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How to Create a Dark, Sci-Fi Landscape Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop

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Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a dark, sci-fi landscape photo manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. 

First, we'll build the base scene using two stock images. After that, we'll import the stars and add planets. Later, we'll add the misty mountains and a big rock to the middle of the background. We'll use several adjustment layers to change the color and contrast of the whole scene. Finally, we'll create the lighting effect.

If you're looking for photo manipulation resources, including brushes, texture, 3D models and photos, you can find them all over on Envato Elements and Envato Market.

Tutorial Assets

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

1. How to Build the Base Landscape

Step 1

Create a new 1920 x 1080 px document and fill it with white:

new filenew filenew file

Step 2

Open the landscape image and use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to isolate the landscape only. Move it into the white canvas and place it at the bottom using the Move Tool (V). Convert this layer to a Smart Object.

add landscapeadd landscapeadd landscape

Step 3

There are some unwanted details on the ground. To correct them, create a new layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Use the Clone Tool (S) to remove the indicated details.

landscape cloninglandscape cloninglandscape cloning

Step 4

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance and change the Midtones settings:

landscape color balancelandscape color balancelandscape color balance

Step 5

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value to -82:

landscape hue saturationlandscape hue saturationlandscape hue saturation

Step 6

Make a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness a lot. On this layer mask, select a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) with a lowered opacity (about 10-15%) to reveal some visibility on the middle of the ground.

landscape curves landscape curves landscape curves
landscape curves maskinglandscape curves maskinglandscape curves masking
landscape curves masking resultlandscape curves masking resultlandscape curves masking result

Step 7

Create a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray:

landscape burn toollandscape burn toollandscape burn tool

Activate the Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 25% to darken the left edge of the landscape. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

landscape burning resultlandscape burning resultlandscape burning result

Step 8

Open the sky image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the sky only and place it in the upper half of the main canvas. Set this layer below the landscape group and reduce its opacity to 50%.

add skyadd skyadd sky

Step 9

Make a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the middle of the sky as we're aiming to make the light source there.

sky curves 1sky curves 1sky curves 1

Step 10

Add another Curves adjustment layer to darken the left more as it's a bit brighter than the right. Paint on the right and the middle to show some light.

sky curves 2sky curves 2sky curves 2

Step 11

To make the left darker, create a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #8f939d to paint on there. Change this layer mode to Multiply 100%.

darken skydarken skydarken sky

Step 12

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones settings to make the sky more purple:

sky color balancesky color balancesky color balance

2. How to Add the Stars

Step 1

Place the star image over the main document and change its mode to Linear Dodge 100%.

add starsadd starsadd stars

Step 2

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the effect.

stars hue saturationstars hue saturationstars hue saturation

Step 3

Use a Levels adjustment layer to decrease the effect's brightness.

star levelsstar levelsstar levels

Step 4

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a soft black brush to clear the stars on the ground and reduce the effect's visibility in the sky's area.

stars maskingstars maskingstars masking

3. How to Import the Planets

Step 1

Open the planet texture. Check out this tutorial to know how to make a planet. Drag the planet into the main canvas and place it onto the top middle. Duplicate this layer twice and scale them down, and then arrange them on both sides of the big one.

add planetsadd planetsadd planets

Step 2

Add a mask to the two small planet layers and make them fade out into the sky.

planets maskingplanets maskingplanets masking

Step 3

Double click the big planet layer, choose Inner Shadow and Outer Glow. Set the color of shadow to #f4f5f6 and color of glow to white.

big planet inner shadowbig planet inner shadowbig planet inner shadow
big planet outer glowbig planet outer glowbig planet outer glow
big planet layer style resultsbig planet layer style resultsbig planet layer style results

Step 4

Select these planet layers and hit Control-G to make a group for them. Set this group's mode to Normal 100% and use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer within the group to desaturate the planets.

planets hue saturationplanets hue saturationplanets hue saturation

Step 5

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the planets' color. On the layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the magenta effect on the small planets.

planets color balanceplanets color balanceplanets color balance

Step 6

Add a Curves adjustment layer to darken the planets. Paint on the lower parts of the planets towards the middle light of the background.

planets curves 1planets curves 1planets curves 1

Step 7

Use another Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the lower of the planets. Paint on the higher areas of the planets so they won't be affected by this adjustment layer.

planet curves 2planet curves 2planet curves 2

Step 8

Create another Curves adjustment layer to make the planets, especially the big one, hazier and blended more into the sky.

planets curves 3planets curves 3planets curves 3

4. How to Create the Background Mountains

Step 1

Isolate the mountains from the sky and add them to the left of the landscape. Lower the opacity of this layer to 70%.

