Learn advanced techniques for compositing photos to look like painted landscapes, using adjustment layers and clipping masks
Go to File>New (Cmd/Ctrl+N), set the Width to 460mm, Height to 310mm, Resolution to 300 pixels/inch and click OK. Fill the background with a light blue gradient. Insert a wintery sky and place it at the top of the scene. Resize the image using Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl+T).
Duplicate the sky layer and move to the left. Erase the unnecessary parts. Make the bottom part of the sky lighter. Create New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Fill (colour c8def5) with a clipping mask, and set the blending mode to Screen. Darken the upper part of the sky using Curves.
Insert another sky, and use a black soft brush (B) on the layer mask to erase the hard edges. Create a new layer with a clipping mask (right-click>Add Clipping Mask), set blending mode to Color, Opacity: 50%. Use a soft brush with colour #7a7e7e to paint over the sky area.
Add more clouds to the image. As with the previous step, hide unnecessary parts using the layer mask. Create Adjustment Layer>Curves with a clipping mask and lighten dark areas. Then create a new layer (Opacity 80%). Select the colour #a0afc1 and use a soft brush to paint areas of the sky.
Darken more of the sky at the top with a Curves adjustment layer. Go to Select>Color Range, select Highlights and click OK. With the selection made, use a Curves adjustment layer to increase the brightness. Blur the layer mask by going to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, set Radius 3px.
Insert a lake image. Cut out the mountains with a Lasso tool, move them onto the scene and scale accordingly. Use the Clone Stamp tool to remove repetitive areas. Group the mountain layers. Create a Curves adjustment layer with a clipping mask, lower the contrast, and add more blues and cyan.
Duplicate the layer with the mountains, place it below the first layer. Move it to the top. Use the Lasso tool and Clone Stamp tool to change the shape of the mountains. Use Curves to reduce the contrast a bit more. Create a new layer with a clipping mask and fill with #8aaac9. Set Opacity to 30%.
Darken the top of the mountains by using Curves. Create a new layer with blending mode set to Screen, Opacity 30-50%. Use a soft brush with a colour of #8894a9 to paint the bottom of the mountain. Create a new layer, paint fog between the mountains. Use a small white soft round brush with an Opacity of 10-15%.
Duplicate and merge layers with mountains, set the blending mode to Screen. Add more red and yellow by using Curves. Paint glare using a white brush on the black layer mask. Group all layers with mountains. Create a Color Balance adjustment layer with a clipping mask to add more blue and cyan.
Insert more meadows and lakes to complete the landscape. Use a soft brush to mask the edges. Select Curves and adjust brightness and contrast for each element. Use Color Balance to add more yellow and red.
Use a stream stock photo to create the lake and insert some hills. Use the Eraser tool with a soft brush and the Clone Stamp tool to eliminate seams. Adjust brightness, contrast and colour for each element. Use Curves, Color Balance and Hue/Saturation for the desired result.
Insert a forest. Reduce brightness using Curves. Add more yellow and red in the midtones by using Color Balance. Add a road. Similarly, edit the brightness and contrast. Our goal is to achieve uniformity of all the elements on the brightness and hue.
Reduce the brightness, and add more red and yellow. Group all the landscape layers. Create a Selective Color adjustment layer. In Neutral colours, set the values to Cyan: +33, Magenta: -14, Yellow: +13 and Black: +33. Use a layer mask to apply the correction only to the water.
Create a Curves adjustment layer. Lower the white point, raise the black point, and add blue in the shadows. Fill white selected areas on the mask layer. Duplicate the landscape layers and merge on a new layer. Set blending mode to Screen. Add more red and yellow using Curves. Get glare in some areas on the mask layer.
Insert a rock. Darken the right side of the cliff. Adjust the colour, and add more red and yellow. Add a castle. Place it on top of a cliff. Reduce the brightness of the castle by using Curves.
Place a tower from a different castle photo on top of your existing castle. Use Hue/Saturation for colour correction. Pick the colour #e4dcd0. Paint with a soft brush (Mode: Color, Opacity: 50%) in white on areas of the tower. Reduce brightness using the Curves.
Use more images to add to your castle. Lengthen the bottom of the tower using the Clone Stamp tool. Adjust the brightness using Curves. Create a new layer with a clipping mask, fill with #faf9f6. Set blending mode to Overlay, Opacity: 28%. Duplicate tower, place it to the right of the castle. Darken the right side.
Find lots of castle stock images. Combine different elements with each other. Use Transform (Cmd/Ctrl+T) to resize. Mask unnecessary details using the Clone Stamp. Use previous steps to adjust colour and brightness for all elements.
Cut out elements from castles to build bridges. Duplicate layers to lengthen the bridge. Use Erase and Clone Stamp tool to mask edges. Place bridges between the towers of the castle. Use an image of a castle to create a wall. Adjust colour and brightness for all the elements.
Add some waterfall stock photos. Adjust the brightness and contrast using Curves, and add more yellow and red. Create a new layer, with blending mode Multiply, Opacity: 57%. Select colour 282e3a and paint the bottom of the waterfall. On a new layer, draw waves and splashes near the shore and waterfall.
Create a new layer (Multiply, Opacity: 30-60%) for adding shadows. Use a dark brush. Darken the bottom and right side of the castle, bridge, some areas of the plants and rocks. Create a new layer, set to Color Dodge and brush in highlights. Use a clipping mask to add effects only to the selected objects.
Place some trees into the scene. Add plants to the foreground from plants stock photos. Adjust the colour and brightness for all elements. Add highlights and shadow areas as the previous step. Draw drop shadows under the trees.
Create a dragon using stock photos and use Puppet Warp to change its shape. Reduce contrast, and add shadows and highlights. Place birds in the scene and reduce the contrast. Paint them a light blue using a brush at a low opacity.
Select a soft round brush, Opacity 10-15%. Paint the edges of the objects on a new layer. Sample colour taken from the surrounding area. Use a blending mode of Normal, Soft light or Color and a low opacity. This adds more uniformity to your picture. Use a clipping mask to add effects only to the selected objects.
Paint some rays in the sky, and set blending mode to Soft Light, Opacity: 40%. Repeat this setting the blend mode to Screen, Opacity: 35%. Erase the edges. Use a soft brush to draw more rays and highlights on a new layer (blend mode: Color Dodge). Use a light yellow.
Increase the brightness of the picture using Curves. Add more yellow and red using Color Balance. Add Solid Color and Gradient Fill adjustment layers. Use Soft Light and Screen blend modes, Opacity: 5-30%. Try to experiment with adjustment layers to achieve the best results.