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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation
Design

How to Turn a Landscape Photograph Into an Isometric Icon in Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial we are going to create a 3D isometric map made from combinations of a few landscape photos. No 3D software is used in this project—we are going to use only Adobe Photoshop. The end result can be used as an icon or as part of an infographic.

Tutorial Assets

To complete the tutorial you will need the following assets:

1. Prepare the Canvas

Step 1

First of all, we need to add an isometric grid to our canvas. You can find instructions for this in the isometric tutorial we published earlier.

Isometric grid

Step 2

Based on the grid, draw a rectangle vector shape on the isometric surface. You can use any color, because this is just a guide for our next photo manipulation process.

Draw basic map shape in isometric perspective

Step 3

Duplicate the vector shape by clicking Control-J, and move it upward.

Draw basic map shape in isometric perspective

Step 4

From now on, you can turn off the grid, because we won't be needing it anymore.

Turning off the isometric grid

2. Build the Soil

Step 1

Draw the left side of the 3D map using the Pen Tool. Double-click its layer shape and then add a Gradient Overlay.

Drawing left side of the shape
Layer style for Gradient Overlay
Left side with gradient overlay

Step 2

Set its Fill to 0%.

Set Fill to 0

Step 3

Repeat the same step on the other side.

Right side
Right side

Step 4

Draw a new shape using the Pen Tool, covering the whole map. Add a Gradient Overlay to the shape and then set its Fill to 0%.

Another Gradient Overlay
Layer style for Gradient Overlay

Step 5

Grab the soil texture and place it on top of the map.

Adding soil texture

Step 6

Control-click the left side of the map to make a new selection based on its shape. Click the Add layer mask icon in the lower part of the Layers panel to cut off the rock texture outside the shape.

Adding layer mask

Step 7

Repeat the same process on the other side of the map.

Add soil to the edge

3. Build the Hill

Step 1

Grab the hill landscape and overlay it on the map with low Opacity. Position it until you get a nice perspective.

Adding hill landscape

Step 2

Add a layer mask to the landscape photo and then paint with black to hide unwanted areas. In this case, I want to retain the street, the hill next to it, and the tree in the corner. Try to get a natural shape using your brush stroke. We don't want this to be a flat, box-like shape.

Masking the landscape

Step 3

Let's go back to the soil. We need to make it darker and more believable. Start by painting shadow on its corner. Add a new layer and simply paint black using the Brush Tool with low Opacity.

Painting shadow on maps corner
Painting shadow on maps corner

Step 4

The result is already much better. Keep on adding black shadow to the soil to make it a lot darker.

Adding black shadow to the soil
Adding black shadow to the soil

Step 5

Next, grab another dirt or soil texture. Paste it on top of the previous soil and set its mode to Overlay. Take your time, add a layer mask, and carefully insert any dirt, rocks, and roots into the soil to make it as realistic as possible.

Add another soil texture

Step 6

Let's add another landscape image into the map. Place the landscape behind the current hill landscape. Add a layer mask to the landscape image and then paint black to remove most of its content while leaving part of its valley.

Add another landscape
Unneeded areas are now hidden

Step 7

Add a new layer and then paint shadow on areas of the new landscape as indicated below.

Add shadow

4. Add the Sea

Step 1

Now, add the sea image behind the map. Position it where you like it most.

Adding sea image

Step 2

Control-click the base of the map to create a new selection based on its shape. Click the Add layer mask icon to hide unselected pixels.

Adding layer mask to the sea
Adding layer mask to the sea

Step 3

Manually fix broken elements in the landscape, if there are any, by painting them with white using a soft brush. In this case, do this with the rock.

Fixing broken rock

Step 4

To add more waves to the sea, we can simply duplicate the sea image and move it to a different position. Apply the same layer mask as the first one and then hide some of the areas until it blends with the first image.

Adding another part of the sea
Adding another layer mask

Step 5

Select the ocean by Control-clicking on its layer shape. Add a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer with Cooling Filter to increase the contrast of its blue sea surface.

Increase sea contrast
Adding Photo Filter

5. Add Details

Step 1

Let's add more contrast into the scene manually. Start by selecting the main hill. Make a new layer on top of it and then click Edit > Stroke to add a stroke line.

Add contrast to the landscape edges
Adding black stroke
Adding black stroke

Step 2

Apply a Gaussian Blur filter to soften the line, and then reduce its Opacity setting in the Layers panel. If necessary, you can also delete a segment of the blurred line using the Eraser Tool.

Soften the stroke line

Step 3

Repeat this process, and add another shadow by painting with black on a new layer.

Add another shadow

Step 4

Let's make the road more realistic by adding an unfinished street at the end. Activate the hill landscape layer and then paint with white to reveal a chunk of street hanging outside the map. Right underneath the street, paint black to add thickness to the street and then paint a big soft shadow on the soil.

Add broken street

Step 5

To make it appear more realistic, add a new layer and scribble some short black lines using the Pencil Tool with 1 px brush size on the street. Duplicate the layer, and invert its color to white by pressing Control-I. Move the white scribbles down 1 pixel. Reduce their Opacity setting in the Layers panel.

Make the street more realistic
Adding scribbles to the street
The result after adding scribbles to the street

Step 6

Add another shadow and highlight onto the scene by painting with black and white using a soft big brush with low Opacity.

Adding shadow and highlight

Step 7

Here's the fun part. The map will not be complete until we have a small car on the empty street. You might notice that in our main landscape there's a parked car. Select and then copy it to a new layer (Control-J). Place it on the street, add a layer mask, and then hide unneeded pixels by painting them with black.

Adding car
Adding car
Car added

6. Add the Background

Step 1

We will use a simple background for this map. Activate the Gradient Tool with a standard white to black gradient. Drag from top to bottom until we have this background.

Add white to black gradient for background

Step 2

Let's add a shadow underneath the map. Control-click the base to make a new selection. Fill it with black, deselect (Control-D), and then apply a Gaussian Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) to soften it. Repeat this process a few times with different Radius settings and layer Opacity until we have a realistic floor.

Adding map shadow
Adding map shadow

Step 3

We may need to draw shadow manually by painting black on the canvas using a big soft Brush Tool with low Opacity.

Adding map shadow

Step 4

This grey background is just too dull. Let's make it more interesting by changing its color to blue. Add a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer above the background and select Cooling Filter.

Adding photo filter adjustment

Conclusion

Now, we have reached the final result. As you can see, there are no complicated tricks in this tutorial. We only used a simple layer mask and a bit of manual drawing. 

I believe that it is important to select the best landscape photos—by doing this, we save ourselves from time-consuming photo editing and can focus on working with the map shape. I hope you understand this tutorial and can follow it easily. If you do follow along, let me know your result. I'd love to see it. Thanks.

Final result
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