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Design

Harness the Elements: Paint Air in All Its Forms

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:ShortLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Harness the Elements.
Harness the Elements: Paint Earth in All Its Forms
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Welcome to the last part of the Harness the Elements series! This one is going to be quite interesting, because air can't be normally seen. However, there are elements connected to air that we can paint to give a special atmosphere to our scenes. 

In this tutorial we'll take a close look at creating cloud brushes, fog, and special effects like atmospheric perspective and depth of field.

1. Create a Cloud Brush, Version 1

There are many, many kinds of clouds, so let's create a universal brush that will let you paint them all.

Step 1

Select a round, hard brush with Transfer checked. Press F5 to see this panel.

photoshop create cloud brush transfer

Step 2

Check Scattering and play with the options to get an effect as below. If needed, go to Brush Tip Shape and change the Spacing of your brush.

photoshop create cloud brush scattering

Step 3

Check Shape Dynamics. This will make its size variable.

photoshop create cloud brush shape dynamics

Step 4

Check Dual Brush and select Chalk brush for it. Adjust the options to give this ragged texture to all the strokes.

photoshop create cloud brush dual brush

Test the brush! If you're satisfied, save it. If not, adjust the options one more time.

photoshop create cloud brush test stroke

Step 5

Create a New File. Apply a dark blue-cyan gradient to create a sky. Then create a New Layer and paint the clouds with a low saturated, dark cyan (like #B5C6CC).

photoshop paint sky clouds base

Step 6

Decrease the size of the brush and paint ragged edges wherever the round parts appear.

photoshop paint sky clouds detailed shape

Step 7

Brighten the colors and paint the clouds once again, this time more in the middle of every shape.

photoshop paint sky clouds middle

Step 8

Brighten the color strongly, almost to white. Decrease the size and shade the clouds, just as if they were normal 3D objects.

photoshop paint sky clouds shading light

Step 9

Where light is, there's shadow, too! Paint it on the opposite side, using a low saturated, dark cyan.

photoshop paint sky clouds shading shadows

Step 10

Depending on the style you're going for, you can blur the clouds slightly using your favorite blurring tool. I've used the Mixer Brush Tool with its default settings.

photoshop paint sky clouds fluffy mixer
photoshop paint sky clouds fluffy brush
To add a fluffy feeling, simply use a Soft Round brush inside the clouds.

Step 11

You can use this brush for all the clouds you want. Just remember to keep your finger next to the decrease/increase size button, so that you can change the size all the time, making the clouds more chaotic and natural.

photoshop paint sky clouds variety

2. Create a Cloud Brush, Version 2

If you'd rather give up some of your control to be faster instead, you can try this other brush.

Step 1

Create a New File. Fill the background with black, and paint some undefined shape with the Chalk brush on a New Layer.

photoshop create cloud brush fluffy base shape

Step 2

Duplicate (Control-J) the shape. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to resize the original. Hold Shift and Alt when doing it to keep the proportions and position. Then lower the Opacity of the original.

photoshop create cloud brush fluffy transparent edges

Step 3

Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur to make the edges of the original even less defined.

photoshop create cloud brush fluffy soft edges

Step 4

Flatten the image, and Invert (Control-I) the colors. Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset.

photoshop create cloud brush fluffy invert colors

Step 5

Go to Brush Settings (F5) and adjust the options to achieve a fluffy brush. Test it while adjusting, and pay attention to Spacing.

photoshop create cloud brush fluffy shape dynamics
photoshop create cloud brush fluffy scattering
photoshop create cloud brush fluffy transfer
photoshop create cloud brush fluffy test stroke

You can use this brush just like the one before, except this one gives you a faster and less controllable effect.

photoshop create cloud brush fluffy example

3. Achieve Atmospheric Perspective

Atmospheric (or aerial) perspective is a great method of achieving depth. Though air itself is invisible, water and dust particles suspended in it aren't. When light hits them, the image seen by us is changed. The more "impure" the air (not necessarily meaning pollution), the heavier the "mist" that can be observed. This mist grows with distance, and it has the color of sky.

