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How to Create a Mysterious Forest Scene 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 mysterious forest scene featuring a fantasy deer. First, we'll build the base scene with several images of forests and trees. Later, we'll add the deer and decorate his head with branches and leaves. After that, we'll do some basic adjustments and paint light for the scene. We'll use several adjustment layers to enhance 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 1130 px document in Photoshop with the given settings.

new filenew filenew file

Step 2

Open the forest image. Drag this image into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V). Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) with Warp mode to change this image perspective by making the top narrower and the bottom larger.

add forestadd forestadd forest

Step 3

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 8 px:

forest gaussian blurforest gaussian blurforest gaussian blur

On this filter mask, use a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to erase the background and leave the blur effect visible only on the foreground. This step is to create some depth for the scene.

forest gaussian blur maskingforest gaussian blur maskingforest gaussian blur masking

Step 4

We need to remove the traces and the tree on the left edge (we're aiming to add another tree to this edge, so this area needs to be clear to make the dark side of that tree stand out). Make a new layer above the forest layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Activate the Clone Tool (S) to erase the indicated details.

forest cloningforest cloningforest cloning

Step 5

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation (set as Clipping Mask) and bring the Saturation value down to -62.

forest hue saturationforest hue saturationforest hue saturation

Step 6

Create a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the effect on the following parts, mostly on the middle section.

forest curvesforest curvesforest curves

2. How to Import the Trees

Step 1

Open the tree 1 image. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select the tree and the area around the root, and place the selected tree on the left edge of the canvas. Flip it horizontally by choosing Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

add tree 1add tree 1add tree 1

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a soft black brush to remove the hard edges and blend the tree root with the existing ground.

tree 1 maskingtree 1 maskingtree 1 masking

Step 2

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and set the Saturation value to -95:

tree 1 hue saturationtree 1 hue saturationtree 1 hue saturation

Step 3

Create a Curves adjustment layer and reduce the lightness. On this layer mask, paint on the front of the tree and make the darkness visible on the other side. We're aiming to make the main light source in the middle of the front of the tree brighter than the rest.

tree 1 curves 1tree 1 curves 1tree 1 curves 1

Step 4

Make another Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness for the tree's front. Paint on the rest to keep it still in shade.

tree 1 curves 2tree 1 curves 2tree 1 curves 2

Step 5

I don't like the texture of tree 1, so I use another tree to cover it. Open the tree 2 image. Select the lower trunk only and place it over tree 1. Use Control-T with Warp mode to tweak tree 2 to fit the form of tree 1.

add tree 2add tree 2add tree 2

Use a layer mask blend tree 2 with the existing tree and reveal the details on the root of tree 1.

tree 2 maskingtree 2 maskingtree 2 masking

Step 6

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation value to -67:

tree 2 hue saturationtree 2 hue saturationtree 2 hue saturation

Step 7

Create a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the front of tree 2. Use a soft black brush to paint on the rest of the tree to make it still in shade.

tree 2 curvestree 2 curvestree 2 curves

Step 8

Add a Levels adjustment layer with the same purpose. The selected area shows where to paint on the layer mask.

tree 2 levelstree 2 levelstree 2 levels

Step 9

Open the tree 3 image. Isolate the tree using the Polygonal Lasso Tool and add it to the right side of the canvas. Flip it horizontally.

add tree 3add tree 3add tree 3

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to blend the tree's bottom with the ground.

tree 3 maskingtree 3 maskingtree 3 masking

Step 10

Create a new layer and use the Clone Tool to remove the branch with leaves on the front of the root.

tree 3 cloningtree 3 cloningtree 3 cloning

Step 11

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and set the Saturation value to -69.

tree 3 hue saturationtree 3 hue saturationtree 3 hue saturation

Step 12

Create a Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness. Paint on the right of the tree that is hidden from the light.

tree 3 curvestree 3 curvestree 3 curves

3. How to Make the Basic Adjustment

Make a Curves adjustment layer on top of the layers to darken the whole scene. Use a soft black brush with a low opacity (20-25%) to slightly reduce the effect on the middle of the scene and some areas of the trees.

whole scene curves 1 - basic adjustmentwhole scene curves 1 - basic adjustmentwhole scene curves 1 - basic adjustment
curves 1 maskingcurves 1 maskingcurves 1 masking
curves 1 masking resultcurves 1 masking resultcurves 1 masking result

4. How to Add the Deer

Step 1

Cut out the deer and place him in the middle section of the ground.

add deer add deer add deer

Step 2

The deer looks too sharp against the hazy area. To fix it, create a Color Fill layer and pick the color #857771. Lower the Opacity of this layer to 30%.

