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Create a "Middle-Earth" Inspired Landscape in Photoshop

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In this tutorial, we will show you how to create a lush and vibrant "Middle-Earth" inspired landscape in Photoshop. Let's get started!


Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.


1. Referencing and Sketching

Step 1

After collecting a bunch of references (screen grabs from Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" Official Trailer), I take a good look at the way the lighting works, the detail of the rocks, mountains, trees and the overall atmosphere of the environment.

I roughly jot down my landscape idea in a New Document (File > New...) with the dimensions set at a good, wide Landscape format (7000 x 3138 pixels) and a dpi of 300. Using some various elements from the references I have collected, this is literally the first thing that pops into my mind, and only takes about 30-40 seconds. A very rough and quick scribble to get the idea down!

Step 2

Then on a New Layer, I refine that scribble a bit more until I can see more clearly what I want. As with many Landscape/Environment paintings, I intend this piece to have some very distinct planes that will bring in a strong sense of depth; Background, Middleground and Foreground.


2. Color Blocking and Layering

Step 1

Next, I block in the base colors with the Paint Brush Tool (B) set using the Hard Round Airbrush (or Airbrush Full). For the Sky, I take some samples from the references I have gathered, which I find show a lovely mix of pale blues, yellows and orange.

I rough in the color of the sky first as my core background layer. I'm not being too fussy with the details at the moment. I am happy with just a rough example of the clouds and color to fill in the empty white space for now.

At this stage, I also want to have a good idea where my main light source is going to be for later reference. For this, I am thinking of having it come from the upper left corner, so it will catch on the middleground mountain on the right hand side the most.

Step 2

When I'm roughing in a composition like this which has differing planes (Background, Middleground, Foreground), I like to block it in from the layers sitting the most furthest away first. Here, I have painted in the mountains in the background to start with on their own seperate Layer.

Step 3

I try not to do the edges along the top too smooth- I want them to represent the tops of the trees in the distance!

Step 4

Next comes the Middle Ground layer. This part will be slightly clearer and defined later on. I paint it in a couple of shades darker (#1d1e20) so it doesn't get mixed up with the mountain layer behind it, and begins to stand out a little more!

Step 5

And finally fill in the Foreground layer an almost black (#0f100b). This layer is going to be the darkest, the most detailed and defined of all the three ground planes!

Step 6

For the buildings on top of the Foreground mountain, I create a New Group in my Layers Window (by clicking the little Group icon on the bottom of the Layers Window), and title it "Structure 1". This is where I will keep and organize all my layers regarding that particular section.

Step 7

I block in the first pillars of the structure on one layer with the hard edged Paint Brush (B).

Step 8

Then the rest that is sitting behind on another Layer underneath.

Step 9

I also painted in the last bit of sky showing through with the rest of the Background mountain layer too.

Step 10

And finally, I block in the Waterfall on a layer above the Foreground mountain. These are all my major layers I will be working with throughout this painting!


3. Initial Shading

Step 1

While I'm on that layer, I start adding some quick shading into the waterfall- starting with the darker tones. I will add in the highlights and detail it more thoroughly later on. I also erase away some edges to shape up the waterfall a bit more.

Step 2

I move back onto the Foreground mountain Layer, and Select All (Command/Ctrl+ Click on that layer in the Layers Window to select everything on it) and paint in some tones; starting with the darker shades to distinguish the rocks and shapes. I focus quite a bit of attention here first as it is quite the centerpiece of the composition, and will hold the sharpest detail and texture later on!

Step 3

I add some little orange highlights as I go to get the shine off the damp rocks and sunlight, and some darker shadows to start defining the different layers of rock surfaces even more. It's also a good idea to toggle the Sketch Layer on and off just to see where the painting is at too!

Step 4

I paint in some of the bushes and shrubs a dark green color (#20261a) which starts to break up the solid grays and rock a little more.

Step 5

Now I fill in the second little building (just like the previous one) in its own Layer Group (titled "Structure 2"). This one is basically silhouetted against the back light, so it won't be needing too much detail at the moment. Just the basic shape placement is fine for now.

