Creating an oasis in the desert with Photoshop – Part 2

If you want to learn how to combine photos to create realistic scenes, then paintings in the style of Matte Painting are a great opportunity to get started. These paintings often consist of a combination of several photographs to create conditions that cannot or do not exist in real life. This means that in order to prepare realistic scenes, you need to know how to accurately extract specific parts of a photo and how to place these elements in order to create what you are going to admire later. In this tutorial, you will learn how to combine photo manipulation and digital painting techniques to create an oasis in the desert with Photoshop. Let’s start!

Final image

Starting materials

See how this picture was created from start to finish in this amazing video.

Part 4. Sky and clouds


You have probably noticed that this is not the sky that I set when recording video. After I finished the original image of matte painting for this lesson, I received a few comments from my friend, and some of his advice was on correcting the sky and clouds. What has been said above should not change our plans. But at the same time I do not want to confuse you with the fact that in the video and with what you see here.

When choosing photos as the basis of the sky, you should always keep in mind the general lighting of the entire scene. Of course, you can draw nothing (or draw your own sky and clouds, if you want), but it is best to have an image, so that you can extract from it the areas that your scene needs. I was very lucky when working with this matte picture, the photo I decided to use was a good fit for the scene. But this hardly has any significance now.

Step 1

To begin with, turn off the visibility of the following groups: color grade, FG, and in the MG group turn off the visibility of the “palm valley” layer. This will allow us to see more clearly what we are doing. Now open ‘8611654822_bf148850b1_o JPG’ from the archive; we will use this image as a base for our sky.

After opening, press Ctrl + A, To select the entire canvas, copy it (Ctrl + C), close the window by clicking Ctrl + W (without saving). Note: Normally, changes to the reference snapshot will never save, because most likely you will use it more than once. If you still need to save a different version of the image, save it as a copy.

Now let’s go back to our working paper, paste the sky into the scene (Ctrl + V) as a new layer. Make sure that the layer is in the sky folder (BG-> sky), otherwise it will not be displayed correctly on the stage. Remove the other layers that are there, since we will not use them.

Position the image as shown below. Most likely, it will have to be reduced in order for it to fit. To do this, use the free transformation tools (Ctrl + T). To keep the proportions hold down the Shift key. To undo the previous action in this state, use (Ctrl + Z), but only for the last action.

Step 2

We need to add some adjustment layers to the sky so that it blends in with our scene. On the selected layer with the sky, go to the menu Layer-> New Adjustment Layer (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer), select Curves (Curves), Selective color (Selective color correction) and ColorBalance (Color balance). When selecting these adjustment layers, be sure to check the box Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask (Use the Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask), otherwise adjustments will affect the lower layers.

Make sure the layers are ordered as shown below, otherwise they will affect each other differently. Use the images shown below to customize each layer. The last image shows how the picture should look after all the adjustments.

Step 3

Now we need to add some clouds. For this we will use the brush “Clouds”. First, create a layer above all correction layers (but not attached) and name it “painted clouds” or something like that. Take Brush (Brush) in the shape of a cloud, sized between 25-100px, the colors are shown in the image below (you can choose a color from the sky itself) and add a few clouds.

Notice how the clouds are lit in the photo with the sky. We want to add the most similar clouds. Also take a look at how the light from the sun falls on the front of the clouds and where the shadows start and disappear. And remember: fluffy clouds, make them look like pillows … or delicious marshmallows.

If you don’t like something, you can always use the tool. Move Tool (Move) or free transformation tools (Ctrl + T).

Step 4

Believe it or not, but with complex details we have finished, all that is left to do is to give the horizon some shades. Create a new layer above the layer with the clouds drawn, take a round soft brush with a size of 1000-1500px, color #bcc3cb. Now hold down the Shift key, and from either side, move the brush along the horizon line until you reach the other side. After that, change Opacity (Opacity) of this layer is 40%.

