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  2. Photo Manipulation
Design

How to Create a Surreal City Landscape Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a surreal city landscape with a woman on a swing. First we'll build the base scene with a sky image and add two city ones to the both sides. After that we'll create the background using three landscape images and make them fade into the sky. Later we'll import the model, finish the swing using a chain, and paint the birds. We'll use several adjustment layers and paint some light to complete the final result.

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Tutorial Assets

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

1. How to Build the Base City Environment

Step 1

Create a 1643 x 1333 px New Document in Photoshop with the given settings:

create a new file

Step 2

Open the sky image. This particular image is no longer available, so try this stock instead. Drag this image onto the white canvas using the Move Tool (V) and lower the Opacity of this layer to 30%:

add sky
reduce sky opacity

Step 3

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and decrease the lightness a bit. On this Layer Mask, activate the Brush Tool (B) to paint on the top left of the image to keep its original lightness.

sky curves adjustment layer
sky curves masking

Step 4

Place the city 1 image in the lower half of the working document and resize it as shown below:

add city 1

Go to Edit > Transform > Rotate 90 Clockwise and move the rotated city to the left side of the canvas. Try to place the highest building in the middle section of the left. You can see that the light in the city comes from the left, and we will follow it as the main light source.

rotate city 1

Step 5

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 most of the sky and leave some of the sky area around the tops of the buildings. We'll use a few adjustment layers to blend it with the existing sky.

city 1 layer masking

Step 6

Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Reduce the Saturation value to -61:

city 1 hue saturation adjustment layer

Step 7

Use a Curves Adjustment Layer to brighten the city. Paint on the lower section and vary the Brush Opacity to make the transition between the city and sky smooth and natural.

city 1 curves 1 adjustment layer
city 1 curves 1 masking

Step 8

Make another Curves Adjustment Layer to increase the haziness for the lower section. Paint on the upper area so it won't be affected by this adjustment layer.

city 1 curves 2
city 1 curves 2 masking

Step 9

Add the city 2 image to the right side of the canvas and mask off its sky. Remember to make the top of the highest building line up with the highest building on the left.

add city 2
city 2 masking

Step 10

Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and bring the Saturation value down to -60:

city 2 hue saturation adjustment layer

Step 11

Make a Curves Adjustment Layer to make the city a bit hazier:

city2 curves adjustment layer

2. How to Create the Landscape Background

Step 1

Open the landscape 1 image and isolate the landscape from the sky background. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to grab the top of the landscape and place it in the top left of the main canvas. Set this layer under the city ones.

isolate landscape 1
add landscape 1

Step 2

Mask off the bottom of this area and leave the top of the mountain visible only.

landscape 1 masking

Step 3

Use a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to desaturate the mountain.

landscape 1 hue saturation adjustment layer

Step 4

Add a Curves Adjustment Layer to decrease the mountain's visibility.

landscape 1 curves adjustment layer

Step 5

Import the landscape 2 image to the working canvas, and remember to place the top of the mountains near the middle section.

add landscape 2

Use a Layer Mask to remove its bottom and make the mountains fade into the background.

landscape 2 masking

Step 6

Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and reduce the Saturation value to the minimum.

landscape 2 hue saturation adjustment layer

Step 7

Place the landscape 3 image into a lower position than the others, and mask it off until it appears very hazy and subtle.

add landscape 3
landscape 3 masking

Step 8

Use a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and decrease the Saturation value to -92:

landscape 3 hue saturation adjustment layer

3. How to Add the Model and Create the Swings

Step 1

Make a New Layer on top of the layers and activate the Pen Tool (P). Draw a path to connect the top of the highest buildings on both sides, and then Stroke it with a 1 px Hard Brush, color #0e0b08:

add path
stroke line path

Step 2

Use a Curves Adjustment Layer to increase the haziness of the line to match its visibility with the background.

line curves adjustment layer

Step 3

Cut out the model with the swings and move her to the middle area of the canvas. Place her under the line and use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to make her much smaller.

add model

Step 4

Go to Edit > Puppet Warp and adjust the model's legs, making them shorter and moving forwards a bit.

model puppet warp

Step 5

I want to change the hair color to red, so select the hair area using the Lasso Tool (L) and go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Channel Mixer. By selecting the hair, you ensure that the effect only works on this area.

hair channel mixer

Step 6

Hold the Control key and click the Mask of the Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer to load its selection, and then create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to change the hair color a bit.

hair hue saturation adjustment layer

Step 7

The model looks too dark, and there's too much contrast compared to the background. To fix it, create a Curves Adjustment Layer and increase the lightness a lot. Paint around the hair area so it won't be too bright.

model curves adjustment layer
model curves masking

Step 8

Open the chain image and isolate the chain lines using the Magic Wand Tool (W). Use the Lasso Tool to select one chain and press Control-J to paste it onto a New Layer. Rotate it 90 Degrees Clockwise and resize it to be much smaller.

isolate chain
rotate chain

Step 9

Duplicate it several times and place them inline together until they cover most of the width of the canvas.

duplicate chain
make longer chain

Select all the small chain layers and hit Control-G to create a Group for them. Right-click it and choose Duplicate Group. After that, right-click it again and select Merge Group. We now have a long chain on a new transparent layer.

Step 10

Move this chain into the main document and use Control-T to scale it down. Also rotate it and place it on the right of the existing swings.

add chain

Duplicate it and move it to the left and Flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal).

add more chain

Use a Layer Mask to erase the parts above the line.

chain layer masking

Step 11

Make a group for the chain layers and change the group's mode to Normal 100%. Desaturate the chains using a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.

chains hue saturation adjustment layer

4. How to Import the Birds

Step 1

Make a New Layer on top of the layer and change the foreground to black. Activate the bird brushes and paint different ones on the area of the left mountain. You can duplicate, resize and rotate them—feel free to make the shape of the flying birds as you like.

add birds

Step 2

Create a Group for the bird layers and lower the Opacity of the group to 60%. It helps to blend the birds with the background.

lower birds visibility

5. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

Make a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer on top of the layers and pick the colors #520505 and #114755. Lower the Opacity of this layer to 20%.

gradient map adjustment layer

Step 2

Create a Color Fill layer and pick the color #150000. Alter this Layer Blend Mode to Exclusion 70%.

color fill

Step 3

Add a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer and select the color #99aace.

photo filter adjustment layer

Step 4

Use a Curves Adjustment Layer and increase the whole scene's contrast.

whole scene curves 1 adjustment layer

Step 5

Make another Curves Adjustment Layer and decrease the lightness. Paint on the upper half, especially the left side, as we're aiming to make the top left brighter and the lower section darker.

whole scene curves 2 adjustment layer
whole scene curves 2 masking

Step 6

Add a Vibrance Adjustment Layer to enhance the whole color:

vibrance adjustment layer

Step 7

Create a New Layer and use a Soft Round Brush with the color #c5d5da to paint on the top left where we want the light shining. Set this Layer Blend Mode to Overlay 100% and you can use a Layer Mask to fix any parts that are overdone.

paint light normal mode
light overlay mode

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!

Surreal City Landscape Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial
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