Have you ever wanted to create those stark and dramatic landscapes? In this tutorial you’ll learn how to combine different stock photos and lighting styles to create dramatic, movie like photo manipulation. Let’s get started!

Preview of Final Results

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Tutorial Resources

Step 1 – Preparing the Document

Open Photoshop and create a new document (File > New…). Set its dimensions on 3500 x 2300px. Press OK. Download the stock photo of rocks listed in the beginning of the tutorial under Tutorial Resources and drag it into your new document.  Name this new layer ROCKS and place it on the top of all layers. Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontally to have the same direction as on the preview picture.

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Step 2 – Adjusting the Rocks

Let’s focus on colors of the layer ROCKS you’ve added in previous step. In this photo manipulation you want to create strong dramatic atmosphere and I believe you can achieve it better with photos with less saturated colors.  Add new adjustment layer Vibrance on the top of all layers. (You can find the button Add new fill or adjustment layer on the bottom part of your layers palette.)

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Set the value Vibrance on – 30 and change its Blending Mode on Color. By choosing this blending mode the adjustment change only color and not lightness of your image.

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To lower saturation of cyan tones even more add new adjustment layer Hue/Saturation and set the value Saturation of Cyan tones on -70. By this adjustment you’ll create stronger feel of “before the storm” weather.

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After this step your photo manipulation should look like on the following image.

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Step 3 – Adding Waves

Download stock photo of waves listed in the beginning of the tutorial and drag it into your photo manipulation. Name this new layer WAVES and place it on the top of all layers.  Go to Edit > Free Transform (or press Ctrl + T on your keyboard) and resize waves on proper size. After you’re done press Enter to apply the changes. You should get something similar to the picture below.

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Add layer mask to WAVES. You can find the button Add layer mask on the bottom part of the palette Layers (next to the button Add new fill or adjustment layer you’ve used in previous step).

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Grab the Brush Tool (B), select some soft round brush, set its Size on 500px and Opacity on 100%.

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Pick black color. Make sure the layer mask of WAVES is active (Just click on it). Start painting over the areas of waves you want to hide.

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If you’re not sure where you should paint take a look at the picture below. I highlighted these areas with red color.

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After this step your photo manipulation should be similar to the one shown below.

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Step 4 – Blending Waves

As you can see the photo of waves you’ve added in previous step is bluer and darker than the rest of the image. You’ll fix it in this step.  Let’s start with lightening. Add new adjustment layer Curves on the top of all layers and set it as shown below.

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You want to adjust only WAVES and not the rest of the image. To achieve that click on the button This adjustment clips to the layer. I’ve circled the button in the image above.  To lower the saturation of WAVES add new adjustment layer Hue/Saturation on the top of all layers and set the value Saturation on -45. Create clipping mask from this adjustment layer too!

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On the following picture you can compare how each adjustment affects WAVES.

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Step 5 – Adding Sky

Download photo of sky listed in the beginning of the tutorial and drag it into your photo manipulation. Place it on the top of all layers and name it SKY.  Same as with WAVES add new layer mask to SKY. Grab the Brush Tool (B), use the same settings as before and blend the sky with the rest of the image. Paint on the layer mask over the areas you want to hide. On the following image these parts are highlighted with red color.

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Step 6 – Blending the Sky

In this step you’ll adjust brightness and saturation of SKY to fit better to the rest of the image.  Add new adjustment layer Curves on the top of all layers and set it as shown below. Create clipping mask from it to adjust only SKY and not the rest of the image.  With this shape of curve you lower contrast of your image and make it bit brighter.

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To add gentle blue tone to SKY add new adjustment layer Color Balance on the top of all layers and set it as shown below.  Create clipping mask from this adjustment layer too!

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On the following image you can see how your photo manipulation and layer order should look like so far.