Step 5

Duplicate layer and make sure it is above the last layer that we created in the previous step. At the bottom of the palette Layer (Layers) click on the button Layer style (italics FX) and select Color overlay(Overlay color). In the window that opens, select a new color. Change it to # 6e7378 and click OK to save the color changes, and then click OK in the window Layer styles (Layer styles) to close it and save these changes.

Now that the color has been changed, take Move Tool (Move) and move the layer down a little, closer to the horizon line than the other layer from the last step. Use the image below as a reference.

Part 5. Water and Shrubs in the foreground


Well, we have already done quite a lot. Everything is almost in place, but there are still a couple of parts that need to be added. We must detail the water and add bushes to the foreground.

Before we begin, a small digression. I used the tutorial video to take screenshots for this section, so you will notice the old sky in some screenshots. But do not worry about it, since we have already replaced it with our newer version.

Step 1

To begin with, we will correct the areas with water: we will texture, paint, and also make them a little brighter.
To begin with, let’s turn off the visibility of the following groups: color grade, FG and all folders in the MG group, except for “grass” and “water”. Now we have a clear idea of ​​what we want to change.
Choose round Brush (Brush) with soft edges with Hardness (Hardness) about 25-50% (right-click on the canvas to get to this option).

You can match the color with Eyedropper (Pipette) to get about the same as that of real water, or you can create a new color. Just make sure that it is not too saturated with cold blue. The purpose of this color is to stay close to what we already have. Use the image below as a reference, draw water like mine (or better) as you can.

A few more tips before we start. Enable the transparency blocking option for the current working layer (river or pool). Else, try using cloud brushes to create a splash of water at the bottom of the waterfalls. The texture of the brush has a good swing, which can simulate the spray. Be careful working with this.

Another tip. When using the tool Brush (Brush), you can change its mode in the top toolbar to any mode you want (for example, overlapping, soft light, etc.). This will allow you to create strong reflections on the water like on my river. As usual in Photoshop, there are several ways to do one and that thing, so you can use the tool Dodge (O)(Clarifier) ​​to achieve the same goal.

Step 2

After we are done with the creation of water, we need to bring the bushes to the fore. Like the palm trees, we must extract the bushes from the photo with the help of channels and curves.

Open the ‘5928389614_65ce72830d_o. Jpg ‘ from the archive and copy the background layer by pressing (Ctrl + J). Click the tab in the palette Channel (Channels), select the channel (red, green, or blue) that will give the greatest contrast between the tree and the sky. For this photo, this is the blue channel. Select it and open the window. Curves (Curves) by pressing (Ctrl + M). Move the points as shown below and click OK.

As noted earlier, the goal here is to create as much contrast as possible between the top of the tree (what we will use as our bush) and the sky, since much of the tree will blacken as much as possible. Try not to capture a lot of the sky in our selection (along the edges and inside the tree) when we go back to the matte scene.

Therefore, to ensure a good result, you need to carefully adjust, moving each point back and forth until you get what you are happy with. It takes a lot of time and practice to acquire skill in it, but it is a very powerful tool.

Step 3

While holding down the Ctrl key, click on the blue channel icon, this will create a selection around the white parts in the blue channel. Invert the selection by pressing Ctrl + Shift + I. Return to the tab in the palette Layers (Layers) and select a background layer to make it active (without making a new selection). Hide or remove the duplicate layer, we no longer need it.

Choose a tool Rectangular marquee (Rectangular area) and, while holding Alt, create a selection from the upper left corner to the lower middle, as shown below. Then make another selection, starting from the bottom right corner to the place shown in the second image. The third image shows what should remain.

Step 4

Press (Ctrl + C) to copy what we have selected and close the window without saving changes. Return to our working document, press (Ctrl + V) to paste the selection into the scene as a new layer. Make sure the layer is in the “FG” folder at the top.