Let's see how to add this effect to this scene:

photoshop aerial atmospheric perspective sample

Step 1

Prepare a blue-white gradient. Make the white part transparent.

photoshop aerial atmospheric perspective gradient

Step 2

Put this gradient on the ground, but under the objects. Don't ever put this effect on a whole scene, or you'll flatten it! To affect only the ground with this, clip (Control-Alt-G) the gradient layer to the ground layer.

photoshop aerial atmospheric perspective blue ground

Step 3

Set the Blend Mode to Screen. It will make the ground brighter and bluish rather than simply blue.

photoshop aerial atmospheric perspective blend mode brightening

Step 4

Let's do the same with the objects. Create a New Layer over them, and Create a Clipping Mask once again. This time don't put the gradient vertically, but instead follow the perspective lines.

photoshop aerial atmospheric perspective object flatten

Step 5

Change the Blend Mode as before.

photoshop aerial atmospheric perspective blend mode not flat

This effect is visible no matter how many objects you have on the scene. Thanks to aerial perspective you can easily convince your viewers that it's not just a smaller ball, and that it indeed lies at some distance.

photoshop aerial atmospheric perspective theory

As I said before, the more impure the air, the heavier the mist. It means that in quite a pure air fewer objects will be affected by the gradient. You shouldn't just lower the Opacity of a big gradient, but make it "shorter" instead.

photoshop aerial atmospheric perspective mist

4. Achieve Depth of Field

Depth of field is another great trick to create a sense of space. However, if done incorrectly, it can flatten even a well-shaded picture. Let's see how to avoid this!

photoshop depth of field digital painting macro sample scene

Step 1

First, we need to separate the "levels" of the scene. In my case, it's the ground, the sky, and the objects—all separate, too. By working on them individually we'll achieve the effect of depth.

First, let's work on the ground. Select the layer, and go to Filter > Blur > Tilt-Shift. Place the center where the observer is looking, and squeeze the area into a small band.

photoshop depth of field digital painting macro tilt shift

This shows us which objects must be blurred, and which one will stay sharp.

photoshop depth of field digital painting macro tilf shift sample

Step 2

The sky can be easily blurred with Filter > Gaussian Blur.

photoshop depth of field digital painting macro sky blurry

Step 3

Apply the same blur to all the objects outside of the "sharp band". If you don't have them separated, you can experiment with Filter > Blur > Field Blur, but be very careful here—use more points at once to avoid flattening.

photoshop depth of field digital painting macro gaussian blur

This effect, though cool, can be used only when the observer is looking at something very close to them. You can use this freely to emphasize the small scale of the scene ("ant's point of view"), but don't overuse it at a large scale.

This is also very useful when you want to show where the observer is. All you need to do is to place something (very big in this scale) right in the foreground, and then blur it. For example, here the observer is behind the bars.

photoshop depth of field digital painting macro when to use bars

He or she can look through them...

photoshop depth of field digital painting macro looking through

... or at them, depending on what you want to stress.

photoshop depth of field digital painting macro looking at

When you want to do something like this, keep the "extreme foreground" as big as possible without covering the whole picture. You can observe this effect by keeping your hand close to your face while looking at the screen. Keep one eye closed for clarity.

5. Paint Fog

Step 1

Fog is nothing more than a very heavy atmospheric perspective. Let's start by applying this effect to the scene. No need to be subtle this time!

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush sample scene

Step 2

Create a New Layer and fill it with black. Go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Copy the image.

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush clouds effect

Step 3

Open Window > Channels and Create New Channel.

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush alpha channel create

Step 4

Paste the clouds, and then deselect (Control-D). Click Load Channel As Selection.

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush add texture alpha

Step 5

Come back to the RGB channel, and then hide the layer with the clouds without messing with the selection.

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush create alpha selection

Step 6

Create a New Layer and Fill the selection with white.

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush white texture

Step 7

Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to adjust the perspective. Hold Control while dragging the corners to achieve this effect.

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush texture perspective
photoshop digital painting fog mist brush texture perspective applied

Step 8

Use the Layer Mask or the Eraser Tool to reveal the objects that are over the layer of fog. Pay attention to perspective!

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush layer mask

Step 9

You can use Filter > Liquify to modify the shape of the fog.

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush liquify filter

Step 10

If it's too transparent, simply duplicate (Control-J) the layer.

photoshop digital painting fog mist brush thick

We Did It!

This tutorial was the last part of the Harness the Elements series. If you enjoyed it, make sure to check the previous parts:

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