Create floating island in a twilight atmosphere with plenty of magical details. Read this tutorial and learn how to combine all those elements to create this fairy tale composite.
What you’ll be creating
Photo manipulation tutorial with simple and advanced techniques. You will need Photoshop CS5 or newer to follow this tutorial.
- New York Skyline – Dreamstime
- Sky – Magikfeller
- Moon Brushes – Ischarm
- Floating Island – Mindsquezedesign
- Desert – stockf8
- Tree – Monglowlilly
- Apple – Monglowlilly
- Bush – Monglowlilly
- Wall Lamp – Monglowlilly
- Walking – GMarshal
- Warmblood – Bundy – Stock
- Wings – maureenolder
- Fantasy Lighting Brushes– KeepWaiting
- Grass– Lemondjinn
- Fern – wolverine041269
- Daisy– wolverine041269
- Fern Brush – fantmayo
- Waterfalls Brush – Midnight’s touch
- Water Brush – redheadstock
- Clouds – redheadstock
- Rainbow – magikfeller
- Birds Brush – Midnight’s touch
- Lens Flares – SaphireDesign
- Castle – skinywitch
- Wizard Duo – ailinstock
- Nebula – freeimages.com
- Nobleman – Grinmir-stock
Open file “Sky”. This will be our background on which we will create our scene.
Import the moon brushes. Choose a half moon brush and on a new layer (to create a new layer press Ctrl + Shift + Alt + N) click once to create a half moon like shown below.
Now let’s create the castles floating in the sky. First open the file “Floating Island”. Select all by pressing Ctrl + A, copy by pressing Ctrl + C. Go back to our scene and press Ctrl + V to paste. Now we could resize the island as it is but it is good practice to convert most of our imported layers to Smart Objects in order to preserve their original pixel information no matter how much we resize them or apply filters on them. Smart objects and adjustment layers are very important for lossless image editing and manipulation – we will soon use adjustment layers. For now let’s convert the imported layer (our floating island) into a smart object. There are multiple ways to do that but the simplest way is to right click the layer and from the drop down menu choose Convert To Smart Object. After you do that you can safely resize the island (Ctrl + T) as shown below.
Our island is orange but our sky is blue. The island looks like it doesn’t belong here. That is because objects tend to have a hue close to that of the sky. This is generally true for most photo manipulations scenes. Now how should we go about color correcting the island so that it blends nicely with the sky? There are multiple ways of doing that: we could use a hue/saturation adjustment layer, a Curves adjustment layer or a solid color layer. We will use the latter since it is the easiest way. First select a brush tool and Alt-click somewhere in the sky to sample a blue color. Create a new layer and press Alt-Backspace to fill the layer with the sampled color. It looks all blue but we want to limit the blue only to the island. We will do that in the next step.
It’s time you get familiar with another very important concept regarding photoshop layers: clipped layers. A clipped layer shows only through the pixels of the layers it clips. It sounds complicated but it’s not. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you created a new layer and on this new layer you draw a horse. Now let’s say you want to apply a texture to the horse. Well, you could copy and paste a texture from somewhere, place it above the horse and painstakingly delete every pixel that falls outside the horse.
Of course there is an easier way to do it and that is by clipping the texture layer to the horse layer. The easiest way is just to do it and see it in action. Hold the Alt key and click once between two layers. The upper layer will be visible only through the pixels of the lower layer – in other words the upper texture layer will only be visible through the lower horse layer. This is how you clip layers. You can have more than one clipped layers – for example you can have a four texture layers clipped to the horse layer and they will all show through the visible pixels of the clipped layer. So from now on you should at least know (and hopefully understand) how to clip layers: simply Alt-click between two layers in order to clip the upper layer to the lower layer in the layer pallet.
Now back to our scene. Clip the color layer to the island layer and change the blending mode of the color layer to Color. Notice how the island suddenly looks very well blended into the scene. If you wanted to retain some of the original color you could simply lower the opacity of the color layer but in our case this is just what we need.
