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Create a Mystic Asian-Inspired Temple in Photoshop

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Read Time: 17 mins

In this tutorial, we'll demonstrate the process needed to create a mystic Asian-inspired temple. We'll learn a lot of professional and advanced image blending techniques and we'll get to play with some new and powerful features from Photoshop CS5. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

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

Step 1 - Setting up your scene

Create a new Photoshop document, and make it 3000 px by 1750 px, RBG color mode.

Import "Hall of Prayer" and align it to the bottom left of your canvas. You will see that the right part of the scene is more lighted than the left. Since we want our image to be evenly lit, we'll make the right part symmetrical to the right. Pick the Rectangular Marquee Tool (R), select the right half of your image and delete it.

Before going any further, you might have realized that the stairs aren't perfectly horizontal. Hit Command/Ctrl + T to enter the Free Transform mode. Give your layer a 0.4° rotation.

Duplicate the layer (Command/Ctrl + J or Layer > Duplicate Layer). With your layer selected, Hit Command/Ctrl + T to enter the Free Transform mode, right-click on your canvas and select Flip Horizontal. Align the other layer to the bottom right of your canvas.

Now, we'll need to patch the hole in the middle of our image. First, we'll do the stairs. With the Rectangular Marquee Tool (R), select the stairs of the lower left part of the image. Go to Edit > Content-Aware Scale, and stretch the stairs toward the center of the image.

Step 2 - Placing the middle part

Merge the two layers together and name them "Background 1". With the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) or the Pen Tool (P), make a selection of the area at the center of your image, between the two red pillars and above the stairs, while keeping the little red fence out of it. In the following image, the red represent the area you should have selected.

With the selection still active, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide selection, or even better, click the Add Mask icon at the bottom of your Layer panel. This will mask out the center of your image.

Step 3 - Some corrections

Place the "Zojo Temple Interior" into your canvas, and move it under "Background 1." Name it "Background 2." Hit Command/Ctrl + T, scale it down to 80% and rotate it 0.35°. Place it accordingly to the following example.

Good. The floor is a little bit too reflective compared to the one on the ''Background 1'' layers. We'll remove it. With the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) or the Pen Tool (P), make a selection of the floor, then mask it.

There is also that annoying pot at the left of this image which doesn't fit anymore since we've removed the floor. We'll get rid of it using the right part of our image. With the Rectangular Marquee Tool and your "Background 2" layer selected, draw a selection of the area at the right of the golden pillar. Copy (Command/Ctrl + C) and paste (Command/Ctrl + V) it. Flip hit horizontally and place it over the left area. If needed, give your new layer a mask to remove the floor and blend it's top with the background wall.

Step 4 - Changing the floor

Next, we'll fill the hole we just created. Import "Marble Beige" texture and place it into your canvas. Enter Free Transform mode (Command/Ctrl + T), scale it down a bit, right click on it and select Perspective. Then, bring the two top corner angles toward the inside. Go in the Distort mode, and bring the middle top handle downward until the image fit the floor's texture. Name the layer ''Floor Texture''.

Place the ''Floor Texture'' under everything else. Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer or click the icon at the bottom of your layer palette), clip it to the ''Floor Texture'' layer and apply the following setting. Don't forget to check the colorize box.

Step 5 - Floor reflection

To make the whole thing look more realistic, we'll add a little bit of reflection to our floor. Duplicate ''Background 2'. Select the bottom copy, flip it vertically. Place it in order to connect the middle part with the original layer.

Duplicate the layer again. Select the bottom copy and time move it upward so the left and right parts connect.

Merge the two copies and name the new layer ''Floor Reflection''. Clip it to the ''Floor Texture'' layer, right-click on ''Floor Reflection'' and click Convert to Smart Object. Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur and add the following settings to the layer.

Then, click on the "Floor Reflection" mask, and with a soft black Brush (B), paint out the area where the wall and the structure connect to the ground. This will make the reflection more precise near the structure and more blurred as it gets further away.

Duplicate the layer, set the top one to 50% opacity and the bottom one to Color Burn and also 50% opacity.

If you want to, you can add some irregularities to the floor on a new layer using the Brush Tool (B), the Eyedropper Tool (I or by holding Alt while using the brush) and the Motion Blur filter. Once you are done, select all layers related to the floor and group them (Command/Ctrl + G). Name the group "Floor".

Step 6 - Floor reflection

Import "Ornament Border 112" and place it into your canvas. Scale it down to 30%, duplicate it a few times and place them so they fill the top part of our image. Merge them together, name the layer ''Ornaments 1'' and add the following Adjustment Layers.

Then, do the same with ''Ornament Border 194''. Only this time, scale it down to 15% and name the layer ''Ornament 2''.

To help you get the same effect with the Gradient Map, I have included below a more precise example of my gradient. However, to get the same effect, you would need to have exactly the same Curve filter as me (which could be hard to achieve). So don't be afraid to play with the values depending on the result you get.

Step 7 - Lower part of the ornaments

Next, we'll do the part underneath our ornaments. Create a new layer, name it ''Ornament 3'' and place it below ''Ornament 2''. Pick the Rectangular Marquee Tool (R), create a selection under the ornaments, and fill it with # 491915.

