and graphic designer based in Mission, Texas. Learn more about Cavazos in this artist profile.

Man with red jacket jumps in air, multi-colored circle extends from his left hand to right foot

Take a one-minute look at Cavazos’s process in this video; the steps are written out below.

BEFORE YOU START

Use this sample file if you’d like, or practice with your own.  

STEP 1: JUMP INTO THE SCENE

Add a photo of a model as a new layer to a Photoshop document. Then, add a blank layer above the Background layer, right-click and convert it to a smart object.

Adobe Photoshop layers panel shows 3 layers, canvas shows man with red jacket jumping in the air

STEP 2: MAKE IT INTERESTING

Cavazos selected the Jump layer and used the Single Row Marquee tool to click an interesting spot in the image. Then he copied the selection.

Adobe Photoshop toolbar with single row marquee tool selected, canvas shows man jumping in the air

STEP 3: STRETCH IT OUT

To apply the stretch effect, Cavazos double-clicked the smart object layer to open it, and pasted the selection. Next, he used the Move tool, with Show Transform Controls enabled, and rotated the selection 90 degrees. He used Shift+Alt (Windows), Shift+option (macOS), and dragged to stretch the selection, moved it to the top, and saved the effect before closing the Smart Object window.

Adobe Photoshop move tool selected, Show Transform Controls is checked, canvas shows rectangle of multi colors stretched

STEP 4: CIRCLE IT

With the Smart Object layer selected, Cavazos applied the default Polar Coordinates (Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates) to transform the horizontal stretch effect into a circular one.

Filter menu expanded with Distort option and Polar Coordinates selected

STEP 5: ADD STREAKS OF LIGHT

Cavazos spends much of his time adding streaks of color to the stretch effect. He used a Marquee tool to select a portion of the model and added the selection to the Smart Object. In the example below, he chose a portion of the shirt, stretched it, then used the Eraser (set to a soft brush) to blend the effect. He repeated these steps to add more color to the stretch transformation.

3 panels – rectangle marquee selection of green shirt; selection is stretched; selection blended into polar coordinates stretch composition

STEP 6: HIDE THE REST

To complete the composition, Cavazos added a layer mask to the smart object layer and painted on the mask with a black brush to hide portions of the stretched effect.

Toolbar shows brush tool, canvas has man jumping; polar coordinate composition erased around legs and left hand; layers panel

WRAP IT UP

Now that you know how to spin your images into entirely new works of art, apply your own finishing touches with drop shadows, adjustments layers, and color grading.

Final image of man jumping with polar coordinates composition behind him