Another very important thing in creating photo manipulations is light direction and shading. Before apply any light and shade to our object it is important to establish the light direction. In our case the light is coming from the middle/lower right portion of the scene. Now it’s time to apply some shading to our island to make it look less flat. Create a new layer and set the blending mode to overlay (a good blending mode for altering the lightness of an object without affecting the colors very much). Clip the layer to the island layer and with a soft round white brush at 30-40% Opacity paint a little on the lower right part of the island. Change the color of the brush to black and paint a little in the upper left part of the island. If you have a tablet this will be even easier but you can also do it fairly well with a mouse. You should have something like the image below.
Open file “Castle”. Using the pen tool or the quick selection tool select the castle. Copy it and paste it into our scene. Convert the castle layer to smart object and resize it like shown below.
Add a layer mask to the Castle layer (Layer > Layer Mask> Reveal All). In the layer mask use a round soft black brush to mask the lower portions of the castle so that it integrates nicely with the island.
Layer Mask quick explanation. Layer mask are one of the most important concepts to understand in order to use Photoshop efficiently. There are plenty of tutorials on internet regarding layer masks but here’s the quick version. Let’s say you have a photo and you set it on a table. This is the layer. Now over the picture you put a transparent paper or foil. This is the layer mask. If you draw with a black marker over the transparent paper you will not see the picture under the black paint. If you erase the black paint you will see the picture. This is painting with black and white in the layer mask.
All this time the photo is unharmed – if you remove the transparent paper the photo is intact below. This allows for a great flexibility when doing any image editing in Photoshop.
For organizational purposes it is a good habit to group your layers. Select all the castle related layers (you can select multiple layers by holding Ctrl and clicking on each layer) and press Ctrl + G to group them. Name the group Castle.
Now it’s time to create our floating road. Open file “Desert”. Using the rectangular marquee tool select the desert, copy it and paste it into our scene. Transform it to smart object and position it as shown below. Also, position the desert layer below the Castle group in the layer palate.
Add a layer mask to the desert layer (Layer > Layer Mask> Hide All). Now the desert will disappear from the scene because the layer mask is all black. With the standard chalk brush and a white color at 100% Opacity draw something resembling a road in the layer mask. Name this layer “Base Dirt”.
Create a new Curve adjustment layer and clip it to the Base Dirt layer. Drag the curve down to darken.
Duplicate the “Base Dirt” layer (Layer > Duplicate Layer) and rename it Base Volume. Drag it above the Base Dirt layer in the layer palate. Press Ctrl + T to Free transform and position it as shown in the image below. With this little trick you have created a very convincing road which we will improve in the next steps.
Create a new layer and fill it with a blue color sampled from the sky (#77889c). Clip it to the Base Volume layer.
Select all the road related layers and group them (Ctrl + G). Name the group Road.
Now I am going to teach you another useful trick. We want to apply some Adjustments layer to the our road group but we don’t want them to affect other layers. How do we do that? Well, we could clip all the adjustments layer we create to the road layer but that will look messy and there is a better way. We simply change the blending mode of the group road from Pass Through to Normal. Now any adjustment layers inside the group will only affect layers inside the group. We could create a curves layer and drag the curve all the way up to brighten the scene – only the road will be affected. Alright, let’s change the blending mode to Normal.
Create a new Curves Adjustment layer and fill the layer mask with black. Drag the curve down to darken and in the layer mask paint with a white round soft brush over the indicated parts.
Create a new Curves Adjustment layer and fill the mask with black. Drag the curve up to lighten and in the layer mask paint with a white round soft brush over the indicated parts.
Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer and drag the saturation slider to the left.
Create a Curves Adjustment layer and use the settings shown below in order to change the color of our road in order to match the sky.
And that’s it, this will be our floating road. But since we will need to make multiple copies of it and we will not modify it further it would be wise to duplicate the group and convert it to smart object. Click on the group to select it, duplicate the group (Layer > Duplicate Group), right click the duplicated group and choose Convert To Smart Object. Rename this “ConvertedRoad”. Turn off the visibility of the original road group.
Move the converted road layer below the Castle group in the layer palette. Press Ctrl + T to resize and position it as shown below.