add mountain 1add mountain 1add mountain 1

Step 2

Duplicate this layer and flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal). Move it to the right side and change its opacity to 90%.

add moutain 2add moutain 2add moutain 2

Step 3

Add a mask to each of these layers and use a soft black brush to remove the areas on the ground and decrease the mountains' opacity on the background.

mountains maskingmountains maskingmountains masking

Step 4

Make a group for the mountain layers and use a Curves adjustment layer to change their lightness to match the landscape's one.

mountains curvesmountains curvesmountains curves

5. How to Add the Rock

Step 1

Cut out the rock from the background and place it in the middle of the background. Use a layer mask with a medium-soft black brush to erase the bottom and blend the rock with the existing ground.

add rockadd rockadd rock
rock maskingrock maskingrock masking

Step 2

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation value to -66.

rock hue saturationrock hue saturationrock hue saturation

Step 3

The rock looks too bright compared to the background, so add a Curves adjustment layer to darken it.

rock curves 1rock curves 1rock curves 1

Step 4

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones values:

rock color balancerock color balancerock color balance

Step 5

Create a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to paint bright edges for the contour of the rock where it should be illuminated by the background light, and also paint more details for the rock.

rock DBrock DBrock DB

Step 6

Use another Curves adjustment layer to make the contour of the rock softer and hazier. Paint on the rest to keep its contrast and shadow.

rock curves 2rock curves 2rock curves 2

6. How to Do the Basic Adjustments

Step 1

Make a Gradient Map adjustment layer on top of the layers and pick the colors #a58869 and #94ece5. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 90%.

whole scene gradient mapwhole scene gradient mapwhole scene gradient map

Step 2

Add a Curves adjustment layer to make the edges of the landscape darker. Paint on the middle to make it brighter than the edges.

whole scene curves 1whole scene curves 1whole scene curves 1

Step 3

Create a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #1200ec:

whole scene photo filterwhole scene photo filterwhole scene photo filter

Step 4

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights settings:

whole scene color balance midtoneswhole scene color balance midtoneswhole scene color balance midtones
whole scene color balance highlightswhole scene color balance highlightswhole scene color balance highlights

Step 5

Add another Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the middle. Paint on the edges so they won't be affected by this adjustment layer.

whole scene curves 2whole scene curves 2whole scene curves 2
whole scene curves 2 maskingwhole scene curves 2 maskingwhole scene curves 2 masking
whole scene curves 2 resultwhole scene curves 2 resultwhole scene curves 2 result

Step 6

Make another Curves adjustment layer to increase the contrast for the whole scene. The selected areas show where to paint on the layer mask.

whole scene curves 3whole scene curves 3whole scene curves 3

7. How to Make the Light Effect

Step 1

First, create a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #b1c0d9  to make a spot on the canvas. After that, change the brush color to #cddbf3 to make a smaller spot on the middle of the previous one.

light spot 1light spot 1light spot 1

Convert this layer to a Smart Object and use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to make it longer and much thinner.

light 1 resultlight 1 resultlight 1 result
light 1 transforminglight 1 transforminglight 1 transforming

Add a mask to this layer to make the line fade into the rock and look like a gap.

light 1 maskinglight 1 maskinglight 1 masking

Step 2

Make a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #f5f7fb to make a light spot on the existing one. Use Control-T and a layer mask to make the light spot appear like a subtle ray.

light 2light 2light 2

Step 3

On a new layer, use a soft brush with the color #cddbf3 to paint a highlight in the middle. Change this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

light 3 light 3 light 3

Duplicate this layer to make the light stronger.

light 3 copylight 3 copylight 3 copy

Step 4

To make a light flare, take the Rectangular Marquee Tool to grab a square and set the Feather Radius to 2. Use a large soft brush with the color #cddbf3 to spot on the right side.

light 4 spotlight 4 spotlight 4 spot

Hit Control-D to deselect and use Control-T to make it much thinner (convert this layer to a Smart Object before transforming). Move it to the light gap area.

light 4 tranforminglight 4 tranforminglight 4 tranforming

Use a layer mask to remove the top and bottom, making it mostly visible on the left of the light gap.

light 4 resultlight 4 resultlight 4 result

Step 5

Use a small brush with the color #ff89aa to paint along the light line. Set this layer mode to Hard Light 100%.

light 5light 5light 5

Step 6

Use the same brush to paint around the light gap. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100% and mask it off so the red effect appears very subtle.

light 6light 6light 6

Step 7

Make a Vibrance adjustment layer on top of the layers to complete the final effect.

vibrance adjustmentvibrance adjustmentvibrance adjustment

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope that you've enjoyed the tutorial and learned something new for your own projects. Feel free to share your results or leave comments in the box below. Enjoy Photoshopping!

final resultfinal resultfinal result
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