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Create a Sinister Haunted House in Photoshop

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Halloween is almost upon us; it will soon be time to dress up, go trick or treating and put a jack-o'-lantern in your window. With that in mind, this tutorial will focus on blending several stock images to create a sinister haunted house. This tutorial is all about setting the mood of the scene and to give the viewer a sense of foreboding and trepidation without the use of spirits, ghouls or any other cliche tricks. Let's get started!


Tutorial Assets

You'll find some files in the "source" folder. You'll also need the following free stock images and brushes to complete this tutorial.


Step 1

First off, we'll use a channel or density mask to extract the house from the sky. Choose Image > Calculations, in this instance both Blue channels set to Linear Burn will produce the best starting point for our mask. Copy these settings and hit OK to create the new channel.


Step 2

Switch to the Channels tab and you'll see the new channel ("Alpha 1") sitting at the bottom. The idea is to produce a clean silhouette, so set the Dodge Tool (O) to Range: Highlights / Exposure: 29% and use a medium, soft-edged brush to bleach the pixels around the outer edges as indicated.


Step 3

Now darken the inner area with the Burn Tool (O) set to Range: Midtones / Exposure: 50%, again with a medium, soft-edged brush.


Step 4

Grab to the Brush Tool (B) and use a medium-sized tip at around 50% Hardness to fill the inner of the house and landscape with black and the sky white. Your channel should now look something like this.


Step 5

Use a white Brush (B) at around 50% Hardness to remove the top-left foreground branches on the channel as indicated. For an accurate result, toggle the visibility of the top RGB composite channel so you can see the mask in relation to the image (just be careful that "Alpha 1" is the channel you're painting on). You can also double-click your channel thumbnail to adjust its preview color and density if required.


Step 6

By default, white acts as selective channel areas, so hit Cmd/Ctrl + I to Invert the channel to negative.


Step 7

Cmd/Ctrl-click the "Alpha 1" channel thumbnail to load a selection. Now target the top RGB composite channel thumbnail which will automatically disable the visibility of the channel mask.


Step 8

Pick any selection tool, then click the Refine Edge button in the Options bar. In the following window choose On Layers (L) from the drop-down menu, set the Shift Edge value to -15px, leave the other settings at zero, then check Decontaminate Colors and set the Amount to 100%. Ensure Output is set to New Layer with Layer Mask and press OK.


Step 9

Switch to the Layers tab and you'll now see a duplicate masked layer appear and the visibility of the original layer disabled. If you need to adjust the mask for any reason just double-click it's thumbnail to access the Properties window and click the Mask Edge button. Any changes you make here will appear on a duplicate masked layer.


Step 10

When you're happy with your mask, drag its thumbnail into the trash icon at the foot of the Layers tab and click the Apply button in the following window.


Step 11

Over the next few steps we'll remove the top-left overlapping branches. Set the Patch Tool (J) as shown in the Options bar, then drag within selections on your duplicate layer to fix the larger areas of roof tiles.


Step 12

Now use the Lasso Tool (L) to drag a rough selection around the right-hand ornate panel (A).

Hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to copy the selection to a new layer, press T to access Transform and Ctrl/right-click to access Flip Horizontal. Reduce this layer's Opacity to around 80% to help you position over the opposite side, hold down Cmd/Ctrl and drag the control handles to match the building's perspective. When you're happy, hit return to accept the changes (B).

Set the layer's Opacity back to 100%, add a mask, then hit Cmd/Ctrl + I to Invert the mask to black. Finally, use a small, soft-edged white brush to paint over the branches (C).


Step 13

Press Cmd/Ctrl + E to Merge Down / Apply your top retouched layer. Now Repeat the previous step to duplicate the right roof apex to the opposite side. Add a new layer, then set the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to Current & Below and use a very small brush at 100% Opacity to remove the remaining branches. My cloned layer is shown at the bottom of the screenshot for clarity.


Step 14

Use the same workflow to duplicate the second banister from the left, then use a window patch layer to cover the sun glare as shown.


Step 15

When you're happy, merge all your retouching layers the extracted layer and rename it "House".


Step 16

Set your Background color to # 3c494c, then create a new document to the following dimensions and change the Background Contents to Background Color.


Step 17

Drag the "House" layer into the new canvas and position top-left. To remove edge halos from the original selection, choose Layer > Matting > Defringe and enter 2-3px in the following window.


Step 18

Over the next few steps we'll remove unwanted color casts from the "House" layer. Choose Image > Adjustments > Replace Color, then pick the dark blue halo around the edge of the trees as circled. Now set the Fuzziness amount to 163, the Saturation/Lightness values to -100 and click OK.


Step 19

Access Replace Color again, but this time sample the brick red from the chimney. Push the Fuzziness value up to 200 expand the adjustment range, then apply the settings shown in the Replacement sliders.


Step 20

Now we'll add some non-destructive modifications to the "House" layer. First, choose Levels from the drop-down Create new fill or adjustment icon situated at the foot of the Layers tab. In the next window activate the clipping icon so the adjustment only affects the target layer and apply these settings to increase the contrast a little.


