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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation

Create a Fantasy Landscape Matte Painting in 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 fantasy landscape matte painting named "Eagle's Land". 

We'll start this tutorial by sketching out the concept/idea, and then combine some stock photo references in Adobe Photoshop. Throughout this tutorial you'll learn how to use adjustment layers, masking and brushes, as well as how to manage the color and atmosphere to achieve a beautiful result. You'll also learn how to work with groups, create lighting, pay attention to details and more. 

Tutorial Assets

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

1. Sketching the Idea and Finding the Photo References

Step 1

The first step is sketching your idea to plan out what you're going to create. Use a tablet pen and draw it on a canvas. You can draw it on paper using pencils and scan it to your computer if that's more familiar for you. My idea is to create a beautiful landscape with medieval elements, covered by a misty atmosphere and illuminated by the sunlight. I made a rough sketch in black and white, and then added some colors:

sketch linessketch linessketch lines
sketch BWsketch BWsketch BW
sketch coloredsketch coloredsketch colored

In the sketch, the main light source appears from the upper right of the scene. It's very important to define the light source right at the beginning, so that you can manipulate properly later.

Step 2

Finding decent photo references is not an easy task. It's very important to find images with appropriate perspective, shadow and light. Here are the photos I've chosen for the next stages.

images sourcesimages sourcesimages sources

2. Adding the Base Landscape

Step 1

In Photoshop, create a new document of 2200 x 2200 px and fill it with white.

new filenew filenew file

Step 2

Open the landscape image. Use the Move Tool (V) to drag it into our white canvas and convert this layer to a Smart Object.

adding landscapeadding landscapeadding landscape

Step 3

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color and change the Yellows settings.

landscape selective colorlandscape selective colorlandscape selective color

Step 4

Drag the sky 1 image onto the top of the landscape.

adding sky 1adding sky 1adding sky 1

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to remove any hard edges and blend it smoothly with the background:

masking sky 1masking sky 1masking sky 1

3. Adding the Mountains and Rocks

Step 1

Open the mountain image. Select the mountains area with the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M).

select mountainsselect mountainsselect mountains

Add this selected area to the top of the landscape.

adding mountainsadding mountainsadding mountains

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to blend the mountains with the background. The aim is to make the mountain layers appear further and higher than the existing landscape, and it will help to create a depth of field. You need to vary the brush opacity while masking to get a better result. You may notice that these mountains should look blurrier and more faded compared to other elements, as they're at a greater distance from the viewer.

masking mountainsmasking mountainsmasking mountains

Step 2

Use an adjustment layer and set it as Clipping Mask to match the mountains' color with the background. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue Saturation and drag the Saturation value down to -86.

mountains huesaturationmountains huesaturationmountains huesaturation
mountains huesaturation resultmountains huesaturation resultmountains huesaturation result

Step 3

Open the rock image. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select the rock area and add it to the bottom right of our main image where the knight and his horse will stand. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to rotate the rock a little.

select rockselect rockselect rock
adding rockadding rockadding rock

Step 4

There is an unwanted shadow at the right corner of the rock. To remove it, make a new layer above the rock one and remember to set it as Clipping Mask. On the rock layer, select a part of the rock surface with the Lasso Tool.

select rock surfaceselect rock surfaceselect rock surface

Press Control-C to copy this selection. Highlight the new layer and press Control-V to paste the selected area to the indicated shadow.

hide shadehide shadehide shade

Use a layer mask to blend the copied part with the surface and hide the unwanted shadow.

hide shade-maskinghide shade-maskinghide shade-masking

Step 5

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and decrease the Master Saturation value to -61. Also remove the blue cast at the edge of the rock by bringing the Blues Saturation value down to -82.

rock huesaturationrock huesaturationrock huesaturation
rock huesaturation 1rock huesaturation 1rock huesaturation 1

Step 6

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and increase the Red and Yellow values of the Midtones.

rock color balancerock color balancerock color balance

Step 7

Add a Curves adjustment layer to darken the rock as it's too bright compared to the background at the moment.

rock curvesrock curvesrock curves

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the front of the rock that catches the light from the sky. You can see the result on the layer mask and the result of the picture.

rock curves layer maskrock curves layer maskrock curves layer mask
rock curves masking resultrock curves masking resultrock curves masking result

Step 8

Create a new layer (set as Clipping Mask), change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray.

rock new layer dodge  burnrock new layer dodge  burnrock new layer dodge  burn

Use the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 20–30%, to refine the light and shadow of the rock. Use the Dodge Tool to brighten the front and the edge, and the Burn Tool to darken the back. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

rock dodge and burn normal moderock dodge and burn normal moderock dodge and burn normal mode
rock dodge and burn overlay moderock dodge and burn overlay moderock dodge and burn overlay mode

4. Adding the Mist

Step 1

Add the sky 2 image to the bottom of our working document and set this layer between the mountains and the rock layers. We're going to use it to create the mist.

adding mistadding mistadding mist

Add a mask to this layer, and use a soft black brush to soften the hard edges and reduce the mist intensity.

masking mistmasking mistmasking mist

Step 2

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to change the mist color to a warmer one.

mist color balancemist color balancemist color balance

Step 3

Make a Curves adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to increase the visibility of the mist. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the mist above the trees/plants area.   

mist curvesmist curvesmist curves

This step is to create a distance between the rock and the base landscape and increase the depth as well as the atmosphere of the scene.

