Create a crash scene in Photoshop

Welcome! Today we look at the methods and techniques of creating a science fiction scene. We will also consider the technique of combining stock images, the creation of light effects, the technique of selecting objects such as smoke. This lesson is useful as a basis for learning, and many of the techniques from this lesson will expand your knowledge and help you create more interesting and beautiful works!

Stages of the lesson

In this lesson we will practice creating a natural landscape. I always wanted to try my hand at such a project in the hope of later sharing my experience with you. I used Photoshop CS6, but most of the tutorial can be done with any other earlier version of the program.

First, I will show you my technique of selecting objects and talk a little about the sequence of the workflow. Then I will show you how I create more complex objects such as smoke and fire.

In conclusion, we will master the entire image. There are many different ways to enhance the effects, and I hope that this lesson will become the basis for your works, which will be more vivid and expressive. I also tried and used source images that you can download for free, so everyone will be able to complete this lesson. However, in some places I used separate paid images, so I suggest that you independently select suitable source images with which you can replace paid images.

Final result


Step 1

Let’s start by creating a new document, let’s go File – New (File> New). When setting the image size, I prefer to use the dimensions just above the standard settings, so that it is easier to print the image later. I also advise you – always try to work with the document at a resolution of 300 pixels / inch (Pixels / Inch) or higher. If necessary, it is very easy to zoom out during a lesson, but it is very difficult to zoom in on an image at low resolution.

Step 2

Continue further, open the first source image with the climbers. This is a pretty large low resolution image, as if it was scanned from an old photo. However, using some techniques, we can use this image. In this image I like the feeling of scale and the leading line of climbers walking along the mountainside.

Step 3

So let’s cut the mountain and sky in the background. To improve the control over the elements of the composition, we will insert additional images to perfectly combine all the elements of the scene. Being on a layer with climbers, we go Layer – Layer Mask – Show All (Layer> Layer Mask> Reveal All).

Using the layer mask, we can process the layer on the layer mask (a white rectangle is located next to the layer thumbnail in the layers palette). On the layer mask, you can hide and restore fragments of the image using a white and black brush. I hope you are familiar with the work of the layer mask, because we will use it when working with each image now and further.

Step 4

To create contour lines and stroke areas that we hide, I used the tool Pen (pen tool). In this image with climbers, there are a lot of white and similar shades that cannot be effectively distinguished using the tool. Fast selection (quick select tool), and create the exact selection we want, so using the tool Pen (pen tool) create an outline around the mountain and the sky in the background, as shown in the screenshot below. As soon as you create the contour, right-click on the created contour and in the appeared window select the option To form a selected area (Make Selection). Next, a window will appear asking you to set the degree Feathering (feather), in this case, I used the value 0.

Step 5

Being on a layer – a mask and not removing the active selection, you can paint over with a black brush on the layer mask to hide the mountain and sky. Using the same layer mask, you can restore hidden fragments at any time, saving pixels during editing. The result should be as in the screenshot below.

Step 6

Open the original image with the Stone Bridge. Do the same, separate the images of the bridge from the background. But here we face another problem: this image of a stone bridge does not look realistic or does not quite fit our snowy scene. Being on a layer with a stone bridge, we go Image – Correction – Black and White (Image> Adjustments> Black and White) to get rid of the bright orange color. Next, we will correct the color shades.

Step 7

For tone correction, I prefer to use correction Levels (levels), for this we go Image – Correction – Levels (Image> Adjustments> Levels) and with the help of a small correction we can improve the result, which at least will look realistic. Pay attention to the technique in the process, I often use clipping masks.

Simply create them, all you need is to right-click on the layer and select the option in the window that appears. Create clipping mask (Create Clipping Mask). A clipping mask will only be applied to the layer below.

Thus, it will allow you to create adjustment layers and add textures, the effect of which will affect only one layer. In this case, we want to correct the stone bridge, not the correction of the snow scene in the background or the layers that will be located below (the layer with the stone bridge is located below the first layer with the snow scene).

