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Create a Mother Earth Photo Manipulation

by
Gift

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In today's tutorial we'll use stock creatively to create a Mother Earth inspired photo manipulation. Attention to detail and observing how light reacts in the real-world are the key factors when combing multiple photographs – all of which have different degrees of light, shadow and color. We'll make extensive use of adjustment layers and some advanced masking techniques to pull off the effect. Let's get to it


Tutorial Assets

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


Before You Begin

We'll be using masks and adjustment layers extensively; so before we get started I'll briefly run through some techniques so I don't need to repeat them throughout the tutorial.

As you'll probably know, a mask is non-destructive to the layer content. It can also be linked and unlinked by clicking the chain icon between their thumbnails. An unclipped mask means that the layer content can be Transformed independently of its mask – just remember to re-link them if you need to Transform the layer content with its mask intact.


A mask can also be viewed at full screen by Alt-clicking its thumbnail; this is useful when you need to clearly see the effect of the mask. You can also disable the mask via a pop-out window by Control/right-clicking its thumbnail.


Adjustment layers are also non-destructive. There are two ways to add an adjustment layer; the first is to use the drop-down menu at the foot of the Layers palette. Holding Alt while doing this opens a new window which allows you to clip the adjustment to a single layer, rather than affecting the target layer and all the underlying layers.

The second method is to select an icon from the Adjustments panel. Toggling the row of circles at the foot of the palette allows you to clip or unclip the adjustment layer.


Linking and unlinking an adjustment layer can also be done by Alt-clicking between their thumbnails. Another neat feature of adjustment layers is that they have their own mask, which enables you to apply their effect selectively.



Step 1

Create a new portrait Photoshop canvas 9 cm x 11 cm with the Resolution at 300 pixels/inch. Set the Color Mode to RGB and the Background Contents to White.


Open the sky image and drag it into your working file as a new layer and name it "Clouds". Hit Command/Ctrl + T, then resize as shown leaving a white band at the bottom. Now place this layer within a group folder called "SKY".


Highlight the "Clouds" layer thumbnail, then press Alt and click the Hue/Saturation icon in the Adjustments panel. In the next window check the Clipping Mask box, adjust the Master sliders, the use the pull-down menu to set the Cyans as shown.



Step 2

Open the light streaks image and go to Image > Image Rotation > 180 degrees, then use the same menu to choose Flip Canvas Horizontal. Place as a new layer above the previous adjustment, resize as shown and label it "Fractal".


Change the blending mode of the "Fractal" layer to Soft Light, add a mask, then hit D on your keyboard to restore the Foreground/Background colors to their default black and white. Now set the Gradient Tool (G) to Foreground to Transparent and select Linear in the Options bar. Next, press Shift and use the arrow as a guide to add a gradient to the mask.


Clip another Hue/Satutration adjustment to this layer, but this time check the Colorize box and copy the following settings.



Step 3

Target the "Fractal" mask, hold down Alt and drag its thumbnail over the "Clouds" to copy/apply it and click Yes the next window.


Target the first Hue/Saturation adjustment mask. Grab the Brush Tool (B) and use a large, soft-edged black brush at a low Opacity to darken the top of the sky. My mask is shown in isolation at the bottom of the screengrab.


Apply the same technique to the "Fractal" mask to hide unnecessary detail using a smaller sized brush at medium Opacity – again my mask is shown at the bottom of the screengrab.



Step 4

Select the Gradient Tool (G) and click the arrow in the Options bar to open the Gradient Picker. Use the top-right fly-out menu to choose Special Effects, then click Append in the following window.


Highlight Russell's Rainbow, then select the Radial button in the Options bar.


Add a top layer within the group folder and label it "Rainbow". Shift-drag to add a gradient, then resize and position as shown. Add a mask, then hide the right-hand side with a Foreground to Transparent Linear gradient. Finally, change the layer's blend mode to Overlay for a subtle effect.



Step 5

Open the landscape and choose Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontal. Grab the Quick Selection Tool (W) and select the sky, then hit Shift + Command/Ctrl + I to Inverse the selection and Copy to the Clipboard.


Paste your selection within a new folder called "MAIN SCENE", then resize/stretch to fit the canvas width and position at the bottom as shown. Name this layer "Hills".



Step 6

Clip a Levels adjustment to this layer and set the midpoint Input slider to 1.12 to boost the contrast.


Next, clip a Color Balance adjustment and set the Midtone and Highlights as below.



Step 7

Open the first moss image and make a rough selection with the Lasso Tool (L).