Step 21

Clip another adjustment to the same layer, but this time choose Color Balance. Reduce the Midtone Red to -21 and Green to -6, then select Highlights from the drop-down menu and reduce the Blue to -39.


Step 22

Clip a final Hue/Saturation adjustment to the same layer, select Yellows from the pull-down menu and modify the Hue to +45 and the Saturation to -57.


Step 23

Every haunted house scene requires a dark, brooding sky, so add "Moody_clouds.jpg" (from the "source" folder) as a new layer below the "House". Flip it horizontally to match the light direction of the house, then change the Blend Mode to Overlay. Resize and squash vertically to fit the canvas, then name it "Clouds 1".


Step 24

Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the "Clouds 1" layer, select Cyans from the drop-down menu and decrease the Saturation amount to -39.


Step 25

Place this sky image as a new layer above the last adjustment and name it "Clouds 2". Resize and position to cover the canvas, then change the Blend Mode to Overlay and reduce the Opacity to 66%.

Add a layer mask, then use a medium, soft-edged black Brush (B) to reveal the underlying cloud layer to the left of the house. My mask is shown at the bottom of the screenshot for clarity.


Step 26

Place this sky image as another new layer above "Clouds 2" and label it "Clouds 3". Resize, stretch horizontally and position to cover the canvas. Next, change the Blend Mode to Screen and reduce the Opacity to 39%.


Step 27

Highlight the "Clouds 3" layer thumbnail, then hold Shift and highlight "Clouds 1" thumbnail (this highlights all the in-between layers too), then choose New Group from Layers from the top-right fly-out menu in the Layers tab and name it "CLOUDS" in the following window.

Add a mask to the folder, then hit D to reset your Foreground color to black. Set the Gradient Tool (G) to Foreground to Transparent and Linear in the Options bar, then Shift-drag a gradient indicated by the length and direction of the arrow on the mask to hide the bottom quarter of sky.


Step 28

Next, we'll apply a couple of color alterations to affect all layers below the house. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer above the "CLOUDS" folder, but this time activate the unclipped icon at the foot of panel and copy the following settings.


Step 29

Place another unclipped Color Balance Adjustment Layer above the previous one and reduce the Midtone blue to -6.


Step 30

The next stage is to add a ground plane. Place this landscape image as a new layer above previous adjustment and label it "Ground". Resize, stretch horizontally, flip horizontally and position at the base of the canvas.

Next, add a mask, then Shift-drag a Foreground (black) to Transparent Linear gradient indicated by the length and direction of the arrow on the blend the hard edge.


Step 31

Clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the "Ground" layer and copy the following settings for the Master, Yellows and Greens.


Step 32

At this point I decided to add more blinds to the top windows. To do this, first disable the visibility of all three Adjustment Layers clipped to the "House" layer. Now hover your cursor and Alt-click as indicated to unclip each Adjustment Layer in turn.


Step 33

Use the same workflow as Step 12 to copy areas from the existing blinds as new layers and reposition as circled. Add inverted masks to both layers, then use a small white brush to paint over the windows.


Step 34

Merge the two blind patch layers to the "House", then switch the visibility of the Adjustment Layers back on and Alt-click to re-clip them back to the "House" layer.


Step 35

Next, we'll add a couple of boarded up windows. Open this old window image and use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the window and Copy > Paste twice to create new layers at the top of the stack.

Resize, skew and position these layers as shown, then Merge them. Name this layer "Windows".


Step 36

Add an inverted mask, then use a small white Brush (B) to paint back the window parts as shown.


Step 37

Clip a Levels adjustment to the "Windows" layer and set the midpoint slider to 0.76 to boost the contrast.


Step 38

Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the same layer and copy the following settings.


Step 39

As a final tweak, clip a Color Balance adjustment to the same layer and reduce the Midtone Red to -15.


Step 40

Next, we'll add some shattered panes glass. Place this broken glass image as a new top layer. Resize, duplicate, then flip some to avoid repetition and position as shown.


Step 41

Merge these four layers to one and name it "Broken windows". Now change the Blend Mode to Soft Light, add a mask and use a small black Brush (B) to remove the excess.


Step 42

Add a mask to the "House" layer, then blend the bottom hard edge with a Foreground (black) to Transparent Linear Gradient (G). Next, load the custom brushes and use a selection of different brush tips to paint out the sides and bottom as shown. For best results, remember to vary your brush size and rotation options in the Brush panel.


Step 43

Revisit the "Ground" layer and modify its mask with an assortment of Brushes (B) to make the gradient a little more uneven.


Step 44

At this point I decided to darken the top of the sky. Place a new layer in Multiply Mode at the top within the "CLOUDS" folder and name it "Sky grad". Set your Foreground color to # 394448 and pull down a short Foreground to Transparent Linear Gradient (G). To break up any banding in the gradient. Now choose Filter > Noise > Add Nose and copy these settings.