So, we continue further, add the original image with the mountain, separate the mountain from the background using a layer mask. To the mountain layer, add adjustment layers as a clipping mask. Play with the settings to get the result you want.

Step 8

Let’s tidy up the layer palette. When working with multiple layers, you can get confused while working, so now it is advisable to group the layers and give each group a color code (I will show the color code in the screenshots below later in this lesson). To do this, just hold down (Shift) + select the layers you want to group, and then press the keys (Ctrl + G).

You can also create a group by clicking on the selected layers with the right mouse button, and in the window that appears, select the desired option. In the layers palette, you can see a layer called Stamp (Clone Stamp) on top of all other layers. Using tool Stamp (Clone Stamp), I hid the image of a little man in front of a stone bridge. This tool is very easy to use, and a quick Google search will help you learn everything about this tool! Now back to our landscape, let’s add the sky to the background, including the atmospheric phenomenon, we can create both elements of the composition with one photo!

Open the image with the original image of the Clouds. Place one image with clouds below all layers, and the second image on top of all layers, as shown in the screenshot below.

Place the bottom layer of clouds below the adjustment layers. Black – White (Black and White) and Levels (Levels) (the settings of both layers are set to auto (auto)). To create an atmospheric phenomenon, we use the top layer with clouds, to do this, rasterize the layer (right click on the layer and in the window that appears, select the option Rastrirovat (Rastersize)), and then we go Filter – Blur – Gaussian Blur (Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur), as well as Filter – Blur – Motion Blur (Filter> Blur> Motion Blur).

Set the settings for these filters, which are shown in the screenshot below. Change the blending mode for this layer to Lightening (screen) and then decrease the value Opacity (opacity) to create a truly natural mist. In fact, it should be barely noticeable, but it will add a sense of realism to the whole picture.

Step 9

I also want to add a sense of distance and volume to the mountains in the background to enhance the image a bit in addition to the light fog effect. For this, using a brush with opacity (Opacity) 20%, hide the part of the image with the mountain on the layer mask as shown in the screenshot below.

In this way, we will create a feeling as if the clouds are approaching the mountain, adding a real sense of volume to the image. For the sake of creating a compositional scene, I reflected the image with mountains horizontally, and then made a correction Levels (levels) so that the brightness of the mountains corresponds to the part of the clouds that surround them, as shown in the screenshot below. Use the screenshot below as the source image to make the necessary correction before we proceed further.

Step 10

The next part of my technique is slightly different from other possible techniques. Given how difficult the next object selection will be, as well as the complexity of combining, I created a new document. In the new document, I did all the necessary editing before grouping the layers and moving the finished object to our working paper. But you can choose any selection method that you like!

I like to create a selection in this way because of the least loss of image quality. Let’s talk a little about the smoke. Since the edges of the smoke are rarely “hard” and also have varying degrees of opacity, when creating a selection, we will use more than just one tool. Pen (pen tool).

Create a work path, then convert the path to the selected area, and then switch to the tool Magic wand (wand tool), click on the selection area and in the appeared window select the option Refine edge (Refine Edge). More details about this tool will be described below. Fortunately, the upper part of the smoke image on the original image is clearly defined (you can independently find a lot of images with thick volcanic smoke on the stock resources, such as deviant art and Free Images), so we will use the standard tool Pen (pen tool) to create a selection, and then apply the mask.

Step 11

So, the further we go, the more interesting it becomes. As you can see, I created an outline using the tool. Pen (pen tool), and then we apply the tool Refine edge (refine edge), which will be very useful here!

Step 12

Once you have created a work path, right-click on the footprint and select the option in the window that appears. To form a selected area (Make Selection). Next, press the key (W) to switch to the tool. Magic wand (magic wand), then, once again right-click on the selected area and select the tool in the window that appears Refine edge (Refine Edge).

