Erik Johannson on creative retouching in Photoshop

The leading creative discusses Photoshop pranks, self-education and "random acts of creativity".

Erik Johannson is a creative from Sweden who uses photography and retouching to create surreal images. "To me, photography and retouching are equally important," he explains. "I just see it as two parts of the same process."

Using Photoshop as an important part of his workflow brought Johannson to the attention of Adobe, and he's since done a number of collaborative projects with the brand, most recently the 'Living Poster' part of the 'Random Acts of Creativity' series which is all about spurring spontaneous moments of creativity in everyday life; 'It's always a lot of fun because they give me a lot of creative freedom,' he smiles.

The Living Poster will premiere on Monday 14 July as part of the Create Now World Tour session on Digital Imaging which is being streamed on Creative Bloq from 7pm.

One of his best known projects was last year's Photoshop Live prank at a Swedish bus shelter. Hiding in a van across the road, a team secretly took photos of unsuspecting members of the public before handing them to Johansson to work his magic – with the resulting pictures appearing on a special ad panel in the bus shelter.

The hilarious images placed complete strangers sharing a kiss on a wedding cake, in movie-style posters and more, as you can see in the video below.

We caught up with Johannson and asked him about his creative process and what he thinks of Adobe Creative Cloud 2014….

Did you ever imagine your Photoshop bus stop prank would become so popular?

It was an experiment. We didn't really know how it would turn out. We just had a lot of fun and it all came together really well. People seemed to like the results.

How did you develop the idea?

It was a collaboration between me and an advertising agency. We talked a lot about how we could actually put this together and what would work best. And what would be possible to do when you just have a couple of minutes as people are waiting at the bus stop.

Can you tell us a little bit about the 'Random Acts of Creativity' series that you’re involved in with Adobe?

When I create my work I usually put a person in the picture as a way of helping people to imagine that they're actually in the scene. I think that makes it more interesting. But it's much like a still from a dream, it's never moving in any way, it's frozen in time.

With this project I wanted to try to give this concept another dimension. That you can not only have a person in the picture, but also have them actually interacting with what’s in it. That was what I wanted to try and achieve here.

Is your work heavily storyboarded or is it a more organic process?

My process is divided into three different steps. It always starts with planning and coming up with ideas. Then it's about collecting the material, which is basically just shooting everything I need to put it together. And then it's just putting the pieces of the puzzle together in Photoshop.

I think the planning and inspiration, that's really the most important part. And then the process itself is quite straightforward.

How did you learn Photoshop originally?

I've been working in Photoshop for quite a long time now. I'm mostly self-taught. When there's something I don't know I just search for a tutorial. I think the best way of learning Photoshop is by experimenting and actually learning how to use the tools in your own way.

Do you have any favourite tools?

I think people think I'm a Photoshop magician. But it's really a quite straightforward process.

It's a lot about stacking images on top of each other and then you're just using masking and brushes and adjustment layers to make it all come together in a nice way. So it's a combination of planning and magic.

What's your favourite piece and why?

When it comes to my work, my favourite example always has to be: 'The Next One'. I'm very self-critical and I find it quite hard to look at stuff I've done because I can always see all the small parts that I can improve. So I think 'The Next One' has to be my favourite.

Where do you find your inspiration?

To me, inspiration is not really about going to a special place to find something. It's more about just getting into the creative mode and trying to see a connection between things that normally don't really go together. And trying not to think in a logical way also helps.

I'm very interested in transitions between different materials. It's a lot about just trying to find something common in the different things that you want to combine.

What tips would you offer someone working in Photoshop?

Something that I always try to do when I create a new picture is just to take a step back and try to think: what could this have looked like if it was really captured. So looking at pictures, searching for images on the web just to try to get some kind of point of reference is important. Sometimes it’s good just to leave the picture for a while and try to come back to it.

And finally, do you have any advice for someone looking to get into photography, illustration, on a commercial level?

Try to do as much personal work as possible. I still do a lot of personal work and I really see it as a creative investment. It’s really the best way of doing the stuff that you want to do and that will benefit the kind of assignments you will get as well.

The Create Now World Tour session on Digital Imaging is being streamed on Creative Bloq from 7pm. Click here to watch it live!

Watch tonight's live stream at 7pm BST