Step 45

Now we'll introduce some distant dead trees; these will appear as silhouettes, so selecting them will be fairly straightforward. Open the first tree, then press Cmd/Ctrl + L to access the Levels dialogue window, copy these settings to increase the contrast and hit OK.


Step 46

Flip the image horizontally, then place as a new layer below the "House" and name it "Background trees 1". Position to the right of the house and resize/stretch vertically. Double-click it's layer thumbnail to open the Blending Options window and change the Blend Mode to Multiply. Now Alt-click (to split) the top right Blend If slider and set it to 76 to remove any remaining greys. Finally, add a layer mask and remove the right-hand trees.


Step 47

Open the second tree image, then go to Select > Color Range and use the eyedroppers to sample the sky. Now set the Fuzziness to 101, the Range to 91% and check the Invert box.


Step 48

After clicking OK, you'll see an active selection. Copy > Paste this to create a new layer above the first tree and label it "Background trees 2". Flip Horizontal, stretch vertically, then rotate clockwise and resize. Change the Blend Mode to Multiply, then mask the base with a Foreground (black) to Transparent Linear Gradient (G).


Step 49

Now we've established the overall color theme, feel free to modify or add further Adjustment Layers. I decided to lighten the "Ground" layer slightly with a Levels adjustment.


Step 50

We'll now add some paint strokes over the sky, but first Go to Photoshop > Preferences > Performance and increase the History States to around 70-100. This makes painting errors easier to fix because the Brush Tool (B) reduces the number of history states rapidly.

Place a new layer below the "Background trees 1" and label it "Paint 1". Now use an assortment of soft-edged custom brushes, holding the Alt key at regular intervals to pick up the underlying colors as you work, also remember to use the History panel to rectify mistakes. You can now reduce the Opacity of this layer to taste – mine is set to 72% and shown with all layers switched off apart from the "Background" at the bottom of the screenshot for clarity.


Step 51

To keep things organised, place the "Ground" along with its adjustments, both trees and "Paint 1" layers within a group folder called "BACKGROUND".


Step 52

Our scene wouldn't be complete without an eerie glow from the windows, so place a new layer at the top of the stack in Hard Light Mode and label it "Window glow 1". Set your Foreground Color to # dfe193, then use a large, soft-edged Brush (B) to paint over the top windows. Add a small amount of Noise, then mask any excess glow as shown.


Step 53

Now paint with white on another layer in Screen Mode to accentuate the effect. Adjust the Opacity of this layer to taste (mine's set to 69%), then hit Cmd/Ctrl + F to reapply the Noise filter. Name this layer "Window glow 2" and mask any excess again.


Step 54

Place both glows, along with the "Broken windows", "Windows" and "House" layers and their adjustments into a group folder called "HOUSE".


Step 55

Next, we'll darken the brightest highlights around the base if the house. Add a new layer in Multiply Mode at the top an name it "Paint 2". Use the same technique as you did with "Paint 1" to sample dark tones and paint at a low Opacity as shown.


Step 56

Repeat this workflow on another layer in Normal Mode. Now set the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to Current & Below and use some custom brushes create additional foliage around the house and foreground. Name this layer "Paint 3".


Step 57

Next, we'll add the large foreground tree. First, use the following Color Range settings to create a selection.


Step 58

Now apply this Refine Edge command to refine your selection.


Step 59

Delete/Apply the mask on the duplicate layer, then place as a new top layer. Resize, rotate anti-clockwise and position as shown. Defringe by 2-3 pixels and label it "Foreground tree".


Step 60

Clip a Levels adjustment to the "Foreground tree" and use the following settings to dramatically darken it.


Step 61

Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the same layer, check the Colorize option and adjust all three sliders as below.


Step 62

Cmd/Ctrl-click the "Foreground tree" layer to create a selection. Place a new layer called "Foreground tree shadow" below it and fill the active selection with black. Deselect, then squash and extend the layer content radically to the left to cast a shadow from the tree.

Change the Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 65%. Add a layer mask and Shift-drag a Foreground (black) to Transparent Linear Gradient as indicated. Finally, use the Brush (B) Tool to blend the shadow at the base of the tree.


Step 63

Now place the "Foreground tree" along with its adjustments and the "Foreground tree shadow" layers into a group folder called "FOREGROUND".


Step 64

Generate a layer-based selection from the "Foreground tree". Add a new layer at the top of the stack, then press Cmd/Ctrl + H to hide the selection. Now use an assortment of Brushes (B) to paint shadows and highlights over the tree. For best results, sample dark colors, then set the brush to Multiply (from the drop-down Mode menu in the Options bar) and paint lighter colors with the brush in Soft Light Mode. When you're done, deselect, then name the layer "Paint 4".


Step 65

Finally, carry out any minor brushwork amends to your "Paint" layers and you're done. Happy Halloween!


Conclusion and Scope

This tutorial is about creating atmosphere to give the viewer a sense of uneasiness without the use of cliche imagery. Now you know how it's done, why not create your own spooky Halloween photo-composition!

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