Step 13

With this tool, which has many settings, you can correct the created selection. Tool Refine edge (Refine Edge) selects the pixels along the line of the selected area and tries to determine which pixels to select and which not to select, depending on which side of the selected area they are located and what color shade they belong to.

The remaining settings adjust the selection line itself, smoothing or making a more rigid combination, or making the line softer at the bends. What I use here is the ability to paint over the edges of a selected area.

If you move the mouse over the border of the tool settings window Refine edge (refine edge), (just move the mouse to the side), then you will see a round brush instead of the cursor. The brush size can be customized in the tool settings menu.

As you paint with a brush, you actually mark the areas where you want to fix the edge to improve the selection, as well as for better alignment. Therefore, if you brush along the edge of a cloud of smoke, the tool begins to create a more natural selection edge (as in the screenshot below). This tool is especially useful for highlighting objects such as smoke, hair and trees! Try to apply it, and as soon as you are satisfied with the correction of the selected edges, press the ‘OK’ button.

Using tool Refine edge (refine edge), we corrected the selected area, note that the dashed line will still look the same, but when you start brushing the edges, then you will see the actual edges of the selected area! Try it!

Step 14

Now you can use the highlighted smoke image or add additional smoke to enhance the effect, as I did. Duplicate the selected image with smoke, using the transformation, place the duplicate smoke so that the smoke becomes more “voluminous”. As soon as you are satisfied with the result, add a flame to the explosion. Open the Fire Texture by placing a fire texture layer on top of the smoke layers.

Step 15

Create several layers with the Fire texture, change the blending mode for one layer with the Fire texture to Lightening (screen), for other layers on Overlap (overlay) or Soft light (soft light), then play with the opacity of the layers to get the desired result! To simplify working with masks, you need to group all the layers with smoke, and then convert all the layers with the Fire texture into clipping masks to the created home effect group, as shown in the screenshot below. Process the edges of the textures with Fire, and we are ready to continue on!

Step 16

This step depends on how you want to merge everything together. If you repeat everything after me, then go ahead! If not, and your smoke effect is already located on the working paper, then you can skip this step and move on! Select all the layers with smoke and fire texture to group them together (Ctrl + G). Next, pinching the tab with the effect of smoke and fire, move the window to the side so that we can see both windows at the same time (it looks like the tabs of the web browser), and then just move the created group to our working document!

Step 17

Once you have moved the effect of smoke and fire on our working paper, you can position this effect behind a stone arch, but in front of a mountain in the background. Next, I converted the layer with the effect of smoke and fire into a smart object, which, in my opinion, helps while working on less powerful computers, and also allows for the reduction and increase in size without loss of image quality. Since we won’t change much in the created effect, then we will convert the whole group into a smart object.

Step 18

Now let’s combine the created effect of smoke and fire with our scene. With the help of clipping masks, which we talked about earlier, we can increase the vibration of a smart object or group (do not forget that obravochnye masks act on the group as if it would be one layer). We will also add lighting effects to puffs of smoke, given that the light source is located at the top right, so we can darken the bottom of the smoke with the layer that we use as a clipping mask and a soft black brush. Change the blending mode to Overlap (overlay), experiment with layer opacity.

Step 19

Further, you can do the opposite to the top of the smoke by painting with a white brush to add a little bit of brightness, as well as create an atmosphere, adding depth and a sense of volume.

Step 20

Now is the right time to clean up the layers palette. Pay attention to possible errors that could arise during work with layer-masks, or other errors. Also now it is best to group all the elements of the scene and assign color code to the groups created, as shown in the screenshot below. It really helps to bring the layers palette into a more organized look. My result in the screenshot below at the moment! As always, do not be afraid to experiment and try something else! If you are ready, then let’s continue!

Step 21

Next, we will work on some of the details. The first major detail is the stone arch, which is located in the middle of the stage, let’s add light effects to it. Create a new layer as a clipping mask for the stone arch layer. Change the blending mode for this layer to Overlap (overlay).