Duplicate the Castle group and press Ctrl + T to resize and position it as shown below. Move this group below the “ConvertedRoad” layer. Name this group Castle Copy.
Duplicate the “ConvertedRoad” layer and move it below the Castle Copy group. Resize and position it as shown below. Name this “ConvertedRoadCopy”.
Finally, duplicate the Castle group again and move it below the “ConvertedRoadCopy” layer. Resize and position it as shown below.
Select all the castle groups and the roads and group them together. Name this group “Castles”. Remember the trick I taught you at step 18? We are going to use it here too. Change the blending mode of the “Castles” group from Pass Through to Normal.
In the Castles group create a Curves Adjustment layer and drag the curve down to darken. In the layer mask paint with a round soft black brush over the top of the castles to prevent the darkening effect from happening there.
Create a new layer and with a round soft white brush paint at 2-5px paint the top left parts of the castles. This will create the illusion of specular highlight.
Create a new layer and with a round soft white brush paint at 2-5px paint the top left parts of the castles. This will create the illusion of specular highlight.
Open file Tree. Copy and paste the tree into our image. Convert it into a smart object and resize and position the tree as shown below.
Duplicate the tree layer a couple of times and move and resize the duplicated layers to create the illusion of some vegetation on the castle rocks. Group all the tree layers together. Name the group “Trees”.
Open the file “Rider”. Using the pen tool or the quick selection tool select the rider. Copy and paste it into our scene. Name the layer “Rider” and convert it to a smart object. Resize and position the layer as shown below.
Create a new layer and move below the “Rider” layer in the layer palate. With a round black soft brush paint some shadow below the rider. Change the blending mode to Multiply and name it “Shadow”. If the effect is too strong lower the opacity of the “Shadow” layer.
Open file “Wall Lamp” and select the lamp. Copy and paste the lamp into our scene. Convert it to a smart object. Resize and position the lamp as shown below.
Create a new layer. Sample a green color (#103d2d)from the lamppost and with the chalk brush paint something resembling a pole coming down from the lamp.
Create yet another new layer and with a round soft black brush paint a shadow coming down from the lamp post. Change the blending mode of the shadow to Multiply. Finally, group all the lamp layers together and name the group “Base Lamp Post”.
Duplicate the “Base Lamp Post” group and convert it to a smart object (right click the layer and choose Convert to Smart Object from the drop down menu). Name the new layer “Converted Lamp”. Resize and position it as shown below.
We do this because this graphic element is very small and not prone to change. Also having too much smart objects will increase the size of our document and by converting a group to a smart object we reduce the layer clutter.
Make some more duplicates of the “Converted Lamp” layer. Resize them and place them along the road as shown below. The further a lamp it is from us the smaller it should be to create the illusion of perspective.
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Soft Light. Choose a yellow color (#ffee32) and with a round soft brush at 20% Opacity paint some light around the lamps. If the effect is too strong lower the Opacity. Name this layer “Lamp Light”. Group all the lamp related layers (including the light) and name the group “Lamp Posts”.
Open the file “Walking” and make a selection of the walking man. Copy and paste it into our image. Convert it to smart object. Resize and position the layer as shown below.
Phew. That was some work but we also have some pleasing results. Group all the layers except the Background and the Moon layer and name the group Castles. Press Ctrl + 0 to bring all the scene into view and enjoy your work.
Right-click the horse layer and choose Blending Options from the drop down menu. Apply some Inner and Outer glow in order to create a magic looking effect.
Create a new Curves Adjustment layer. Drag the curve up to lighten and clip the curves layer to the horse layer.
Import the Fantasy Lighting brushes. Choose a glitter brush (if the Brush Presets window is not opened choose Window > Brush Presets) and with white as foreground color draw some glitter behind the horse to make it look like a trail of stars behind him.
Open the file “Wings”. Copy and paste the wings into our document. Convert the imported layer to a smart object. Resize and position as shown below. Apply Inner and Outer glow to the wings like we did at step 45. Group all the horse related layers and name the group “Flying Horse”.