Click the Refine Edge button in the Options bar, then in the next window choose On Layers (L) from the View menu. Set the Feather value to 6.2 px and ensure the Output To option is set to New Layer with Layer Mask and hit OK.



Step 8

When the refine Edge command is complete, you'll see a masked duplicate layer appear. Drag the mask thumbnail over the trash icon at the foot of the palette, then hit the Apply button in the following window. Add it as an uppermost layer within the "MAIN SCENE" folder and label it "Grass 1".

Resize, Flip Horizontal, rotate and position as shown. Add a mask, then use an assortment of soft and natural-media brushes to gently blend the edges.


Duplicate this layer, Flip Horizontal, rotate and position to the opposite side and modify the mask as required. Rename this layer "Grass 2"



Step 9

Now use a mix of hard and soft-edged brushes to mask the "Hills" layer to hide the distant fields. At this point you may need to carry out some masking adjustments to the top edges of your "Grass 1" and "Grass 2" layers.



Step 10

Clip a Levels adjustment to the "Grass 1" layer and copy these settings. Now use a medium, soft-edged brush on the adjustment mask to keep the top-left portion lighter.


Repeat with another Levels adjustment on "Grass 2", then mask the adjustment in keeping with the light source.



Step 11

Add the waterfall as a top layer within the same folder and name it "Lake". Flip Horizontal, resize and position centrally, then use a soft-edged brush to carefully mask the edges.


Next, clip a Color Balance adjustment to this layer and copy these settings to blend the color into the surroundings.



Step 12

We now need to extract our model. Switch to your Channels tab and cycle through each channel in turn to determine which holds the most contrast – in this case it’s the Blue. Drag its thumbnail over the Create new channel icon at the foot of the palette to duplicate it. Now hit Command/Ctrl + L to access the Levels dialogue box and set the Input sliders as shown.


Switch to your Paths tab and set the Pen Tool (P) to Paths in the Option bar. Now carefully plot a closed path (as shown in yellow) around the outside of the figure – we'll use the duplicate channel to create an accurate hair mask, so keep your path inside the hairline. Next, set the pen to Subtract from path (-) area for the inner 'holes'.


Command/Ctrl-click your path thumbnail to generate a selection, then set your Foreground color to white. Switch over to the Channels tab, target your duplicate, then the hit Delete to fill the active selection with black. Keep the selection active for the next stage.


Inverse (Command/Ctrl + I) the selection, then use a large, hard-edged brush to remove the background detail around the model's face and body, but leaving a the area around her hair intact. You can now deselect.


By default, white channel areas act as selections, so hit Command/Ctrl + I to Invert to a negative. To clean up the hairline, set the Burn Tool (O) to: Exposure: 72% / Range: Midtones and use a 150 px brush to darken the outer edge, then use the Dodge Tool (O) to: Exposure: 72% / Range: Highlights to lighten the inner area.


Command/Ctrl-click your duplicate channel to generate a selection, target the top RGB composite channel, then jump to the Layers tab. Activate any selection tool, then hit the Refine Edge button. In the next window choose On Layers (L) from the View drop-down menu, then check set the Smart Radius option to 1 px. Now change the Feather value to 0.1 px, activate Decontaminate Colors (to replace the edge pixels with a more appropriate color), set the Amount to 68% and hit OK to create a new masked layer.



Step 13

Disregard and Apply the mask, then add the layer at the top of the stack within the "MAIN SCENE" folder and name it "Model". Now Transform and position centrally as shown.



Step 14

Command/Ctrl-click the "Model" layer thumbnail to load it as a selection. Place a new layer below it, then Press D to restore your Foreground/Background colors to the default black/white. Now hit Alt + Delete/Backspace to fill the selection with black and squash vertically. Change the layer Blend Mode to Multiply and label it "Model shadow 1".


Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter a value of 5 px.


Next, choose Motion Blur from the same Filter menu and set the Angle to -9 degrees and the Distance to 53 px.


To make the shadow appear realistic, choose Filter > Noise > Add Noise, then set the Amount to 2% and choose both the Gaussian and Monochromatic options.


Reduce the layer's Opacity to 85%, then use a large soft-edged brush to mask the unwanted areas. I've disabled the visibility of the "Model" layer for clarity in the bottom half of the screengrab.


Add another layer set to Multiply above your first shadow and name it "Model shadow 2". Use a soft-edged brush again and paint some darker areas nearest the base of the model. Again, the visibility of the "Model" layer is switched off for clarity in the bottom half of the screengrab.


Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to sample a dark green from your image (I used # 142e09). Load the "Model" as a selection again, then place a new layer in Multiply Mode below the "Model" and label it "Model shadow 3". Press Alt + Delete/Backspace to fill the selection with your dark green Foreground color, then squash the layer content as shown.


Apply a Motion Blur with an Angle of -9 degrees and the Distance of 27 px.


Now apply the same amount of Noise as you did on the previous shadow layers.


Finally, mask the layer and reduce its Opacity to 60%. You can now readjust the opacities of your other two shadow layers to taste; I settled for "Model shadow 1" at 73% and "Model shadow 2" at 90%.



Step 15



Step 16

Next, well apply some tonal and color corrections to make the model match her surroundings. First, target your "Model" layer, clip a Levels adjustment and adjust the midtone Input slider to 2.30. To reduce the effect, reduce the adjustment layer to 34% Opacity.


Now clip a Curves adjustment, click to add three control points, then position to create a smooth "S" shape to boost the contrast.



Step 17

Switch to your Paths tab and plot a closed path around the model's right arm as indicated in yellow (1). Double-click the path thumbnail and rename it "Path 1". Now click on the Create new path icon at the foot of the palette and add another path (2), which will automatically be labelled "Path 2". Continue to add two more paths (3 and 4) as indicated. Later we'll use selections from these paths to mask the organic textures that will be placed over the model.



Step 18

Jump back to your Layers tab, then clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the "Model" layer, check the Colorize option and copy these settings.


Target the adjustment layer's mask and hit Command/Ctrl + I to Invert it to black. Now Use a large, white soft-edged brush at full strength to reinstate the green over the lower half of the figure. Next, use a black brush at a lower Opacity to gently blend the color into the torso area. Finally, paint within selections from "Path 1" and "Path 2" to modify the mask as shown.



Step 19

Open "Tree_1.jpg" from the "source" folder, grab the Lasso Tool (L) and roughly select the root area and Copy to the Clipboard. Paste within a new group folder at the top of the stack. Flip Horizontal, resize, rotate and place as shown. Name this layer "Bark 1" and the folder "NATURE 1".


We only want the indicated body areas of the texture visible, so add a mask and paint out the excess. Now paint within selections from "Path 1" and "Path 5"to keep the inner portion. Finally, set the layer Blend Mode to Multiply.



Step 20

Add a section from "Tree_2.jpg" as another layer and name it "Bark 2", then Flip Horizontal, resize and position as shown.


Invert the mask, then paint within a layer-based selection from "Path 1" to reinstate the model's arm.


Make a loose selection from the bark of "pkg_bot006.jpg" (found in the botanical pack folder), then Copy to Clipboard.


Paste as a new layer within the same folder and name it "Bark 3". Resize, rotate and place over the same arm. Now change its Blend Mode to Soft Light and use the same masking process as your previous layer.


Copy > Paste another chunk from "Tree_2.jpg", resize/position it over the model's thigh and set the Blend Mode to Overlay. Invert the mask, then Command/Ctrl-click your "Model" layer to load it as a selection. Now use a white soft-edged brush to gently blend the bark into the model. You can also modify the mask by painting with black inside a selection from "Path 4". Name this layer "Bark 4".


Place the entire content of "Tree_2.jpg" as a uppermost layer within the same folder. Position it over the lower half of the model and change the Blend Mode to Overlay. Now use the same technique to mask with selections from your "Model" layer and "Path 1" through to "Path 5". When you're done name the layer "Bark 5" and reduce its Opacity to 83%.


Next, clip a Levels adjustment to this layer and copy these Input settings.



Step 21

Copy a section from "Tree_3.jpg" and add it as another layer within the same folder. Transform/position over the model's knee and label it "Vegetation 1".


Change the Blend Mode to Overlay, then add a mask and carefully blend the plant life into the model as below.


Clip a Levels adjustment to this layer and set both the Input and output sliders as shown.



Step 22

Drag and drop "Tree_4.jpg" into the same folder, resize/position over the lower half of the model and label it "Vegetation 2". Now double-click the layer thumbnail to access the Layer Style dialogue box and Alt-click (to split) the bottom-right, left half Blend If slider to 93.


Next, change the Blend Mode to Overlay and mask as shown.


Clip a Levels adjustment to this layer and copy these Input/Output settings.