Then using an orange, yellow, red brush, varying the opacity of the brush, add a glow under the bridge. Play with the opacity of the layer to get the result, as in the first screenshot below. Another problem I encountered was a small white glow on the inside of the arch. I used the same selection technique with the tool Pen (pen tool), which we used earlier to hide this glow. I also hid the glow on the surface of the snow.

Next, I added a flame image as an obravochnoy mask on top of the previous correction. Change the blending mode for this flame layer to Lightening basics (color dodge), and also reduce Opacity (opacity) layer up to 72%. Choose a suitable position for a fragment of the flame to create a beautiful lighting effect.

This technique of adding a light effect is presented as an alternative option instead of painting with a brush, in my opinion, it gives a more organic and natural look and, at the same time, is not too hard. I would also like to note that I additionally used the tool Dimmer (Burn Tool) mode Shadows (Shadow Mode) and Exposure (Exposure) about 10% on the arch itself to highlight specific details, but this is a matter of personal preference.

Step 22

The next part of the lesson is selective, I personally think that the picture looks good, whether with a shadow / or without a shadow, but for the sake of practice, let’s try and practice at the same time! First choose a tool Magic wand (wand tool (W)), right-click on the image with smoke and select the option in the window that appears Color range (color range) to display the settings window.

Step 23

In the settings window we can see the selection of white in the preview window. Here you can also specify the value Scatter (fuzziness) (acts the same as tolerance (tolerance)). When you move the mouse cursor to the side, the cursor starts to work like a pipette, with which you can change the selected area. Play with a pipette to get beautiful, dynamic smoke. I personally prefer just such a method of creating a shadow, since it creates a more natural shadow with varying degrees of opacity of individual smoke fragments, instead of creating the usual large dark mass. Once you like the selection, press the ‘OK’ button and proceed to the next step.

Step 24

Without removing the active selection, create a new layer on top of all other layers, for this we go Layer – New Layer (Layer> New> Layer) or press the keys (Ctrl + Shft + N). Next, go Allotment – Transform selected region (Select> Transform Selection). Now you can shift the created shadow, placing it on the ground, and also apply perspective and distortion.

Step 25

Once you have placed a shadow on the ground (do not forget about the source of light and where it comes from, although this is not exactly the case, but, nevertheless, never forget about it), apply a little feathering to the created shadow. Tool Magic wand (wand tool (W)) should be active, now, right-click on the created shadow and in the appeared window select the option Feathering (feather) to soften the edges of the shadow.

Step 26

Now create a new layer on top of the other layers and use the black low opacity brush to paint over the created selection, as shown in the bottom left screenshot. To enhance the shadows, create a new layer and with a black brush, paint over the slope to get the result, as in the screenshot to the right. Thus, we have created a beautiful shadow with a certain opacity dynamics.

Step 27

Place your order in the layers palette. To do this, group the created layers.

Step 28

We continue to work on the details, now let’s add the effect of snowfall. To create this effect, most people use specially configured brushes, but to save time, I decided to use ready-made Snow textures created by designer Andrei Oprinca, which you can download at PSDBox (note: texture of snow, you can download the link at the beginning of the lesson). The textures are very easy to apply, just move the Snow texture to our working paper, and then change the blending mode to Lightening (screen). With this mode, we will hide the black background on the image with the texture of Snow without loss of pixels, leaving only the beautiful small white dots visible. Place the texture on top of all other layers, add more textures with snow to create a truly beautiful snowfall effect, group all the layers with snow textures into one group, as shown in the screenshot below. Don’t forget to hide the visible hard edges of the texture, as well as the small logo in the corner!

Step 29

Next, let’s add the light reflection behind the arch, created by the glow of fire. To create this effect, create several layers, change the blending mode for the created layers to Soft light (soft light) and Overlap (overlay). Using a soft brush with very low opacity (Opacity) (think 10% or so), paint over the area behind the arch, vary the color of the brush between the red / yellow / orange shades. The main thing is not to overload the picture with color shades, just add a light touch of orange over blue and gray tones.

