Preview of Final Results

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Dramatic Sci-Fi Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial


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Step 1 – Preparing Background

Download the picture of background and open it in Photoshop. Double click on the name of the layer and rename it to BACKGROUND. It’s a good habit to name all your layers properly because it’s easier to orient in them later.

Let’s make the very first adjustment. Right now the picture has very low contrast. To fix it add new adjustment layer Levels. You can find the button Add new fill or adjustment layer in the bottom part of the palette Layers. If you don’t see this palette go to Window > Layers or simply press F7 on your keyboard.

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Set the Input Levels on 43; 0,80; 216.

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Your image should look like the one below so far.

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Step 2 – Cleaning Foreground

In this step you’ll remove roofs in the trees in foreground because they’re quite disturbing.

Add new layer on the top of all layers and name it e.g. CLEANING FOREGROUND. Grab the Stamp Tool (S), select some soft round brush and set the Opacity on 100%. Remove the roofs which are circled in the picture below.

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If you’re not familiar with how to use the Stamp Tool (S) I recommend you to read some tutorials about this excellent tool. Time spent with learning about this tool is definitely worth it.

Be careful to not to use the same source spot all the time to avoid the repetitive pattern you could get. Below you can see the example of correct and wrong cloning.

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Step 3 – Adding Sky

Download the picture of sky and drag it into your photo manipulation. Place it on the top of all layers and name it SKY.

To blend the layer with the rest of the image change its Blending Mode from Normal to Multiply and lower its Opacity on 70%. You can find both these options in the upper part of the palette Layers.

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As you can see on the following picture the upper part of the sky is blended properly. But the bottom part needs some adjusting. You’ll fix it in the following step.

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Step 4 – Blending the Bottom Part of Sky

As I already said the bottom part of the sky needs to be blended better. Right now it causes that the city on the horizon is too dark which doesn’t look believable. There is also very sharp transition between the added sky and the rest of the image. You’ll fix both in this step.

You could use the Eraser Tool (E) to give away the unwanted parts of the sky but I would recommend you to avoid this solution. If you use the Eraser Tool (E), the erased parts are lost for good and you can’t let them reappear if you need.

I’ve got better solution for you – layer masks. If you use them you don’t erase or delete some parts, you just hide them and you can let them reappear any time you want, which is very practical. Especially for photo manipulators.

Make sure that the SKY layer is active – just click on it. And then add layer mask by clicking on the button Add layer mask in the bottom part of the palette layers.

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Grab the Brush Tool (B), select some soft round brush and lower its Opacity on about 30%. Pick black color and paint over the areas of sky you want to make invisible. To get the inspiration where to paint you can take a look at the following image. Areas which should be hidden are red highlighted.

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Note to how layer masks work: If you want to hide something paint over it with black. If you want to make it visible again paint with white. E.g. 50% grey color makes the picture 50% invisible etc..


Step 5 – Making Sky More Dramatic

I don’t know how you but I really like drama in my pictures and drama often means high contrast. That’s why you’ll increase contrast of sky in this step.

Add new adjustment layer (same as in step 1) Levels above SKY and set the Input Levels on 37; 0,68; 218.

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You want to adjust only the sky and not the rest of the image. To achieve that you’ll create clipping mask from this adjustment layers.

Right click on the Levels adjustment menu and choose the option Create Clipping Mask.

On the following picture you can see the order of the layers so far.

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And there is how your image should look like so far.

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Step 6 – Details in Sky

Left side of the sky is kind of boring right now. It’s just big grey area without any details. You’ll make it more interesting in this step.

Download the picture of cloud and drag it into your photo manipulation. Place it on the top of all layers and name it CLOUDS.

To blend it properly with the rest of the sky you need to do two things – first change the Blending Mode and second make soft transition with use of layer mask.

Let’s start with changing the Blending Mode. Change it from Normal to Luminosity and lower its Opacity on 75%.

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Now add layer mask to this layer. Grab the Brush Tool (B), select some soft round brush and lower its Opacity on 30%. Pick black color and paint around the edges of the layer to create nice, soft transition. On the following picture you can get inspiration where to paint. It’s highlighted with red again.

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Step 7 – Adding Flames

If you look at the preview picture you see that the whole city is in fire. You’ll burn it in this and some of the following steps.

Download some picture of the flames listed in the beginning of the tutorial and drag it into your photo manipulation. Place it on the top of all layers. You need to blend it and change its size to fit to the rest of the image.

It would be really hard and time consuming to blend the flames with using of layer mask and the Brush Tool (B). Luckily there is really quick and effective way. Because flames have black background you can blend it easily by changing its Blending Mode from Normal to Screen. Black becomes invisible.

To resize the picture go to Edit > Free Transform or press Ctrl + T. By dragging some of the small squares in the corners resize it on the size you want. Press Shift while resizing to remain constant proportions.

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In preview picture there are several elements which direction is affected by the direction of wind – smoke, woman’s coat and hair and also flames. To make the scene realistic all these elements should have the same direction as wind.

To adjust the direction of flame move with the square in the direction of the narrow shown in the picture below.

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To apply the changes press Enter on your keyboard.