Step 23

We'll now prepare some more moss to resemble small clumps of vegetation. Because this image is pretty complex we'll use a channel, or density mask as we did earlier with the model's hair to extract the information we need. First duplicate the channel which holds the most contrast for the green (the Blue channel).


Now hit Command/Ctrl + L and apply a Levels adjustment directly to the duplicate channel as shown.


Next, grab a medium soft-edged brush to roughly paint out the stone wall – remember to toggle the visibility of the top RGB composite channel as you work.


Enter Refine Edge mode and choose the On Layers option. Now apply these Adjust Edge settings, check Decontaminate Colors and leave the Amount slider at 50% and hit OK.


Apply the mask on the new layer, then place it as an uppermost layer within the same folder and name it "Vegetation 3". You can now access Warp from the Transform menu to conform the layer content to the model's knee.


Finally, clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to this layer and apply these settings.



Step 24

Use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to encompass the background from "pkg_bot015.jpg" (from the botanical pack folder), then hit Shift + Command/Ctrl + I to Inverse the selection and Copy to Clipboard.


Paste as a new layer at the top within the same folder, then use an assortment of soft-edged and natural brush tips to blend the rocks into the scene as shown.


Now clip a Levels adjustment to the "Rocks" layer and copy the following Input/Output settings.


Next clip a Color Balance adjustment and modify the Midtones and Highlights as shown.



Step 25

Revisit "pkg_bot006.jpg" and Crop (C), then select the tree as before with the Quick Selection Tool (W).


Click the Refine Edge button, check the Decontaminate Colors checkbox and leave the Amount slider at 50%. Now paint over the complex leaf edges using a 35 px brush, but leave the more defined edges, such as the trunk and branches intact.



Step 26

Apply the mask, then place within a new folder called "NATURE 1". Name this layer "Big tree" and Transform/position over the model's neck and shoulder. Grab the Lasso Tool (L) and make a selection over the right-hand branch and hit Shift + F6 to access the Feather dialogue box and enter 2 px. Now Squash the selection and use the arrow keys on your keyboard if necessary to realign it.


Now mask with a selection from your "Model" layer, then blend the edges into the model's neck and shoulder. Finally, use an assortment of soft-edged and natural media brushes to reduce the overlapping foliage on the model's head.



Step 27

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to this layer and copy the settings as shown. Now mask the adjustment layer with a soft-edged brush to hide the green foliage and make the wood blend better with the model's skin tone.


Next, we need to boost the greens and yellows of the leaves, but leave the wood intact. First, clip another Color Balance adjustment as shown, then replace its mask with the first one (as you did in Step 3). Now hit Command/Ctrl + I to Invert the mask to a negative.


Clip a final Levels adjustment layer and copy these settings. Now use a soft-edged brush to mask the bottom of the tree, so only the top half is affected by the adjustment.



Step 28

Target your "Big tree" layer thumbnail, then Shift-click the top adjustment layer to highlight all four layers and drag them over the Create a new layer icon at the foot of the palette to duplicate them. Now move the "Big tree copy" layer content down and left, then reset its mask by filling with white.


Move the tree into position as shown, then mask with a layer-based selection from the "Model". Next, reduce the Opacity of first Color Balance duplicate ("Color Balance copy") to 65% to match the model's skin tone. Now modify the "Levels copy" mask accordingly to match the lighting.



Step 29

Use the Refine Edge command to isolate "pkg_bot009.jpg" from the "botanical pack" folder. Now use the Lasso Tool (L) to roughly select the main chunk of foliage and Copy > Paste into a new folder called "NATURE 2" at the top of the stack. Resize and position as shown. then mask the base area. Name this layer "Tree 1".


We'll be adding lots of vegetation layers, so to keep your working file manageable, apply a Levels adjustment directly to the layer content as shown.


Place your extracted "pkg_bot009.jpg" tree as a new layer, then resize and place over the central rocks. Extract and add further vegetation layers into the same folder using "pkg_bot008.jpg.jpg", tree one and tree two. Apply any adjustments such as Levels or Color Balance modifications directly, then mask and label accordingly.


Now Copy > Paste a selection from your "Big tree" layer into the same folder and modify as required. Arrange further duplicate vegetation layers around your composition and overlap the base of the model to emphasize their scale.



Step 30

Place the Cracked paint texture within the "NATURE 2" folder and name it "Cracks". Change the Blend Mode to Overlay and reduce its Opacity to 48%. Now resize so the darkest cracks appear over the model's neck. Next, use an Inversed selection from your "Model" layer to mask, then work on the mask to softly blend it into the model's skin.