Open the file “Wizard Duo”. Make a selection of the wizard and his pupil. Copy and paste it into our scene. Convert it to a smart object. Resize and position as shown below.
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Color Dodge. Clip this layer to the wizard layer. Paint some outlines around the wizard and his pupil with a round soft white brush.
I am going to share with you a little secret. In order to have beautiful compositions perform this step for all your imported objects in most of your scenes. There are some objects for which this effect doesn’t work but for most of them outlining with white (or a light color) will make them stand out and give them a special glow.
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Overlay. Clip this layer to the wizard layer and paint with white and black some shadows and highlights on the wizard and his pupil.
Open the file “Grass” and make a lower selection of the grass. Copy, paste into our scene, convert to smart object and add a layer mask. Import the Fern Brush and in the layer mask paint with black in order to randomly hide portions of the grass and making it look natural.
Open the file “Daisy”. Copy and paste the flower into our scene. Convert it to a smart object. Resize and position it as shown below.
Let’s make our daisy a little bit warmer. Create a new Curves Adjustment layer and clip it to the daisy layer. Use the settings shown below for the curves layer.
Open the file “Fern”. Copy and paste the fern into our scene. Convert it to a smart object. Position and resize it as shown below.
Let’s color correct the fern. Create a new Curves Adjustment layer and clip it to the fern layer. Use the settings shown below for the curves layer.
Open file “Bush”. Copy and paste the bush into our scene. Convert it to a smart object. Place the brush all the way to the left so only a little of the bush will be visible.
Open file “Apple”. Copy and paste the apple into our scene. Convert it to a smart object. Resize and position the apple as shown below. Duplicate the apple layer again and move it behind the tree.
Group all the grass related layers together (including the fern, daisy, tree and apples). Name the new group “Vegetation” and change the blending mode to Normal. Inside the “Vegetation” group create a Color Balance Adjustment layer and use the settings shown below.
Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer inside the “Vegetation” group and drag the saturation slider to the left in order to desaturate the vegetation a bit.
A fantasy scene wouldn’t be complete without some waterfalls. Import the waterfall brushes and create a new layer. Choose a waterfall you like and with white as a foreground color create a waterfall. Lower the opacity of the layer to 60-70%. Repeat the step again to create a secondary waterfall.
Create a new layer and choose a foam brush from the imported waterfall brushes. Create some foam around the waterfalls.
Let’s create a magic mood. Open the file “Nebula”. Select all (Ctrl + A), copy and paste into our scene. Apply some Gaussian Blur (10-15px) and change the blending mode to Color Dodge. Lower the Fill to 75%.
Go to the “Nebula” file again, select all, copy and paste into our scene. Change the blending mode to Color Dodge and add a layer mask to the nebula layer. In the layer mask paint with black the indicated areas.
Import the Cloud brushes. On a new layer (or more new layers) paint white clouds over each castle. Group the cloud layers together and name the group “Clouds”.
Create a Color Balance Adjustment layer and use the settings shown below. By doing this we will subtly unify our scene and change the hue towards blue.
For further unification create a Photo Filter Adjustment layer and use a cooling filter.
Open the file “Rainbow”. Copy and paste the rainbow into our scene. Change the blending mode to Linear Dodge and lower the Opacity to 27%. Resize and position the rainbow over the first castle. Add a layer mask and with a black brush mask the ends of the rainbow.
Import the birds brush. Create a couple of new layers and on each paint some white birds.
Create a new layer and fill it with black. Go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare. Lower the Opacity of the layer to 69%.
Change the lens flayer layer blending mode to Screen. Add a layer mask and paint with a black brush in the indicated areas.
Open the “Lens Flare” file. Make a selection of the top left sun with the rectangular marquee tool. Copy and paste into our image. Convert it into a smart object. Resize and position as shown below. Name the layer “Sun”.
Change the blending mode of the “Sun” layer to Screen.
Duplicate the “Sun” layer and move it in the tower of the bigger castle.
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Overlay. With a white brush paint some highlights as indicated below.
Download the PSD