In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a flying owl artwork using simple photo manipulation techniques.
We'll use three stock images: one for the background, one for the main subject, and one for the foreground. You'll learn how to combine and arrange the elements based on their lightness using adjustment layers, masking, and brushes.
In the final section, you'll learn how to create light using an easy technique that can be applied to a variety of photos.
The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:
1. How to Add the Forest Background
Create a new 2000 x 1333 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:
Open the forest image. Drag this image into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V).
The busy background will make the main subject (the owl) less outstanding. We'll use a popular technique to make it look separate from the main subject.
Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and change the Radius. The Radius will depend on the sharpness of the background image you're using and how large it is. Drag the Radius button until you get a similar result to the one below or your desired result. In this case, I've set it to 8 px.
The background looks a bit too dark and full of contrast, while we're aiming to make it brighter and more foggy. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and increase the lightness.
Select the Curves layer mask and activate a soft round brush with black
color (soft black brush) to paint on the following area. We'll add light to the middle
section and will brighten it at a later stage.
Add another Curves adjustment and make the light on the both sides stronger. Use a soft black brush to erase the middle section for the same reason as in the previous step.
2. How to Add the Tree
Open the tree image. Isolate the tree using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and place it on the right side of the canvas.
Flip the tree horizontally by choosing Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal to create a better frame for the whole scene.
There are some unwanted details on the tree. Hit Control-Shift-N to
create a new layer above the tree layer. Set it as Clipping Mask by
pressing Control-Alt-G and activate the Clone Tool (S). Use this tool to
remove the indicated details.
The right part of the tree looks missing (lopped branch). To correct it, select the left branch of the tree using the Lasso Tool and add it to the missing area of the existing tree.
Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to
this layer. Use a medium-hard black brush to remove the hard edges and blend the branch with the
Make a new layer above the branch and set it as Clipping Mask. Use the Clone Tool to remove the unwanted leaf on the top of this branch.
Select the tree, the branch, and the cloning layers, and press Control-G to make a group for them. Change this group mode from Pass Through to Normal 100%. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value down to -87.
Use a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color
Make a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness. It's to strengthen the shadow on the hidden areas of the tree. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the contour and the front of the tree. We're aiming to add light to the left, so the front of the tree should be bright.
Add another Curves adjustment layer to brighten the front of the tree. Select the Curves layer mask and paint on the shaded areas of the tree so they will not be affected by this adjustment layer.
Some parts on the front of the tree are still not bright and look a bit flat. To fix it, make a new layer above the clone layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray.
Select the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 20-25% to brighten the front of the tree and paint more details for this area. Vary the brush size to achieve a better result. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.
Apply dodging and burning to the branch using the same method.
3. How to Import the Owl
Open the owl image. As it has a white background, use the Magic Wand
Tool (W) to isolate the owl and add it to the left section of the main
Create a Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness. On this
layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the light on the hidden
areas (below and inside the wings and the lower body) and the middle top of
the owl's head (as it's bright enough). We need the effect to be visible only on
the areas which are exposed to the light.
Add a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color
Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100% and fill with 50%
gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to refine some details on the wings,
tail, and claws.
4. How to Do the Base Adjustment
Create a Gradient Map adjustment layer on top of the layers and pick the
#00601b. Lower the Opacity of this layer to 20%.
Make another Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors
#91c6e1. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.
Use a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick a cyan color (
Create a Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness a little. Use a soft black brush to paint on the edges, except the middle area, where we're aiming to add light.
Add a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the colors.
5. How to Create the Final Light
In this stage we'll create light using an easy technique. I use it in most of my projects, and it's very simple.
I use two layers, the first with Linear Dodge mode and the second with Overlay mode. On the first layer, use a dark tone for the brush, usually in colors of red, gold, purple, or yellow, to create a glow of light. The color used will depend on the color of the background—they can be compatible or contrasting colors. You should not use too dark a tone for the brush as with Linear Dodge mode the effect would be mostly invisible.
On the second layer, use a light color to create a highlight. If the background image is too dark, you can paint more highlight on a new layer using a lighter brush color, keeping Normal mode or altering to Overlay mode.
In our case, the background has a cyan color, so a vibrant gold light
will work perfectly on it. First, create a new layer and use a soft brush
with the color
#391508 to paint the area above the owl and some areas of the front of the tree. Alter this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%.
Make a new layer and use a yellow brush (
#f7c474) to paint highlight
and the reflected light on the owl and the tree. You can use a layer mask to
reduce the light on the areas which were overly done. As mentioned, set
the layer mode to Overlay 100%.
Create a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the final effect.
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!