Blend the layer further with a clipped Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.


Finally, clip a Levels adjustment to boost the contrast, then set the adjustment to Multiply and lower its Opacity to 80% to intensify the crack lines.



Step 31

Revisit your "NATURE 1" folder and add a new layer called "Big tree shadow" below the "Big tree". Change its Blend Mode to Multiply and use a black brush to paint a soft shadow area, then add a pixel or so of noise.



Step 32

Use the Quick Selection/ Refine Edge process to extract the tiger from it's background.


Apply the mask, then place within a new uppermost folder called "CREATURES". Scale, position over the model's knee and carefully mask to blend into the environment. Now clip a Levels adjustment to darken, then paint on the adjustment mask to reinstate the tiger's facial features.



Step 33

Use a combination of Quick Selection/Refine Edge, channel masks and the Pen Tool to extract the remaining animals from their backgrounds – hopefully you'll have mastered these techniques by now. First, add the deer, resize/position as shown, then clip a Color Balance adjustment match its surroundings.



Step 34

Now add the flamingo, resize/position over the lake. Duplicate this layer and move it below the original, then Transform > Flip Horizontal > Rotate 180 degrees. Nudge down to form the reflection, then change the Blend Mode to Multiply and mask as shown.


Next, clip a Levels adjustment to the original "Flamingo" layer, then reduce its Opacity to 35% to lessen the effect.


Finally, clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment decrease the Reds.



Step 35

Place the first parrot in the tree next to the model's head, then clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment and copy these settings.



Step 36

Add the second parrot over the model's right arm, then clip a Levels adjustment as shown.



Step 37

Place the vulture within the same folder and resize/position over the model's head. Now add these birds over the top tree in Multiply Mode at 80% Opacity.


Populate your composition with duplicate small birds layers, then select clusters of them with the Lasso Tool (L) and move/delete/Flip Horizontal to avoid exact duplicates.

At this point feel free to add a shadow layer as indicated in the same folder so your creatures sit comfortably with their surroundings.



Step 38

With the composition almost complete, it's now time for some fine-tuning. You'll notice some layers are less focused than others; this can easily be sorted by applying various amounts of Smart Sharpen (Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen). Here I added a fairly large amount of sharpening to the "Hills" layer.

Now zoom in work your way up through each layer and use your judgement as to which ones need sharpening. Remember, you can opt to convert a layer to a Smart Object (via the top-right fly-out menu on the Layers tab) before applying the filter to keep the effect live.



Step 39

At this point feel free to add more vegetation as required; I decided the area around the lake looked a little bare, so I placed some additional foliage as indicated.



Step 40

Add an empty layer within a new top folder called "EFFECTS". Now choose Image > Apply Image to create a composite layer and label it "Retouch". We'll use this layer to fix any small flaws.


You can now use a combination of the Patch/Spot Healing Brush (J) and the Clone Stamp (S) tools on this composite layer as required.



Step 41

Create a new layer within the "EFFECTS" folder, then add some subtle white clouds over the top tree and model's head using these custom brushes. Use as many layers as you like to keep the effect flexible, then mask any unwanted areas with a large soft-edged brush.



Step 42

Now we'll create some overall color and tonal modifications. Add an unclipped (to affect all layers below it) Color Balance adjustment above your clouds and copy these settings.


Next, add another unclipped Hue/Saturation adjustment as shown.



Step 43

Next, we'll apply a non-destructive dodge and burn technique to add highlight and shadow. First, add an uppermost layer within the "EFFECTS" folder and label it "Dodge and burn". Hit Shift + F5 and select 50% Gray from the Contents drop-down menu. If you change the layer's Blend Mode to Soft Light the grey will disappear. From here use the Brush Tool (B) and paint at 20% Opacity within layer-based selections (following the existing light source) to emphasize shadow and light with black and white respectively. Now deselect and paint freely to add additional light and shade as shown.

If you make a mistake and need to reinstate 50% Gray, set the layer back to normal and pick up the grey using the Eyedropper Tool (I), or use the Color Picker to set all three RGB fields to 128, then paint at 100% Opacity.



Step 44

Finally, let's add a small amount of overall sharpening. Add another composite layer (as you did in Step 40) at the top of the stack and choose Filter > Other > High Pass and enter a Radius value of 2.1 px. Now change its Blend Mode to Soft Light and you're done.



Conclusion and Scope

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. Once you've mastered these techniques, why not create your own nature-inspired scene?


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