Step 6

Once I have put in a nice amount of shading and highlighting in the Foreground, I move back onto the Middleground mountain. I start by painting in a lighter color on the rock face- keeping in mind which way my light source is originating from (top left).

Step 7

I make a New Layer and start painting in a lighter tone overall to knock the mountain further into the background and make if fade back from the foreground even more.


4. Middle Ground Detailing

Step 1

I switch my brush to the Textured Round Brush (from the `Rahll Brush Set), and begin detailing with little highlights to define the edges on the rock face where the light catches.

Step 2

I also use that brush to begin adding in more shadows, also filling in the treetops along the edge as I go.

Step 3

Now to add the Waterfalls! On a New Layer, I keep using the Textured Round Brush, but set it on a much lower Opacity (around 20%) and just gradually build it up from top to bottom to capture that misty water, as opposed to a straight stream- especially as it begins to dissipate and fade out towards the bottom.

Step 4

I continue adding more detail into the rock face and start defining all the little bevels and cracks. Now is a good time to drop the opacity of the Background mountain layer down to about 50% so I can see how the paleness of it is starting to fade off into the distance, and the depth of the landscape is beginning to show!


5. Texturing

Step 1

Once I'm happy with the details so far, it's time to add some Texture! If you are familiar with my work, you will know how much i love using a bit of photographic texture to give my pieces that extra kick of realism!

I open my first "Rock Texture 1" file (courtesy of CGTextures.com) and create a New Document too.

I drag it onto the New Document, and tile it all over the page (by holding Command/Ctrl+Alt to Duplicate the layer), and use the Clone Tool (S) to hide any obvious repetitive parts along the joining seams.

Step 2

I drag and drop the texture over my Middle Mountain layer (just underneath the Waterfall Layer), scale it to cover a good portion of the mountain using the Free Transform Tool. (Right Click > Free Transform)


Step 3

I set the Blending Mode in the Layers Window to Soft Light, and drop its Opacity down to around 70%. I then erase some sections which are overlapping areas such as the trees and waterfalls- basically where there is no rock showing through. Now I have built up a more rough, authentic looking rock face!

Step 4

I add in the final details over the top of the rock textures with a little matte painting technique- working with the details in the texture and blending them in more


6. Background and Sky

Step 1

Time to move onto Background Mountains. Again, Select All, and start painting in and defining the greenish-tree tops.

Step 2

I begin lightening the whole layer around where the light is hitting and where the mountain is getting further away into the background. At this point, there doesn't need to be too much detailing, as it is most likely going to be blown out by the sunlight and mist later on down the track!

Step 3

Like the previous mountain, I add in more little highlights here and there.

Step 4

Next I paint in the new Waterfalls on a New Layer (Waterfall 2), but this time not as solid as the first ones I added in the Middleground. These ones tend to be slightly more lighter.

Step 5

Once I am happy with the details on that mountain layer, I drop its Opacity to 87% just to push it back further into the distance!

Step 6

Next, I move back down to my "Sky" layer, and begin painting in the clouds with the cloud brush (Cloud Brush 1). Like everything else, I prefer to start with the darker tones first (oranges) then eventually add in the blue sky to break them up (this may take me a couple of tries to just keep working in the colors until I am happy with the results). I must also keep in mind where the sun flare is going to radiate from in the upper left corner.

Step 7

Time to step back and look at the progress so far!

Step 8

For another touch to help add more depth to the piece, I am going to make a New Layer over my Middleground mountain (Mountain 2) and paint in the mist rising up from the waterfalls and water below. For this, I use a pale, off-white yellow (#f5edd5). Using that same cloud brush that I used on the Sky, with a very low Opacity (5% - 7%) so as not to overdo it, I very gradually build up the mist along the bottom edge.

Step 9

I do the same again for Background Mountain on another New Layer ("Mist Background") but paint in a more blueish-grey mist this time. (#c9cbd8)


7. Foreground Detailing

Step 1

Now it's time to move back onto Foreground. I decided it needed to take up a bit more room, so I decided to enlarge it by selecting all the Foreground-related layers in the Layers Window (hold Command/Ctrl and click all relevant layers to select each one), then use the Free Transform tool and just scale it all up a little.