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Step 7 – Creating More Depth

Right now your photo manipulation looks bit flat, isn’t it? In this step you’ll create more depth by creating more interesting lights and shadows. To do that add new empty layer on the top of all layers and name it LIGHTS AND SHADOWS. Grab the Paint Bucket Tool (G), pick mid grey color (#808080) and fill this new layer with it. To blend it properly with the rest of the image change its Blending Mode from Normal to Overlay.

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Grab the Brush Tool (B). Select some soft round brush, set its Size on 100px and Opacity on 15%.

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Pick black color and start painting over the areas you want to make darker – parts of the rocks which are in the shadows and sky. You can get idea where you should paint with black color on the following image. I highlighted these areas with red color.

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After you’re done pick white color and paint over the areas you want to make lighter. You can get the idea where you should paint on the image below again.

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On the pictures below you can compare how the photo manipulation looks before and after this step.

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Step 8 – Desaturating

In this step you’ll desaturate your photo manipulation little bit to get stronger atmosphere.  Add new adjustment layer Hue/Saturation on the top of all layers and set Saturation on -25. This time you want to adjust the whole image so do not create clipping mask from it.

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To desaturate colors even bit more add new adjustment layer Vibrance and set the value Vibrance on -20. Change its Blending Mode from Normal to Color to affect only colors and not brightness of the image.

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Step 9 – Adding Woman

Download photo of woman listed in the beginning of the tutorial and drag it into your photo manipulation. Place it on the top of all layers and name it WOMAN. Go to Edit > Free Transform (or press Ctrl + T on your keyboard) and resize it on proper size. Don’t forget to press Shift while doing it to preserve same proportions.  Cut out the background to blend it properly with the rest of the image. You can use whatever process you’re comfortable with. I prefer adding layer mask and hiding the unwanted parts. You don’t have to concentrate too much on hair, you’ll blend them properly in next step.  After this step your photo manipulation should be similar to the one shown below.

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Step 10 – Painting Hair

In this step you’ll fix hair of the woman. Hair is one of the most challenging things to blend. For me it works best to simply paint some hair after I’ve done some basic blending. In this step you’ll do the same.  It is easier if you can work with graphic tablet but with bit practice and patience you can get great results with your mouse too! Let’s take a look at how hair look before painting.

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Add new empty layer on the top of all layers and name it HAIR. Grab the Brush Tool (B) and set it same as shown on the following picture.

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Press Alt on your keyboard to activate the Eyedropper Tool (I) and select some dark color from woman hair. Paint hair around the bad blending to cover it. After few strokes change the color to get the most realistic result.  On the following image you can see how woman’s hair should look like after this step.

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Step 11 – Changing Light

In this step you’ll focus more on creating interesting, dramatic light.  Add new empty layer on the top of all layers. Name it INTERESTING LIGHT. Grab the Paint Bucket Tool (G), pick mid grey (#808080) and fill the layer with it. To blend it properly with the rest of the image change its Blending Mode from Normal to Overlay.

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Grab the Brush Tool (B), select some soft round brush. Set its Size on about 100px and Opacity on 20%.

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Pick black color and paint over the areas you’d like to make darker. This time pay more attention to details – especially on woman’s face and body. You can see where to paint on the image below.

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After you’re done pick white color and paint over the areas you want to make lighter.

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Let’s compare how your photo manipulation looks like before and after this step.

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Step 12 – Adjusting Contrast

In this step you’ll adjust contrast of the photo manipulation.  Add new adjustment layer Curves on the top of all layers and set it as shown below. You want to adjust the whole image so don’t create clipping mask from this adjustment.

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There are still some parts of the image that are too dark and distracting. I’ve highlighted them on the following image.

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To lighten them add new adjustment layer Curves on the top of all layers and set it as shown below.

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You want to adjust only the highlighted parts. To achieve that grab the Paint Bucket Tool (G), pick black color and fill layer mask of this adjustment color with it. After that grab the Brush Tool (B), pick white color and paint over the highlighted areas.  After this step your photo manipulation should be similar to the one below.

