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You may be surprised what you can do in Photoshop with a single photo and a tablet. In this tutorial we will create the ruins of a forgotten abbey using a stock photo and a bit of painting. Let's get started!
The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.
Before You Begin
This piece has been done with the help of a graphic tablet, to be precise a Wacom Bamboo Fun. If you're painting with a mouse, the technique is always the same. Only thing that changes is the time you'll spend on it. In order to get a good effect, remember to vary often opacity and flow jitter. Also, only two brushes have been used: standard round Photoshop brushes (used in both soft and hard way) and a foliage brush that you can download from matte painter I-NetGraFX's portfolio (link of the download below in step number 5).
Step 1 - The Abbey
I started this piece with just a vague idea in mind of what I wanted: a forgotten abbey, ancient and left to the actions of nature. Anything else came after and has been developed during the execution.
Ok, let's start! I opened in Photoshop the abbey stock and I slightly enlarged the canvas (Image > Canvas Size.). Then, using the Pen Tool (P) I started rendering the image.
As you can see from the image below, I also erased a part of the abbey, because as I said I wanted it to be ancient and forgotten, so which is the best way to convey that than making it look like some pieces have been detached, creating some sort of ruins?
Once we've created the path, Right click and then click on Make Selection., now using the backspace we erase the undesired areas.
I got my rendered abbey and I decided to make it look more interesting manipulating its perspective. Edit > Transform > Perspective and then grab and drag down the top left corner.
Step 2 - Background
At the time I did this I had just bought a semi-professional digital camera, I was all like "let's go out to take some awesome pictures!". 10 minutes later I find out that I sucked at photography (and actually, I still do), so I decided to use one of the photos I took into one of my matte painting.
Not many details needed as you can see, I tried to keep everything as simple as possible.
With a round brush I roughly painted over the palms of the original photo some mountains in the background.
Using the same brush I also enlarged the green grass ground in a very non-precise way. At the time I didn't know of the existence of the shift key shortcut that makes brush strokes go straight. Don't be me, use it.
Step 3 - The Column
This is one of the less successful things in this piece. I definitely had a different idea for it, but I just couldn't do it, so as you'll see during this tutorial you'll notice that I will eventually turn it into something that looks like a really dark tree.
Anyway, technique used for this can still come in handy and should be learned. It's quite easy but still very affective.
Once you have correctly positioned it onto the canvas, go to the level with the abbey and duplicate it. Drag the layer over the column one and make a clipping mask. Are you wondering why you're doing this? I would too. Set the layer on the blend mode Color. See what happened? The colors of the abbey overlaid the original colors of the column and made it look like it was originally part of the abbey stock.
Step 4 - The Outdoor Lighting
To increase the drama of the picture I decided to create some light beams going through the big windows of our ancient abbey.
Using the Line Tool (U) I made a sort of sketch in order to decide the direction of every beam of light. Obviously, the level in which we're making these lines will be deleted, this has to be done just for us, as a reference.
On a new layer, select in the color palette a warm yellow, almost orange, set the layer on the Blend Mode Screen and with the Brush Tool (B) (a big and soft round brush will do the work) let's make the light beams. Remember to lower the opacity of the brush!
Step 5 - Composition and Minor Elements
The scene is now completed, every element is in its place and it looks like a place that could actually exist. But does this feel real, or does this look a bit too staged? Maybe a little too fake? That's the feeling I get from it. So we need to make it look like it's alive! What could we add to this scene to make it look alive? There are tons of living things that could be used, and I decided to add a lot of vegetation and make the abbey look like part of it. Like it's no longer something unnatural made by humans but something that is now part of the nature, that is nature.
Using the round hard brush I painted here and there some rocks. Then, using the foliage brush (image below - download the brush from I-NegGaFX's website) I painted some bushes and using again the hard round brush I painted some red flowers on the bushes.
How you can see in the image below (and from this image you can realize how you don't really need to be good at painting to make great artworks) I painted some roots.
They don't look like they fit into the image, right? So what I did was to take the level with the lights that we created before in step 4, duplicated it and then created a clipping mask into the roots layer. As you can see from the image, they now look like part of the scene.
Now just keep adding details, flowers, bushes, grass, rocks and maybe some animals, too! Use your fantasy and add as many elements as you want.
Step 6 - The Tree
A tree always looks like something hard to do (and usually, it is) but since I'm not good at painting it, I decided to use the easy way: make it in the foreground, completely black. Easy to do, still very effective for the viewer.
Using the foliage brush (downloaded in the fifth step) I made the crown of the tree and then with our beloved hard round brush I painted the branches and the trunk of the tree.
As you can see now composition looks much better and the focus of the viewer is more centered. If you're interested in making landscapes (that are painting, photo manipulation or 3d renders) I recommend you to read this awesome article written by Johannes Vloothuis about the composition rules of landscapes. Those rules are something that every good landscape artist must know. Even if you're not going to apply some of them, you still need to know why and if that is going to make your piece more successful or not.
Using the round hard brush I painted all around the piece vegetation growing on the tree, on the abbey, on the ground. It's another way to conceptually blend the abbey into the environment.
Step 7 - Colors and Details
The piece is finished, but if you already read my other tutorials you should know that at the end I always like to spend some time into the colors and making the general atmosphere more interesting. In the .psd file, group details1 > colors and lights you can see how the adjustment layers have been used. What really I want to explain is how I made the whole atmosphere more powerful with the lights.
As you can see comparing the two image above, the differences in the atmosphere are important. To achieve that result I used an interesting technique. Create a new layer and then fill it with the Paint Bucket Tool (G) of a pure black. Set the blending mode on Color Dodge. You can see that the black is gone. Now with a brown color and the soft round brush you can accentuate the lights and colors as you like. Don't exaggerate or it will make the image look very fake!
Check the image below to see how it should look like if you set the layer on the blending mode Normal once you've already painted with the brown color:
Piece is finally and completely finished, you can resize it if you want and then make an Apply Image (Image > Apply Image.) and use the Sharpen Filter (Filters > Sharpen > Sharpen). Incredibly useful filter to make the details of your image pop out!