photoshop creative

How to create a landscape composition with shapes, part 1

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
December 20, 2013

Follow this Photoshop tutorial to learn how to reduce a landscape to its essential shapes in Photoshop

Download the files for this tutorial


We’ve supplied a photographic start image here for you to use as an initial guide, so start by opening this start image. In the Layers palette, right-click the background layer and choose Duplicate Layer. (30 – 60 words)


To create a kind of shape-filled underpainting, we’ll start by using one of Photoshop’s stock filters. Click on the top layer in the stack and go to Filter>Pixelate>Crystallize. Use a Cell Size of around 240 and click OK.


Drag and drop the unfiltered image layer so that it sit above this crystallised layer. Reduce the opacity of this layer until you can only just see it. This layer will serve simply as a guide while you work, so you’ll need to regularly show and hide it as needed.


Click on your crystallised layer and add a new layer. With the reference visible, choose the Rectangular Marquee tool and drag a selection over the water, guided by the reference layer. Use the Eyedropper tool to sample one of the light blues from the sky and go to Edit>Fill, choosing Foreground Colour for Contents.


Set the blending mode for this layer to Screen and reduce its opacity a little. Hit Ctrl+D to deselect. Now add a new layer (Ctrl+J), setting its blending mode to Overlay. Choose the Brush tool, and from the supplied Shape brushes choose the Shape 1 brush. Set the mode for this brush to Hard Light. Choose a deep vibrant blue for your foreground colour.


Use this brush at a very large size to add some vertical blocks of colour across the image using single clicks. Make sure these blocks overlap a little, and remember that you can change the angle of the brush every now and then in the Brushes palette (see the side tip).


Click again on the Water layer and add a new layer. Set the blending mode for this layer to Multiply and the Opacity to 30%. Now choose the Shape 4 brush. This time choose a light blue/grey for the foreground and once again use the brush at a large size to add some vertical blocks across the image. Add a large horizontal block over the water after adjusting the brush angle in the Brushes palette.


On a new layer choose the Polygon Lasso tool. In the Options bar hit the Add To Selection button. Now draw some rough shapes for the clouds – use the reference layer as a guide for this. Draw with the Lasso tool via single clicks and drags, closing each selection by clicking back on your starting point. Remember we’re very much simplifying shapes here; use the screenshot as a guide.


Choose a mid grey for the foreground and go to Edit>Fill, choosing Foreground Color For Contents. Set the blending mode for this layer to Screen and reduce its Opacity to around 40%. Hit Ctrl+D to deselect. Now add another new layer and choose the Line tool from the Toolbox (this may be nested beneath the currently visible Shape tool).


In the Options bar for the Line tool, hit the Fill Pixels button. Using bright orange/yellows, use this tool to create the masts for the boats. Adjust the weight of the line in the Options bar, using finer lines for the masts in the distance.