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Step 13 – Adjusting the Dress

The bottom part of the dress is too flat which doesn’t look realistic. It should have similar shape as rocks below it. You’ll fix it in this step.  Grab the Marquee Tool (M) and select the bottom part of the skirt. Press Ctrl + Shift + C to copy it merged and then Ctrl + V to paste it. Place this new layer on the top of all layers and name it SKIRT. To adjust its shape go to Edit > Transform > Warp and warp it similarly as on the following image. After you’re done press Enter on your keyboard to apply the changes.

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Step 14 – Darkening

In this step you’ll make midtones of the image darker. To do that add new adjustment layer Curves on the top of all layers and set it as shown below.

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Step 15 – Desaturation

Previous adjustment made the image more saturated. You’ll desaturate it in this step. Add new adjustment layer Hue/Saturation and set the value Saturation on -15.

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Step 16 – Light on Woman

Let’s add more light on woman to draw more attention to her. It’s a good trick to use – viewer’s eye go first to the brightest parts of image. You can use it to your advantage while creating other photo manipulations.  Add new empty layer on the top of all layers and name it LIGHT. Grab the Paint Bucket Tool (G), pick mid grey color (#808080) and fill the layer. To blend it properly change its Blending Mode from Normal to Overlay.

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Grab the Brush Tool (B), select some soft round brush, set its Size on about 300px and Opacity on 10%.

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Pick white color and paint gentle glow around woman. You can see where you should paint on the picture below. It’s highlighted with red color.

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After you’re finished pick black color and paint vignette around the edges of your photo manipulation.

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On the following image you can compare how the photo manipulation looks before and after this adjustment.

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Step 17 – Desaturation

Add new adjustment layer Hue/Saturation on the top of all layers and set the value Saturation on -50.

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This adjustment tone down most colors. But don’t worry. In next step you’ll add beautiful blue tone to it.

Step 18 – Blue Tones

Let’s focus on toning image. To create more mystical, calm atmosphere you’ll add blue and cyan tones in this step.  Add new empty layer on top of all layers and name it BLUE TONES. Grab the Paint Bucket Tool (G). Pick some very dark, almost black color. (I used #06000F). Fill the layer with it. To blend it properly change its Blending Mode from Normal to Exclusion.

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Below you can compare how the photo manipulation looks before and after this adjustment.

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Step 19 – Darkening

Add new adjustment layer Curves on the top of all layers and set it as shown below.

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This shape of curve makes dark tones of your image darker. You can compare the result on the following photo.

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Step 20 – Adding Birds

In this step you’ll add birds to the horizon to bring more details to your photo manipulation.  Download the bird brushes listed in the beginning of the tutorial and install them into Photoshop. Add new empty layer on the top of all layers and name it BIRDS.  Select some brush you’ve just installed. Press Alt on your keyboard to activate the Eyedropper Tool (I) and pick some dark color from the picture. Simply paint some birds on horizon.

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Step 21 – Sharpening

This is the final step when you’ll make your photo manipulation sharper.  Press Ctrl + A on you keyboard to select the whole image. Go to Edit > Copy merged (or press Ctrl + Shift + C on your keyboard) to copy it merged. Go to Edit > Paste (Ctrl + V) to paste it. Place this new layer on the top of all layers and name it SHARPENING.  Go to Filter > Other >High Pass and set the value Radius on 1px. Press OK.

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To blend it properly change its Blending Mode from Normal to Overlay.

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Before you finish this tutorial let’s take a quick look on all the layers you’ve created:

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Final Results

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Download the PSD

Tutorial by Jarka Hrnčárková

image117[5]Thank you for reading the tutorial. Hope you’ve learnt something new and get some inspiration for your new work!

– Jarka Hrnčárková

12 thoughts on “How to Add a Mermaid to a Dark Bleak Landscape”

  1. I really love your tutorials … I think it explains very well for a photoshop beginner like me, and it makes me really happy that you continued to publish tutorials on photoshop it helps to learn ..

  2. Tutorial started by asking if you wanted to add a mermaid to a landscape.
    Ended with a landscape, no mermaid.
    Where’d she go?

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