Step 2

It's only a small change, but to me it makes a difference to make the Foreground much more prominent and take up that little bit of extra space!

Step 3

I continue painting in some more detail and highlights on the rocks and bushes.

Step 4

Time to add some Texture over this layer! I open another of my textures ("rock texture2").

Step 5

I drag and drop it over my Foreground Mountain layer (but keep it underneath the Waterfall and Bushes layers!), and scale it so it covers a good portion of the rocks.

Step 6

Set the its Blending Mode to Overlay on the Layers Window, and bring its Opacity down to around 60%. I also used Clone Tool (S) again to "paint" it over the rock surfaces where I missed so it has a nice even layer of texture all over.

Step 7

Now on a New Layer above the Texture Layer I just applied, I continue adding more details over the top to blend it more!

Step 8

On the small section to the right of the Foreground (where the archway structure is sitting), I lightened it up a bit so it looks like it is sitting further behind all those rocks, but still added some texture and detailing, as it is still rather close!

Step 9

And finally, I move back onto the Waterfall layer. I Select All, and continue to paint in more shadows, highlights, and add some different colors through it (such as yellow and orange) to reflect the natural light!


8. Buildings and Structures

Step 1

Now to start on the final details on the two structures atop the Foreground mountain! On the first structure at the top, I Select All on the first layer in the "Structures 1" Group, and begin adding some shadows on those pillars. (Hold the Shift Key down as you move the brush to get straight, vertical lines!)

Step 2

I then proceed to add some highlights (this can be easy to overdo, so make sure to do little additions like this on a New Layer!)

Step 3

And again, some more little details on the pillars. Keep in mind where your light source is coming from, and strengthen the highlights accordingly!

Step 4

I've taken to adding some more bushes and shrubs on different Layers around the pillars, just to break up the solid colors.

Step 5

Now I've moved onto the outer part of "Structure1", which are the pillars sitting slightly further behind the ones up front.

Step 6

I paint in some highlights again to break up the solid chunk of color again. I feel this area doesn't need to be overly detailed, as it is sort of silhouetted against the light coming from behind it, so I don't spend too much time around here in the end.

Step 7

Moving down to "Structure 2", I clean up some edges with the Eraser Tool (E) set on a Hard Edged Brush to get it nice and crisp!

Step 8

I paint in some shadows here on a New Layer ("Shadows"). They're not too visible, but just enough to give the little structure a bit more depth!

Step 9

And again with some slight Highlights.

Step 10

Just under the Highlights layer, I add in another detail layer, and paint in the last of the fancy designs around the structure (along the top, and the poles).


9. Final Lighting Effects

Step 1

For the finishing touch, I need to bump up the atmospheric lighting. It will be coming in from the top left hand corner, so I want to put in some nice sun rays! I make a New Group in the Layers Window just under the Foreground layers, and title it "Lighting". This group will contain all the final lighting effects I will be adding now.

Step 2

With the Soft Edged Brush set on a low Opacity (30%), I paint in a soft yellow (#fed450) straight across from the top left corner to where the Middleground mountain starts. I set the blending mode of that layer to Pin Light and drop its overall Opacity to around 60%

Step 3

On another layer, I paint in a thinner straight line a darker yellow (#faa604), and stretch it across diagonally. I then set this Layer to Lighten, and drop its Opacity to around 79%.

Step 4

And finally, with an off-white yellow color (#fcf6e3), I lightly paint in a touch more mist along the bottom and a little over where the Middleground drops off on the left!


Conclusion

I hope you can take some techniques from this demonstration and use them in your own work- whether it be a basic understanding of using Layers to distinguish your ground plains (Foreground, Middleground and Background), or experimenting with some simple lighting effects as a finishing touch! Painting a detailed Landscape can seem quite daunting, but when it is broken down, it is really not too hard and can be very fun and interesting to see where it takes you!

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