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How to Create a Dreamy Forest 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 dreamy scene featuring a calm forest with a glowing lantern using photo manipulation techniques in Adobe Photoshop. 

First we'll build the base scene using an image of stairs and several stock forest images. Later we'll add the stream, bird, arch, and lantern, and we'll blend them together with adjustment layers, masking, and brushes. We'll use several adjustment layers and paint the lamp's light to complete the final effect.

Tutorial Assets

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

1. How to Build the Base Scene

Step 1

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

new filenew filenew file

Step 2

Open the stairs image. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select the stairs area and drag it into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V). Place it in the lower half.

add stairadd stairadd stair

Step 3

There are some unwanted light areas on the steps. To fix it, create a new layer above the stairs layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Activate the Clone Tool (S) to remove the indicated details.

unwanted light detailunwanted light detailunwanted light detail
remove unwanted light detailremove unwanted light detailremove unwanted light detail

Step 4

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation (set as Clipping Mask). Decrease the Saturation value to -67:

stair hue saturationstair hue saturationstair hue saturation

Step 5

Drag the forest 1 image into our main document using the Move Tool. Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Select a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to erase the bottom and reveal the steps.

add forest 1add forest 1add forest 1
forest  1 maskingforest  1 maskingforest  1 masking

Step 6

Make a Curves adjustment layer to darken the forest a little.

forest 1 curves forest 1 curves forest 1 curves

Step 7

Go back to the stairs and create a Curves adjustment layer above the Hue/Saturation adjustment one. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush with a lowered opacity (about 15-30%) to refine the lightness on the steps. You can see the results on the mask and on the picture.

stair curves 1stair curves 1stair curves 1
stair curves 1 maskingstair curves 1 maskingstair curves 1 masking
stair  curves 1 masking resultstair  curves 1 masking resultstair  curves 1 masking result

Step 8

Create another Curves adjustment layer to reduce the light on the stairs again. On the layer mask, paint on the upper steps as they get more light from the background than the lower so should be a bit brighter.

stair curves 2stair curves 2stair curves 2

Step 9

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

stair DB new layerstair DB new layerstair DB new layer

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 15-20% to brighten the highest step and darken the shadow area of the lower ones. Also paint the shadow for one of the lower steps. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

stair D B normal modestair D B normal modestair D B normal mode
stair D  B overlay modestair D  B overlay modestair D  B overlay mode

2. How to Complete the Forest Background

Step 1

Move the forest 2 image into our main document and add a mask to this layer. Use a soft black brush to remove the lower half, both sides, and the foggy middle area to leave a blended result like below:

add forest 2add forest 2add forest 2
forest 2 maskingforest 2 maskingforest 2 masking

Step 2

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation value to the maximum.

forest 2 hue saturationforest 2 hue saturationforest 2 hue saturation

Step 3

Add the forest 3 image to our canvas and set the far foggy background to the middle section of the existing forest. Use a layer mask to leave only the foggy area visible.

add forest 3add forest 3add forest 3
forest 3 maskingforest 3 maskingforest 3 masking

Step 4

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value down to -100:

forest 3 hue saturationforest 3 hue saturationforest 3 hue saturation

Step 5

Make a Curves adjustment layer to darken this part of the forest a little.

forest 3 curves forest 3 curves forest 3 curves

3. How to Import the Stream

Step 1

Add the stream image to the lowest area of the scene and flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal). Use a layer mask to mask off the top, leaving the stream with the rocks and lower vines visible.

add streamadd streamadd stream
stream maskingstream maskingstream masking

Step 2

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the stream, rocks, and vines.

stream hue saturationstream hue saturationstream hue saturation

Step 3

Make a Curves adjustment layer to reduce the lightness of the stream.

stream curves stream curves stream curves

Step 4

Add a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray. Use the Burn Tool to darken the rocks more.

stream D  B resultstream D  B resultstream D  B result

4. How to Add the Bird

Step 1

Isolate the bird from the background and add it to the upper middle section. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to make it much smaller to create an impression of distance.

add birdadd birdadd bird

Step 2

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the bird.

bird hue saturationbird hue saturationbird hue saturation

Step 3

Use a Curves adjustment layer to reduce the bird's visibility, making it fade out into the foggy background.

bird curvesbird curvesbird curves

5. How to Retouch the Arch

Step 1

Cut out the arch from the original image and place it above the stairs. Use a layer mask to erase the bottom and blend it with the existing ground.

add archadd archadd arch
arch maskingarch maskingarch masking

Step 2

Make a Hue/Saturation and bring the Saturation value down to the minimum.

arch hue saturationarch hue saturationarch hue saturation

Step 3

Create a Curves adjustment layer to decrease the light on the arch. On the layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase or reduce the dark effect on the areas which are dark enough.

arch curves 1arch curves 1arch curves 1

Step 4

Add another Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the arch's contour. Paint on the rest so it won't be affected by this adjustment layer.

arch curves 2arch curves 2arch curves 2

Step 5

Create a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge Tool to paint more light for the contour and the Burn Tool to strengthen the shadow and details within the arch.

arch D  B normal modearch D  B normal modearch D  B normal mode
arch D B overlay modearch D B overlay modearch D B overlay mode

6. How to Add the Lantern

Step 1

Isolate the lantern from the background and place it above the stairs.

add lanternadd lanternadd lantern

Step 2

The lantern should be hazier to fit the foggy background. Create a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the contrast of the lamp.

lantern curveslantern curveslantern curves

Step 3

Make a new layer below the lamp layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray (non-Clipping Mask). Use the Burn Tool to paint a shadow for the lamp on the steps.

lantern shadowlantern shadowlantern shadow

7. How to Do the Basic Adjustments

Step 1

Create a Channel Mixer adjustment layer on top of the layers and change the Red settings:

whole scene channel mixerwhole scene channel mixerwhole scene channel mixer

Step 2

Make a Color Fill layer and pick the color #21031e. Alter this layer mode to Exclusion 100%.

whole scene color fill whole scene color fill whole scene color fill

Step 3

Add a Curves adjustment layer to give the edges and sides a stronger contrast. Paint around the entrance and foggy forest so it won't be darkened by this adjustment layer.

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

8. How to Paint the Light

Step 1

To paint more light for the lamp, create a new layer on top of the layers and use a soft brush with the color #210402 to paint on the lamp and the area around it. Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%.

 light 1 normal mode light 1 normal mode light 1 normal mode
light 1 linear dodgelight 1 linear dodgelight 1 linear dodge

Step 2

Use a new layer and a soft brush with the color #d7a650 to paint highlights for the lamp, steps, the details on the ground, and the contours of the arch. Alter this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

light 2light 2light 2

Step 3

On a new layer, use a soft brush with the color #ee9463 to make the highlight inside the lamp stronger. Set this layer mode to Hard Light 100%.

light 3light 3light 3

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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