deer color filldeer color filldeer color fill

Step 3

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value down to -40.

deer hue saturationdeer hue saturationdeer hue saturation

Step 4

Make a Curves adjustment layer to darken the deer. Paint on the outer edges of the deer as it's exposed to the light.

deer curves 1deer curves 1deer curves 1

Step 5

Use another Curves adjustment layer to change the contrast of the deer and make him a bit darker and hazier.

deer curves 2deer curves 2deer curves 2

Step 6

Create a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #d1d9dd to paint more highlight on the outer stroke of the deer. Change this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

paint deers lightpaint deers lightpaint deers light

Step 7

The edges of the deer still look too sharp. To correct it, apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to the deer layer. On this filter mask, use a soft black brush to make the soft effect visible only on the deer's edges.

deer gaussian blur deer gaussian blur deer gaussian blur
deer gaussian blur maskingdeer gaussian blur maskingdeer gaussian blur masking

Step 8

We've aimed to make the main light source in the far middle, so the deer should have a shadow on the ground. Create a new layer under deer one and load the deer's selection by holding down Control and clicking the deer's thumbnail layer. Fill this selection with black and flip it vertically. Use Control-T to make the shadow lie on the ground.

deer shadowdeer shadowdeer shadow

Lower the Opacity of this layer to 60% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 4 px to this layer.

deer shadow gaussian blurdeer shadow gaussian blurdeer shadow gaussian blur

5. How to Add the Branches and Leaves

Step 1

Isolate the branches from the white background and place them above the deer's horns. Use Control-T with Warp mode to bend the branches following the horns' form.

add branchesadd branchesadd branches

Use a layer mask to blend the branches with the horns.

branches maskingbranches maskingbranches masking

Step 2

Make a group for these branches and use a Curves adjustment layer to darken them.

Step 3

Open the leaves image. Take different parts of the leaves to arrange over the branches. Duplicate, resize and rotate the leaves to make them appear different.

add leavesadd leavesadd leaves

Step 4

Make a group for the leaves. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Saturation value to -38:

leaves hue saturationleaves hue saturationleaves hue saturation

Step 5

Use a Curves adjustment layer to make the leaves darker.

leaves curvesleaves curvesleaves curves

Step 6

Make shadow for the branches and leaves as we did with the deer. Place them above the deer's horn shadow and lower their Opacity to 30% as they're farther from the light than the horns' shadow.

branches leaves shadowbranches leaves shadowbranches leaves shadow

6. How to Do the Final Adjustment

Step 1

Create a Color Fill layer on top of the layers and pick the color #909090. Lower the Opacity of this layer to 20%.

whole scene color fill 1whole scene color fill 1whole scene color fill 1

Use a soft black brush with the Opacity about 40-45% to reduce the hazy effect on the following areas, especially the edges.

color fill 1 maskingcolor fill 1 maskingcolor fill 1 masking

Step 2

Create a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness. Erase the middle to keep the lightness on the middle.

whole scene curves 2whole scene curves 2whole scene curves 2

Step 3

Create a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #f2f2f2 to paint light on the far middle of the forest. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100% and use a layer mask to reduce the light on the top and the area around the feet of the deer.

paint middle lightpaint middle lightpaint middle light
middle light maskingmiddle light maskingmiddle light masking

Step 4

Make a new layer and change the mode to Overlay 100%. Use the same brush to paint along the front of the trees on the edges.

tree lighttree lighttree light

Step 5

Create a Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors #6f5740 and #0082fb. Set this layer mode to Soft Light 90%.

whole scene gradient map 1whole scene gradient map 1whole scene gradient map 1

Step 6

Make another Gradient Map adjustment layer and choose the colors #996a65 and #c6e6d3. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.

whole scene gradient map 2whole scene gradient map 2whole scene gradient map 2

Step 7

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones values.

whole scene color balancewhole scene color balancewhole scene color balance

Step 8

Create a Color Fill layer and pick the color #1f0107. Set this layer mode to Exclusion 100%.

whole scene color fill 2whole scene color fill 2whole scene color fill 2

Step 9

Use another Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors #847c74 and #62a0b5. Alter the mode of this layer to Soft Light 100%.

whole scene gradient map 3whole scene gradient map 3whole scene gradient map 3

Step 10

Add a Photo Filter adjustment layer and choose the color #0149ec.

whole scene photo filterwhole scene photo filterwhole scene photo filter

Step 11

Use a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the final effect.

whole scene vibrancewhole scene vibrancewhole scene 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 resultfinal resultfinal result
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