Step 30

The next small detail is a helicopter. Open the original image with a helicopter. Select a helicopter image using a combination of tools Pen (pen tool), Magic wand ( magic wand), and Selective color correction (selective color). A helicopter is easy to identify, because It is located on a light blue background, the only thing it will be difficult to select the rotating blades of a helicopter, but with the help of a tool Refine edge (refine edge tool), you can handle this task!

Step 31

Next, with the tool Pen (pen tool), draw a shape resembling a searchlight spotlight, apply feathering (feather) approximately 10 px to the created selection, and then on the new layer, paint over the selection area with a soft white brush. Create a beautiful and smooth transition.

Step 32

Next, add a beautiful light flare, select the one that you like best. I found the flare that I used in this step through a quick Google search, but you can search for free downloads of light highlights on stock resources, for example, on the PSDBox site (note: a set of light highlights can be downloaded from the link at the beginning of the lesson). Add a highlight, change the blending mode for the layer with the highlight to Lightening (screen) to hide the black background and then add a correction layer to the highlight layer Black and white (Black and White) as a clipping mask to soften color shades.

Step 33

Congratulations! Our picture is complete! The result was excellent at the moment, but in order to strengthen the scene, we need to conduct a final mastering. First, select all the layers in the layers palette, merge them into one group. Duplicate the created group, and then right-click on the duplicate layer and in the appeared window select the option Combine the group (Merge group).

Sometimes during the creation of a merged group, problems arise with certain blending modes, so if this happens, there is an alternative way – save the working document in Jpeg format and then open it in a separate document. As usual, there are several ways to solve the problem. Once you have created the merged layer, we can proceed to mastering.

First let’s add some sharpness to the image to highlight such details as smoke and snow, for this we go Filter – Sharpness – Smart Sharpen (Filter> Sharpen> Smart Sharpen). Next, the settings window of this filter appears. The main thing is not to overdo it, we only need to strengthen the details. The settings that I applied are shown in the screenshot below!

Step 34

I also like to apply adjustment layers, for this we go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Gradient Map (Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Gradient Map) to add beautiful color shades to the stone arch. My settings for this adjustment layer are shown in the screenshot below, but I recommend you to experiment here.

Step 35

It should be noted that there is no need to apply a gradient map to the entire image, so go to the layer mask of the adjustment layer. Gradient Map (Gradient Map) and using a soft black brush with low opacity, hide the gradient effect except for the arch area. I also added an adjustment layer. Vibration (Vibrancy) on top of all other layers to enhance the color shades, for this we go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Vibration (Layer> New Adjustment Layer> Vibrance).

Step 36

Now, as for Depth of Field, while on the merged layer, press the (Q) key to activate the Quick Mask mode, where we can brush over the created mask. This tool is very effective at creating a blur with a shallow depth of field. So, paint over the edges of the image, considering what is closer or farther away and what you would like to focus on. When you finish, press the (Q) key again to exit from the Quick Mask mode, and then you will see the area highlighted with a dotted line. Next, invert the selected area (Shift + Ctrl + I) or, choosing the tool Magic wand (Wand tool (W)), right-click on the selected area and in the appeared window select the option Invert selected area (Inverse Selection).

Step 37

Without removing the active selection, go Filter – Blur – Blur at shallow depth of field (Filter> Blur> Lens Blur). The settings that I used are shown in the screenshot below. This will add a truly natural blur to the image, focusing the attention of the observer where we need it.

Step 38

Finally, let’s go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Photo Filter (Layer> Adjustment Layers> Photo Filter). Apply the filter ‘cooling filter 80’, as shown in the screenshot below! And that’s it! We have completed work on the scene with a disaster in the mountains! My congratulations! I hope you learned some useful techniques and techniques for creating manipulations!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and it was useful for you!

Final result

PSD file

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