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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation
Design

How to Create a Desolate Wasteland in Adobe Photoshop

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

In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a desolate landscape photo manipulation using Adobe Photoshop. 

First, we'll build the basic scene using a sky and a road images. Later, we'll add the cracks, the car, and the signs using adjustment layers, masking, and brushes. After that, we'll add some birds and make the main light source. Finally, we'll use several adjustment layers to complete the final result. 

Tutorial Assets

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

1. Build the Environment

Step 1

Create a new 2000 x 1333 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:

new file

Step 2

Open the sky image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the sky only and drag this part into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V):

add sky

Step 3

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and decrease the lightness:

sky curves

On this layer mask, select a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to reveal the light at the bottom of the sky where we aim to add the main light source.

sky curves masking

Step 4

Open the road image. First use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) or any tools you're familiar with to isolate the road from the background. Create a new layer above the isolated road layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Activate the Clone Tool (S) to remove the electric poles and small roads on the sides, as well as the separating strip and any traces of the life there.

road clone areas
road clone result

Step 5

Hide the background layer and hit Control-Shift-Alt-E to merge the isolated road layer and the clone one into a new layer. Place it in the bottom of the working document and flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal). Rotate it a little using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) :

add road

Step 6

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a soft black brush with the opacity about 30-35% to make the edges of the landscape, especially the left, fade into the horizon. It aims to add some depth to the scene.

road masking

Step 7

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) and bring the Saturation value down to -59:

road hue saturation

Step 8

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the landscape.

road curves

2. Add the Cracks

Step 1

Open the crack 1 image. Select the crack area only using the Rectangular Marquee Tool and drag it onto the bottom of the road surface. Use Control-T to change its perspective to fit the road's one.

add crack 1

Change this layer mode to Overlay 100% and use a layer mask to remove the hard edges and blend the crack with the road:

crack 1 masking

Step 2

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the road and change its lightness:

crack 1 hue saturation

Step 3

Add the crack 2 image to the right edge of the road and alter its mode to Overlay 100%:

add crack 2

Blend the crack with the road using a layer mask:

crack 2 masking

Step 4

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation and Lightness values. The effect looks much better now.

crack 2 hue saturation

Step 5

Add the crack 3 image to the middle of the road. Duplicate it and move the crack to the right edge a bit and make it larger as it's nearer the foreground than the first.

add crack 3

Change the mode of these layers to Overlay 100% and apply brushing on their layer masks and make the effect appear more subtle and natural.

crack 3 masking

Step 6

Select the crack 3 layers and hit Control-G to make a group for them. Change this group mode to Overlay 100%. Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Saturation and Lightness settings:

crack 3 hue saturation

Step 7

Add the crack 4 image as done with the other crack layers.

crack 4
crack 4 curves

3. Add the Car

Step 1

Open the car image. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select the car with the ground and move it to the middle of the road:

add car

Add a mask to this layer and hide most of the ground:

car masking

Step 2

Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the car. We aim to add the light to the left horizon, below the dark clouds, so on this layer mask, paint on the front of the car to reveal the light there:

car curves

Step 3

Make a new layer above the car one and use a medium-soft black brush to paint a long shadow for the car. The nearer the car, the darker the shadow.

car shadow

4. Add the Signs

Step 1

Open the sign 1 image and isolate it from the background. Add it to the right side of the road:

add sign 1

Step 2

Go to Edit > Puppet Warp and make the right of the sign board twisted by moving the points there. Move the higher point down and the lower point up.

sign 1 puppet warp

Step 3

Make a Curves adjustment layer to darken the sign. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reveal the light on the curve of the board and the iron sticks.

sign 1 curves

Step 4

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation value to -33:

sign 1 hue saturation

Step 5

Add the sign 2 after cutting it out from the background. Place it on the left of the grassy edge after flipping it horizontally.

add sign 2

Step 6

Create a new layer and use the Clone Tool to erase most of the letters on the sign board. Leave some letters visible and blur some to increase its old, abandoned effect.

sign 2 cloning

Step 7

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value down to -78:

sign 2 hue saturation

Step 8

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the sign. Paint on the top front and the iron stick so that they're not affected by this adjustment layer.

sign 2 curves

Step 9

To make a shadow for this sign, make a new layer under the sign one and use a medium-soft black brush to paint on the left edge of the grassy ground. Lower the opacity of this layer to 50%:

sign 2 shadow

5. Add the Birds

This step is quite easy. Create several layers on top of the layers and change the foreground to black. Choose the bird brushes and paint some flying birds on the horizon.

add birds

6. Create the Light

Step 1

Make a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #231201 to paint on the horizon. Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%:

light 1
light 1 linear dodge mode

Step 2

Make another layer and alter its mode to Overlay 100%. Use a soft brush with the color #e69c61 to paint on the light area and the signs.

light 2

Step 3

Create a new layer and use a lighter brush color (#fff7d6) to paint highlight on the horizon, road and the sign 1. Change this layer mode to Overlay 100%:

light 3

Step 4

Continue using the same brush to make the highlight on the horizon stronger. The layer mode is Overlay 100% again.

light 4

7. The Final Adjustment

Step 1

Create a Color Fill layer on top of the layers and pick the color #3b1915. Change this layer mode to Exclusion 100%.

color fill 1

Step 2

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones and Highlights settings:

whole scene color balance
color balance result

Step 3

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #b7ec00:

whole scene photo filter

Step 4

Add a Curves adjustment layer to increase the contrast of the scene. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to paint over the picture except both edges to make them darker after this step.

whole scene curves

Step 5

Use a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the final effect:

vibrance

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope that you've enjoyed my tutorial and learned something new. Feel free to share your ideas or comments in the box below—I'd love to see them. Enjoy Photoshopping!

final result
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