5. Combining the Knight and the Horse

Step 1

Open the knight image. The knight in this image looks as if he's ready for a battle, whereas we want him to stay calm to enjoy the beauty of the landscape. It was too hard to find a photo with a similar pose to the one in the sketch, so I decided to combine several photos to get what I desired. 

First use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select the knight and the back of the horse, and then press Control-J to duplicate the selected part into a new layer. Make a new layer between the extracted knight layer and the background, and fill it with the color #918989.

isolate knightisolate knightisolate knight

Step 2 

Open the horse image. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (or any tools you're familiar with) to select the horse and drag it into the knight image. Place this layer under the knight one and use Control-T to scale it down to a suitable size.

select horseselect horseselect horse
adding horse adding horse adding horse

Step 3

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) for the horse layer, and set Saturation to -55 and Lightness to +1.

horse huesaturationhorse huesaturationhorse huesaturation

Step 4

Add a Curves adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to brighten the horse.

horse curveshorse curveshorse curves

Step 5

Make a new layer (set as Clipping Mask), change the mode to Soft Light 100% and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge Tool and the Burn Tool to refine the contrast of the horse: lighten the shadows and darken the highlights.

horse dodge  burnhorse dodge  burnhorse dodge  burn

Step 6

Make a new layer and use a soft round brush with the color #e6e6e6 to paint on the shadow under the horse's head to lighten it a bit more. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.

horse lighten shadehorse lighten shadehorse lighten shade

Step 7

Come back to the knight layer. Go to Edit > Puppet Warp and drag the points on the arm and the sleeve down onto his thigh. The aim is to make his arm look as if it's holding the bridle (we'll add it in the next steps).

knight puppet warpknight puppet warpknight puppet warp
knight puppet warp resultknight puppet warp resultknight puppet warp result

Step 8

Make a new layer (set as Clipping Mask), change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray. Apply the Dodge Tool and the Burn Tool to the sleeve and coat to refine the shadow/light there.

 sleeve dodge and burn sleeve dodge and burn sleeve dodge and burn

Step 9

On a new layer, use a soft black brush with the Opacity about 40% to paint the shadow of the sleeve.

sleeve shadowsleeve shadowsleeve shadow

Step 10

Make a new layer and active the Clone Tool (S), remembering to check the option All Layers. Use this tool to clone over the hole between the sleeve and the coat which is created after applying the Puppet Warp.

coat clonecoat clonecoat clone

Step 11

Open the bridle image. Take the bridle only using the Polygonal Lasso Tool and add it to the horse in the knight document. Use the Warp Tool (Edit > Transform > Warp) to tweak the bridle a bit to fit the horse's head.

select bridleselect bridleselect bridle
adding bridleadding bridleadding bridle

Add a mask to this layer and use a hard black brush to remove any unwanted details.

bridle maskingbridle maskingbridle masking

Step 12

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the color of the bridle. Change Saturation to +20 and Hue to -17 to get a similar color to the saddle.

bridle huesaturation bridle huesaturation bridle huesaturation

Step 13

Add a Curves adjustment layer to darken the bridle a little. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the darkening effect on the areas which are dark already.

bridle curvesbridle curvesbridle curves

Step 14

Make two new layers on top of the layers. On the first, use a hard round brush with the color #3f1d20, and on the second use a lighter color (#a1403c) to paint the missing bridle part which the knight is holding in his hand.

bridle paintingbridle paintingbridle painting

Step 15

Create a new layer and use a hard round brush with the color #f8f8f4 and the size about 2–5 px to paint more hair for the horse's head.

horse hair paintinghorse hair paintinghorse hair painting

Step 16

Make a new layer and use a hard round brush with the color #decab7 to paint the tail of the horse.

horse tail painting 1horse tail painting 1horse tail painting 1
On a new layer, use a lighter color for the brush (#f8f8f4) and paint the lighter hairs of the tail.

 horse tail painting 2 horse tail painting 2 horse tail painting 2

Step 17

Make a new layer under the bridle one, and use a soft black brush to paint the shadow of the bridle on the horse's head.

bridle shadowbridle shadowbridle shadow

Turn off the background and the fill layer, and then press Control-Alt-Shift-E to merge all visible layers into a new one.