To make this part more photo-realistic, we'll need to texture it. Import ''Marble Beige Texture'' and, using the free Free Transform mode, give it the appropriate perspective.

Clip it to your ''Ornament 3'' layer, and give it a mask. With the mask selected, draw a rectangle selection, and go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

Give your clouds more contrast using the Curves adjustments. Then, unlink the mask, select the mask, hit Command/Ctrl + T to transform it and give it the same perspective as you gave the texture.

Finally, give your ''Ornament 3'' layer the following adjustment.

Step 8 - Moving up the middle part

In this step, we'll stretch our ''Background 2'' layer so it fills the hole under our ornaments. In order to preserve the quality of our image, we'll use Content-Aware Scale. We don't want to stretch the whole image, but mostly the columns and the wall. To do so, draw a selection of the upper part of the layer, and remove the small statue of Buddha. Then go to Edit > Content-Aware Scale and stretch your selection upward.

Step 9 - Corrections on the central part

In this step, we want to fill the transparent area left in the middle. We also want to get rid of the shrine because this is where our model will be. For the transparent area, Content-Aware Fill wouldn't give any good result. So I did the whole thing by hand. This step will be difficult and will require a lot of patience.

Zoom on the Buddha Statue, and with your favorite tool, create an oval selection of the statue and the pattern behind it. Cut (Command/Ctrl + X) and paste it. Name the new layer ''Statue.'' Select your ''Background 2'' layer again, create a rectangle selection of the area behind the statue, and move it upward.

Create a new layer, fill the hole under the top part with a gradient from #FEC748 to #E9AB44, and name the layer "Wall Fill".

Select "Wall Fill" and pick up the Smudge Tool. Make sure you check Sample All Layers, and smudge the side of the area we just filled so it blends with the rest of the wall.

Here is how I proceeded for top part.

Once you are done, merge "Wall Fill" with "Background 2". Rename the layer "Background 2". Then, select the whole area below the luster and move it down.

In the following example, I explain how I filled the transparent area. There is no best way to do this, so feel free use your own way if you feel like it.

Once you are comfortable with the result, merge everything together and name the layer "Background 2". Adding a soft grainy texture is always a good way to make your painted / scaled areas more realistic. Load "Plaster White 83." Scale it down so the texture fit the wall.

Duplicate it and place the layers so they fill the wall. Merge the layers together and name the layer "Wall Texture". Set it to Multiply and give it the following Curves adjustment.

Give your layer a mask, and with a soft black brush, mask out the edges of the textures so it blend nicely with the rest of the wall.

Step 10 - Darker windows

We're almost done setting up our scene. Since the windows on the left and the right are are the brightest part of the image, they attract the eye to unwanted areas. We'll fix this by replacing them with darker windows. Open "Beijing 4 013" in a new file. In this picture, we'll sample the window on the left, because it isn't directly hit by the sunlight. Make a selection of the window and copy it. Then, past it and, using the Distort transformation mode, make it perfectly horizontal. You can help yourself by placing guides around the borders. Also, don't forget to remove the metallic area in the lower left corner.

Paste the windows into your working file and give them the appropriate perspective. To help yourself, you can place some guides using the Line Tool (U).

Since both sides are perfectly symmetrical, once you're done with one side, you can just duplicate the windows and place them to the other side. Next, do the same with the upper windows.

Once you are done, merge all the windows together, name the new layer "Windows." Mask your layer where the columns are and give it the following Curves adjustment.

Step 11 - Floor reflection adjustments

Because we've removed the windows, we will also need to get rid of the light reflection they created on their surrounding. Let's start with the floor. Go back to your "Background 1" layer's mask and paint out the floor.

Copy the red fence above the floor, flip it vertically and clip it to your "Floor Texture" layer. I named the layer "Left Right Reflections".

Then, do the same as in step 5 for the reflection.

Step 12 - Some final corrections

In this step, we'll correct the small annoying details. This might look time-consuming to you, but it is these little attentions to details that give your image a polished and professional result. All of these corrections were made on a new layer, placed above everything and named "Corrections".

Step 13 - Placing the model

Open "Queen of Butterflies" in a new file, and with your favorite tools, extract the model from its background. Since this is an advanced tutorial, I won't cover this part. Once you got a good outline of your model, give it a mask. Since our scene is going to be dark, try placing a black background behind the model.

Not too good, eh? The problem is that our subject is wearing a transparent outfit, and that we can see the blue background through it. Back in CS4, this would have been impossible to correct. But if you are lucky enough to have CS5, you can fix this using the mask panel.

Place the model in your main file, flip it horizontally and scale it down to about 17%. Import "Red Dragon Stock 3" and place it over the hand of the model. Name the model layer "Model", and the dragon layer "Dragon".

Our model's feet don't quite fit the perspective of the floor. Don't worry, this can be easily corrected. Make a selection of the feet, hit Command/Ctrl + T, and squeeze them vertically.

Step 14 - Removing the blue shrine

One last thing before moving on to the color correction. The blue area is somewhat annoying and might get even worse after the color corrections. To remove it, give "Background 2" a mask and hide area. Then, remove the "Floor Reflection" layers, and replace them with new ones corresponding to the wall, using the same technique as in step 5.

