photoshop creative

Create a fantasy skyline

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
January 17, 2018

Organise your layers and blend an array of images for a super skyline of epic proportions

1. Start with the sky

Begin by opening the image of the park and add a picture of a sky. Make sure the horizon is clear and set the new sky to Overlay. Create a new layer and with a big, soft, white brush, add more shine to the left of the sky.

2. Lay out the buildings

Add as many of the landmarks as you wish. Reduce the opacity of them all to around 30% by hitting 3, and reorder the layers so the furthest forward landmark is towards the top of the stack.

3. Use the Quick Selection

Let’s start to cut out each of the landmarks and icons in the image. Grab the Quick Selection Tool (W) for icons that stand out clearly against their background, such as the Himalayas. Drag to select and then click Mask.

4. Select with Colour Range

Colour Range is great for selecting landmarks against clear blue skies. Simply Ctrl/right-click and choose Colour Range; use the Eyedropper to pick the blue in the sky, and click the Eyedropper with the plus to extend the range of colour. Click OK, Mask, then Invert (Cmd/Ctrl+I).

5. Draw with the Pen

If you’re looking for a more precise selection still, try the Pen Tool. Click around the outside of your landmark, and rejoin the first point when you’re done. Click on the Paths tab, then Cmd/Ctrl-click the path to select. Hit Mask.

6. Adjust each building

Once you’ve cut out each of the buildings, create adjustments such as Curves, Brightness/Contrast and Hue/Saturation to unify the tone and colour of each landmark. Alt/Opt-click on each adjustment to clip it to the layer, and then zoom out (Cmd/Ctrl+0) in order to view the image at full screen.

7. Populate the scene

There will still be blank spaces between the landmarks, so use tree images to populate the image a little more. Cut them out and blend them with the same techniques as you used on the buildings.

8. Blend the mountain range

Objects in the distance should have less contrast and colour than objects in the foreground. For the mountain range, for example, reduce the contrast using Brightness/Contrast and add two Fill Layers of #537ea6, one set to Overlay, 40% opacity, one to Screen, 60% opacity.

9. Brush in the water

Grab a soft brush. Create a new Colour layer and brush over in blue, before touching over in grey and green over the lake. Create a new Soft Light layer and brush over again to unify the colour of the water.

10. Work on the beach

Place images of beaches and sand, and add them to the water’s edge by the tree. Use the soft brush to blur the line between the grass and the sand. Alt/Opt-click to select colours, and brush them on the image to unify colour.

11. Add some penguins

Find an iceberg and penguin images and add them to the scene. Cut out the images using the Pen Tool and place them above the water wherever they would look best. Adjust sizes so that they don’t look too big.

12. Render clouds for smoke

Select black and white in your swatches (D), create a new layer and go to Filter>Render>Clouds. Set to Screen, hit Mask, invert the image (Cmd/Ctrl+I) and brush in with a soft white brush to add smoke to the image. Add these smoke layers further back in the composition.

13. More clouds

Load some cloud brushes into Photoshop. Use these brushes over the tops of the mountains, and across the back of the image to tie the composition with the sky a little more.

14. Create a reflection

Save your project (Cmd/Ctrl+S). Hit Cmd/Ctrl+Alt/ Opt+Shift+E to merge everything into a new layer. Select around the lake with the Marquee (M), Flip Vertical (Cmd/Ctrl+T) and then go to Filter>Distort>Displace, using the above settings. Choose your saved file as the map, then reduce opacity to 25%. Mask the reflection over the water.

15. Adjust as a whole

With the entire composition pretty much assembled, let’s make a few adjustments to blend the image as a whole. Experiment with Curves, Gradient Maps and Vibrance until you find something you like.

16. Dodge and burn

Merge everything into a layer at the top of the layer stack twice (Cmd/Ctrl+Alt/Opt+Shift+E). Set one layer to Screen, one to Multiply, and then hit Mask on both and invert (Cmd/Ctrl+I). With a white brush, draw over each mask to accentuate the highlights and shadows of the entire image.

17. Blur the image

By blurring the image, we can further blend all the disparate elements into one composition. Merge everything into another new layer, then clip a Hue/Saturation layer; tweak the Saturation to -50, Lightness to -25 and then reduce the layer’s opacity to 30%, before changing it to Overlay.

18. Sharpen up

Merge everything into another new layer and go to Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise. Set Strength to 10 with all other values at 0, then click OK. Merge everything to another new layer and go to Filter> Other>High Pass. Set the Radius to 2px and click OK. Set to Overlay.

19. Refocus in areas

Create another High Pass layer with the same settings. This time, hit Mask, Invert (Cmd/Ctrl+I) and with a soft, white brush, draw over the landmarks further in the foreground to shift the focus and add depth. Add the supplied lens flare and set to Screen, 60% opacity.