6. Adding the Knight and his Horse

Step 1

Move the knight into the landscape document, and place him onto the rock.

adding knight and horseadding knight and horseadding knight and horse

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer for the knight (set as Clipping Mask) and change the settings of Reds and Cyans.

knight huesaturation redknight huesaturation redknight huesaturation red
knight huesaturation cyansknight huesaturation cyansknight huesaturation cyans

Step 2

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) and change the Midtones values.

knight color blanaceknight color blanaceknight color blanace

Step 3

Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the back of the knight and horse. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the front of them as they're illuminated by the sunlight.

knight curvesknight curvesknight curves

Step 4

Make a new layer (set as Clipping Mask), change the mode to Overlay 100% and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge Tool to brighten the front of the knight and the horse, and the Burn Tool to darken the back.

knight dodge and burnknight dodge and burnknight dodge and burn

Step 5

Create a new layer under the knight one. Use a soft black brush with the Opacity about 40% to paint a small soft shadow under the horse's feet.

knight shadow 1knight shadow 1knight shadow 1

Name this layer "shadow 1".

Step 6

We've determined the light source to be from the upper right of the scene, so the knight and the horse should have a shadow behind. Make a new layer under the shadow 1 one, and hold down the Control key while clicking the knight thumbnail layer to load its selection.

select knight selectionselect knight selectionselect knight selection

Fill this layer with black (Shift-F5). Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical.

fill knight shadowfill knight shadowfill knight shadow

On this shadow layer, use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select a hind leg, and then right click this selection and choose Layer via Cut.

cut a hind leg shadowcut a hind leg shadowcut a hind leg shadow

Convert these two layers to Smart Objects. Use Control-T to distort these shadow parts to fit the position of the correlated legs.

shadow transform 1shadow transform 1shadow transform 1
shadow transform 2shadow transform 2shadow transform 2

Lower the Opacity of these shadow layers to 50%. On each shadow layer, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the radius to 4 px.

shadow blurshadow blurshadow blur

Add a mask to the shadow layer of the cut hind leg, and use a soft black brush to erase the area that overlaps the other leg's shadow.

shadow masking 1shadow masking 1shadow masking 1

Use a layer mask to reduce the opacity of the top of another shadow layer:

shadow masking 2shadow masking 2shadow masking 2

7. Adding the Castle

Step 1

Open the castle image. Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the castle and drag it into our landscape file. Put the castle on the top of a misty mountain.

select castleselect castleselect castle
adding castleadding castleadding castle

Add a mask to this layer, and use a soft black brush to erase the hard edges and make it fade into the mountain.

masking castlemasking castlemasking castle

Step 2

Create a Curves adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to darken the castle. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the upper of the castle, as it should be brighter than the lower.

castle curvescastle curvescastle curves

Step 3

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and decrease Saturation to -66.

castle huesaturationcastle huesaturationcastle huesaturation

Step 4

To match the contrast of the castle with the mountain, go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color and pick a color from the misty background (#bec2c5). Lower the Opacity of this layer to 60% to make the castle blend smoothly with the scene.

castle fill layer castle fill layer castle fill layer
castle layer fill resultcastle layer fill resultcastle layer fill result

8. Adding the Eagles

Step 1

Open the eagle 1 image. Select the eagle using the Magic Wand Tool and add him to the left side of the image. Flip him horizontally by using Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

select eagle 1select eagle 1select eagle 1
adding eagle 1adding eagle 1adding eagle 1

Press Control-J to duplicate this layer. Move the duplicated one to the lowest edge of the foreground and enlarge the size.

duplicate eagle 1duplicate eagle 1duplicate eagle 1

Step 2

On the duplicated eagle layer, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the radius to 8 px.

eagle 1 blureagle 1 blureagle 1 blur

Step 3

Make all the eagle layers selected, and then press Control-G to group them. Change this group mode from Pass Through (default group mode) to Normal 100%. To remove the blue cast on the eagles, create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on top of these layers. Choose the Blues channel and change Hue to +49, Saturation to -75 and Lightness to -38.

eagles 1 huesaturationeagles 1 huesaturationeagles 1 huesaturation

Because the group mode is changed to Normal 100% (no Pass Through), this adjustment layer only affects the layers within this group (the eagle ones).