Use the transformation tools by pressing (Ctrl + T), right-click on the active canvas to bring up the context menu. Select Flip horizontal (Flip horizontally) (if necessary), and then drag a little to the right and bottom, as shown below.

Then with the transform tool still active, move it to the lower right corner, as shown in the second image below. Press Enter to confirm the conversion.

Step 5

Open the correction window Curves (Curves), pressing (Ctrl + M), and make the following changes, as shown in the examples below.

After making the correction, name the layer “Tex”. Then go to Layer-> Matting-> Defringe(Layer -> Edge Processing -> Fix Border) and enter a value of 2px. This will help remove any unwanted colors or other unnecessary details from the edges of the layer.

Step 6

You may have noticed some structures of the building left from the original photo, we need to hide them. Select Clone tool (S) (Stamped) round shape with hard or soft edges, about 25-40px in size. Then set the source that you will clone on the bush, hold Alt, click on the area of ​​the bush. The result is shown below.

Step 7

Now we need to create lighting for the bushes. Create two layers and attach them to the “Tex” layer. Name one layer “highlights”, the second layer “shadows”.

Go to the “highlights” layer, change its blending mode to Overlay (Overlap). Start creating lighting coming from the sun, take for this Brush (Brush) about 25-45px. Choose a dull yellow color and walk it through the bushes, lightening the areas. Use the image below as a reference.

Step 10

Now after we have drawn the lighting, we need to add shadows in the same place.

Using the same image as a reference, select a dark blue color (not too saturated) and draw the shadows as shown below (shaded parts of the bushes). Be sure to keep in mind the general lighting when brightening and shading all elements.

Step 11

Well, with one part in the foreground we’ve finished, it’s time to work on the other. Since we already have a ready-made bush for one side, we will copy it for the other side and change it a little with the help of tools. CloneTool (Stamp), Eraser (Eraser) and Brush (Brush). Select the “Tex” layer and all its related layers, press (Ctrl + J) to duplicate them.

Using the tool MoveTool (Move), move the bush to the other side. Now delete the “Lighting” and “Shadows” layers, since we will need to create new ones. Remove the “FG foliage” layer since it is no longer needed.

Step 12

Take advantage of Eraser (Eraser) to change the shape / silhouette so that the bush is different from others. Select Eraser (Eraser) in the form of a tree or something like that, measuring 15-40px and start erasing around the edges, until you have something similar to the image below.

The next part depends entirely on you, so that the bush is more different, use CloneTool (Stamp) to create a completely new texture. Just be careful, do not make repeating patterns.

Step 13

It’s time to go to the lighting. Create two layers “highlights” and “shadows”, attach them to the “Tex” layer.
Take Brush (Brush) tree shape, colors are the same that we used to illuminate another bush, paint highlights and shadows for this bush. Be sure to set the blending mode for “Lighting” Overlay (Overlap).

Having completed the drawing, we are done with the foreground. Do not be afraid to make any other changes to the bushes, if you feel the need, for example, making them brighter or anything else, before moving on to the final part.

Part 6. Strokes


After everything is in place, we need to carefully review the scene to make sure that everything looks good. In this part we will add different elements, and perhaps remove some details to get the finished image for the final version of matte painting.

Step 1

We are going to start with the pyramids. We will not make any radical changes in the pyramids themselves, but simply add some details, such as fog and other atmospheric elements. So let’s get started.

First open the “BG” group, and then go to the “pyramids” folder. Now open the folder “pyramid 1 [main]” and add a layer with fog to it. Our goal is to distance this pyramid so that it appears a little away from others.

Create a new “haze” layer. Make sure that this layer is above all layers in the “pyramid 1 [main]” folder and is in clipping mask mode for the main layer, just like other layers. Now using the tool Rectangular marquee (Rectangular area), make a selection around the entire pyramid.

Step 2

Change the foreground color to # a5b3a5 in the toolbar and fill the selected area with it by pressing Alt + Delete. Deselect (Ctrl + D) and reduce Opacity (Opacity) layer up to 10%.