Step 15 - Highlight compression

We're done setting up the scene! As you can see, in the final version, the main light source is from the center. To achieve this effect, we'll need to completely remake the highlights and shadows of our image. The first part in this process is to neutralise the current highlights and shadows.

Next, we'll use the HDR Toning adjustment, a new very powerful feature of Photoshop CS5. However, the effect requires us to flatten our image, which we don't want to do yet. So instead, select all of your layer except "Model" and "Dragon", and group them (Command/Ctrl + G). Duplicate the group. Name one of them "Backup", lock it and hide it. Merge the other group and name it "Background".

Right-click on "Background" and duplicate it to a new document. In the new document, go to Image > Adjustment > HDR Toning. Photoshop will ask you if you want to flatten your image, say yes. In the pop-up window, select Highlight Compression as the desired method. Click Ok.

Step 16 - Noise reduction

Great! We have now completely flattened our image's highlight and shadow. We can now proceed to redraw them as we want. But before that, we'll make a few other corrections. Bring your ''Background'' back into your main working file. Name it "Background V2" and hide the old "Background". Go to Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise and input the following settings.

Step 17 - First color corrections

Apply the following Gradient Map adjustments layers. This will change the bright red overall color to a more bloody red.

Step 18 - HDR Toning

Duplicate "Background V2" in a new file, and add the following HDR Toning. Bring it back to your main file, and set it to Vivid Light and 15% opacity. Give it the following mask.

Duplicate "HDR1", name it "HDR2". Set it to Color Dodge and give it the following adjustments. Also, remove it's mask.

Step 19 - Dodge & Burn & Painting

Group everything (except the woman and the dragon), duplicate the group (for backup in case something goes wrong), merge it together, and name the new layer "Background V3". On this layer, use the Dodge Tool and the Burn Tool (O) to recreate the highlights. The key here is to zoom in and take the time needed to make a good job. In the following example, I roughly show the areas where I intervened. Also, try keeping your tool to the Midtones mode. Highlights and Shadows tend to wash out colors.

On a new layer, I also repainted parts of the red fence using a small hard brush.

To make the red darker, I used the following method. First, I filled the fence with a semi-dark red (#6F2324) on a new layer (named "Red+"). Then, I duplicated the layer, set both to 50% opacity, one to Overlay and the other one to Multiply.

Step 20 - Curves and Color Corrections

The Dodge and Burn are great tools, but as you might have realized, they kind of wash out your colors. So to complete the relighting of the scene, we'll use the Curve layer along with Color Balance. Create the following adjustment layers and group them. Name the group "More Shadows".

Give your group the following mask.

I don't quite like the color in the lower middle part of the golden pillars. So I gave a mask to the Color Balance filter.

And I recolored the Pillar using another Color Balance with the following settings. For the mask. I duplicated the previous Color Balance's mask and inverted it (Command/Ctrl + I)

Next, do the same for the highlights.

Step 21 - Adjustments on the model

Bring back the woman and the dragon. Give the women the following layer styles.

Give the dragon the following layer styles.

Give your dragon a mask and hide part of its tail so it looks like it is behind the woman's hand.

Clip the following layers to the "Model" layer. The ''Darker'' layers were painted using a soft round brush.

Add the following adjustments layers to the dragon.

Finally, give the women a casted shadow. Duplicate "Model", rename it "Model Shadow," flip it vertically, place it under the women, and give it the following adjustments. Don't forget to mask out the stairs.

Step 22 - More Adjustment Layers

Some more precise corrections. Create a new group and name it "More Adjustments". Place the following adjustments layers inside. All of the layers except the first two Gradient Map are at Normal 100% opacity.

Here is how your file should look like so far.

Step 23 - Final Touches

This is the last step! Create a new layer, and with a small soft brush and the color #EFD59, paint some light reflections on the women's hairs. Set the layer to Vivid Light. Name the new layer "Hair Highlight".

Create a new layer, name it "Corrections". On this layer, we'll fix the small annoying details left. Make sure you zoom-in a lot, take your time, and try to find out everything that doesn't look right. Here are a few example things you can improve. All of these modifications were done using the Brush Tool (B).

With a big soft brush and a dark gray color, draw the contour of the image, then set the layer to Multiply to give your image a nice vignette effect. Name the layer "Vignette."

Select everything, duplicate it and merge it together. On this new layer, add a Smart Sharpen filter (Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen) with the following settings.

Voila! We're done. If you have missed anything, here is how your layer should look like in the end.


The most important thing to take from this tutorial is to take the time needed to achieve what you want. Take your time to create precise mask, zoom in a lot and paint using selections. This is what will make your work stand out the rest. Also, it is important to stay up-to-date with Photoshop latest features such as Content-Aware Scale and HDR Toning. Know when to use them and when not. And my final advice: play a lot! I discovered the possibility to use of HDR Toned images along with blending modes while playing around, and I was amazed at all the possibilities this combination can do! Keep playing around and try different tools together, who knows what awesome effect you might stumble upon!

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