Step 4

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer within the group, and alter the Midtones settings by increasing the Red and Yellow values. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the effect of this adjustment layer on the bigger eagle wing in the foreground.

eagles 1 color balance midtoneseagles 1 color balance midtoneseagles 1 color balance midtones

Step 5

Use a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the eagles. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the lower part of the eagles to balance their body contrast (the upper is brighter, the lower is darker).

eagles 1 curveseagles 1 curveseagles 1 curves

Step 6

Make a new layer above the smaller eagle layer (set as Clipping Mask), change the mode to Overlay 100% and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge Tool to brighten the tail and the Burn Tool to darken the belly.

eagles 1 dodge and burneagles 1 dodge and burneagles 1 dodge and burn

Step 7

Open the eagle 2 image. Isolate him from the background using the Magic Wand Tool and add him to the top of the sky, above the castle.

adding eagle 2adding eagle 2adding eagle 2

Step 8

Use a Curves adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to brighten the eagle.

eagle 2 curveseagle 2 curveseagle 2 curves

Step 9

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Cyans settings to reduce the cyan cast on the eagle wings.

eagles 2 huesaturationeagles 2 huesaturationeagles 2 huesaturation

9. The Basic Color Adjustment

Step 1

Make a Gradient Map adjustment layer on top of the layers, pick the colors #0f264b and #d3ce97, and change the mode of this layer to Soft Light 100%.

gradient map soft light modegradient map soft light modegradient map soft light mode

Step 2

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer, and change the Midtones and Highlights settings.

color balance midtonescolor balance midtonescolor balance midtones
color balance highlightscolor balance highlightscolor balance highlights

Step 3

Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color and pick the color #2e2001. Change this layer mode to Exclusion 100%.

fill layer exclusion modefill layer exclusion modefill layer exclusion mode

Step 4

Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the scene.

curves darkencurves darkencurves darken

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the contrast of the upper part of the scene, mostly on the mountains, trees, and eagles.

curves masking curves masking curves masking
curves resultcurves resultcurves result

10. Adding the Sunlight

Step 1

Make a new layer on top of the layer, and change the foreground color to #2c1602. Take a soft round brush and paint on the top of the scene where you've aimed to make light. Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%.

light normal mode and linear dodge modelight normal mode and linear dodge modelight normal mode and linear dodge mode

On a new layer with the same mode, use the same brush to paint on the trees, mountains, castle and the eagle in the middle.

adding light 2adding light 2adding light 2

Step 2

Change the brush color to #dccdc0 and start painting the light on the front of the rock, the knight and the horse. Also use the same brush to paint on the tree, the castle, and the sides of the mountains which catch the light. Alter this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

light effect  normal modelight effect  normal modelight effect  normal mode
light effect overlay modelight effect overlay modelight effect overlay mode

Step 3

Change the brush type to the light rays and the color to #fdf3ea. Choose the brush you like and paint it on the canvas.

paint light raypaint light raypaint light ray

Use Control-T to distort the light a little, and place it in the sunlight area.

distort light raydistort light raydistort light ray

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to erase any undesired light rays, such as on the back of the mountains, the middle eagle, and the rock.

light ray masking light ray masking light ray masking

To soften the light a bit, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the radius to 6 px.

light ray softeninglight ray softeninglight ray softening

11. The Final Adjustment

Step 1

Create a Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors #db9d68 and #2c1602. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.

gradient map soft light 2gradient map soft light 2gradient map soft light 2

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the Gradient Map effect at the sides of the scene.

gradient map layer mask gradient map layer mask gradient map layer mask
gradient map result gradient map result gradient map result

Step 2

Make a Channel Mixer adjustment layer and change the Red settings.

channel mixer redchannel mixer redchannel mixer red

Set this layer mode to Soft Light 50%. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to decrease the effect of this adjustment layer on the sun area and the back of the rock.

channel mixer soft light modechannel mixer soft light modechannel mixer soft light mode

Step 3

Create a Selective Color adjustment layer and change the values for Yellows, Greens and Neutrals.

selective color yellowsselective color yellowsselective color yellows
selective color greensselective color greensselective color greens
selective color neutralsselective color neutralsselective color neutrals

Step 4

Make a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the color.

vibrance adjustment 1vibrance adjustment 1vibrance adjustment 1

Step 5

Use another Selective Color adjustment layer to add some blue/magenta to the scene.

selective color reds yellows cyans blues magentas neutralsselective color reds yellows cyans blues magentas neutralsselective color reds yellows cyans blues magentas neutrals
selective color result selective color result selective color result

Step 6

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #01e9ec.

photo filter photo filter photo filter

Step 7

Create another Vibrance adjustment layer to boost the colors.

vibrance 2vibrance 2vibrance 2

On this layer mask use a black brush to remove or reduce the effect on the areas you feel oversaturated.

vibrance masking vibrance masking vibrance masking

Congratulations, You're Done!

Here is the result you should get with this tutorial. I hope you've found it useful and learned some new techniques. If you have any question or idea, feel free to leave it in the comment box below.

Final resultFinal resultFinal result
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