Step 3

As you can see from my example, there is fog at the base of the pyramid. To create it, first add a new layer (name it “haze” and also move it to the very top in the “color grade” folder, to match my example) and a soft round brush using colorc0ac8e with different opacity, go through the areas shown below.

Step 4

Now move the layer to the top of the “pyramid 1 [main]” group and secure it with the others. Change Opacity (Opacity) layer up to 70%.

It is possible that due to the addition of fog, the color of the pyramid now seems a bit boring. To fix this, you can either increase the saturation of the “Tex” layer, to do this, press (Ctrl + U) to open the window Hue/Saturation (Hue / Saturation). Or create a new adjustment layer. Hue/Saturation (Hue / Saturation) in the same folder under the layer “haze” and already in it increase saturation. One way or another, it is up to you. The image after correction should be similar to the one below.

Step 5

Now move (or delete) the shadows that cast the pyramids themselves. Go to the folder “pyramid 1 [main]” and, using the images below as a reference, erase the drop shadows marked in red. This should be “Layer 2 copy 6”. Next, take Eraser (Eraser) and erase what is marked in red at the bottom of the pyramid (we no longer need it). This is on the “Layer 26” layer. After erasing, move the layer until it looks like my image below.

Now go to the other pyramid groups and move the remaining shadows marked in blue, as shown in the image below.

Step 6

Now the pyramids are officially made. Of course, there are a couple of things left, but they can be done fairly quickly and easily. Create a new layer and place it between the “BG” folder and the “plate” layer. This will be the last layer with fog that we add, only now it will be under the layers with pyramids on the ground to match them in color.

Step 7

After painting, change the blending mode to SoftLight (Soft light) with an opacity of about 90%. Now we have to draw small areas of fog over some areas of grass and water. Open the “MG” folder and create a new layer called “blue mist”. Move this layer so that it is above the “palm valley” folder.

Now choose a beautiful cool blue color (not too saturated) for our fog. Take Brush tool (Brush) cloud shaped with Opacity (Opacity) 50% and draw foggy clouds as shown below.

Step 8

We are coming to an end, create a new layer called “sun HL”. Place it in the MG folder above the blue mist layer and set the blending mode Overlay.

Choose a big round Brush tool (Brush) with soft edges dull light orange. Set low Opacity brush about 20-30%. Now walk along it along the dunes and in other particular areas where you think the lighting should be more intense. If you do not know where exactly, use the image below as a reference.

Step 9

Next we give the depth to the background, drawing the dunes / mountains. Create a new layer, name it “BG Mtns” and place it in the “BG” folder between “Layers 22” and the “sky” folder. Copy the layer mask from the “sky” folder in “BG Mtns”.

Take a hard round brush with Hardness about 50%, color # 6d6f76. Now, using the image below as a reference, draw the mountains / dunes as shown below.

Once finished, install Opacity layer 70-90%.

Last step!

All we have to do is create a fog around the pyramids. Take the cloud-shaped brush. The color for the fog pick up from the land near the main pyramid. Install Opacity brush 30-40% and walk it around the base of the pyramid, until you get something like what we see in the final picture of matte painting below.


Thank you for taking the time to study this lesson. If you follow the tips from this lesson, you can use the methods and techniques to create and experiment with your own matte paintings. I hope I could give you some insight into the matte paintings and some of the basics that go into them.

My task was to show you with the help of this lesson some thoughts that arise in my head and reproduce one of them. For me personally, this would be enough to get some push and continue learning, but I am not a robot and have never studied according to the instructions. For me, learning has always been practical experience, I reviewed various works of art, tried to get into the artists’ heads and find out what they thought about when creating their work and why they preferred this or that. Technique and skill you can hone very quickly, but there is another side that allows you to create a work of art, not only because you can, but because you want.

I hope that you take over this knowledge and expand it far beyond this lesson to create your own worlds and various experiments.

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