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  5. Photoshop Landscape Painting Expanded Joel Reinke 09-Sep-2011

Web Design Mountain : designers : photoshop : landscape painting photoshop

Photoshop Landscape Painting

Just looking at my search traffic I'm happy to see that people are finding some of my resources for utilizing Photoshop to do Landscape Painting.  I also use Corel Painter but I have been using Photoshop for many more years so the experience I have here can be more of a resource.  So, thank you for finding my Mountain Brushes and the tutorials I've put together surrounding it.  I would now like to expand upon this category and offer some more resources.

I will eventually spin this off into many separate pages but for now lets look at a straight-forward process for building a "landscape painting" with Photoshop.

  1. Sky
  2. Back Tier Formation (Mountains, trees, or the sea)
  3. Mid Ground - Hills, Forest/trees, a lake or river, a great variety of options
  4. Fore-ground
  5. optional Subject

This is going to be a big project to pull this all together so for now I have authored parts 1 and 2 and I will expand the rest as I can.

1. Sky

This can be one of the biggest advantages to using Photoshop to compose a landscape painting, utilizing a Gradient Fill can be a time saver for making a beautiful sky as long as you do a bit more work on the Gradient Fill than just throwing it down and leaving it... this will look fake. 

SIDE NOTE: if you are very serious about making prints of your work, get a screen and printer calibration device and software so you know your colors are accurate.

(Often I will also not use the Gradient Fill for sky but paint in colors and blend them with the Smudge tool.  I'll go into this technique later)

Selecting Colors For Gradients for Natural Looking Sky:  It's important to not use the most saturated colors in the spectrum for the sky or it will look too unnatural.  For example #0000FF will look like it came from a computer no matter what you "gradient" it to.  At the very least, (in the color picker) slide the color from #0000FF along to the white side to about #4444FF to get rid of that unnatural color.  An easy choice for a sky for that "Blue Sky Sunny Day" look is going from something around #4444FF to White.  Then use the Gradient Fill Tool and drag from a little below the top of the canvass to about 20% Below the Bottom of the canvass usually with a diagonal line rather than straight vertical.  This just looks more like a real sky, but it can depend on what time of year you are going for and what compass point the scene is facing.

This one was #7878FF to #FFFFFF.  It would be an example of a sky where the sun is off the horizon possibly afternoon and/or could be a good building point for clouds if the clouds are more concentrated in the lower right corner.
 Another way to do it would be to go from bottom to top with the gradient fill tool and then the clouds would be more focused in the top left or right.

The next step is to "naturalize" the gradient fade.  Take the Smudge tool with a large (roughly 1/8th of the width of the canvass) round brush with soft edges and set the Strength to 34%.  You can work that transition point between where it goes from blue to mostly white to make it look less like a gradient fade and more like the natural free soft clouds in the far background.

This required very little effort and I just used the mouse.  I do recommend a Pen Tablet like the Wacom's Intous4 which is what I use, though if you don't have the budget for it right now, Genius offers some low-cost options that I started out on to try it out.  Why did I upgrade? The Wacom Intous4 pen has Tilt which I felt would be important for a more artistic result.  More on that later.

Ok, so that blue is ok.  I mainly started there to illustrate a point (no pun intended).  For general nice blue skies I recommend sliding slightly toward green to give you more of the Cerulian blue hue.  #78b8ff to White looks good!

Things to keep in mind: If you are going to put mountains about 2/3rds the way up the canvass then adjust the gradient accordingly so you still get that nice effect before you paint over it.

More kinds of Skies: Obviously everything isn't just sunny blue sky days.  Here are some more reciepes for other kinds of sky starts with Photoshop Gradients (or could be any other Graphics Program that has gradients). 

  • Rich Purple to Yellow Sunset: #d14ff1 to #f5ea64 (until 7%) to #FFFFFF
  • Super Sunrise (Yellow, Orange, Peach, Blue, Indigo) Start from corner and diagonal out
    #f1f094 to #f0ac64 (at 13%) to #5855e0 (at 80%) and #5b3fc4 (at 100%)
  • Night Sky (? this works but it depends on what your looking for) #000000 to #2b1370

To enhance the sky and cloud background create a second layer and develop some more detailed clouds on this layer.  To move this tutorial along, you can see this in more detail in my other tutorials on clouds and landscape painting.

2. Back Tier Formation

This can be any number of things, like Mountains, Sea, or Trees (if the perspective is such that the trees are already very large in the scene).


You can see an example of Mountain Painting in my Tutorial on the Mountain Brushes I created.  This utilizes a more "Pre-formed" Mountain Brush, which is fun and quick to use.  Another, more from scratch technique I have developed utilizes my Peak Brushes to paint mountains in a number of unique ways.  This will be coming in the future.

Sea, Oceans, Lakes

If you choose to use a body of water that starts right after the sky you know it doesn't exist in a vaccume.  It reflects the sky with other factors influencing it: depth, turbulence, the abundance of life within it (algae, etc.), the color of the sand beneath, the strength of the sun, and more.  Regardless, the sky is a good starting point. 

  • Pick a horizon line and simply copy the sky layer(s) from the horizon line with the Rectangular Marquee tool to the top of the canvas. 
  • Paste into a new Layer.
  • Flip Vertically.
  • Move the Layer Down to the Horizon Line. 
  • Stretch or compress it to as much as you want for your "Sea" area.
  • Adjust the Color and Brightness of the Sea Layer.  There are many different options for this based on how you see the conditions of your body of water.  Here is one recipe for a basic Sky to Sea Shift:
    -Use Brightness/Contrast and just bring the Brightness down to -36
    -Use Hue/Saturation...Hue -9, Saturation +10, Lightness -6 ...adjust to taste.
    This will green up the water a bit and make the sea stand out from the sky.
  • If you want to "Paint" everything from scratch you can do this same process manually with the brush tool. 
  • Either way, this only gives you the starting point for your water.  At this point you must figure out what style of sea/lake you want. Calm? Windy? Choppy? Turbulent?  And what style of Painting do you want? Impressionist, Expressionist, Realist, etc?  These differences are too big to cover in this tutorial. However, here is a basic way to make your Sea more defined for a general style...
  • From Photoshop, use Dodge (midtones, 26% Exposure) set the brush shape to use one of the included standard Brushes: Load in the Calligraphic Brushes and select  FLAT 60px.  Expand or Contract it to a relevant size for your canvas.  Start smaller by the horizon and get brush size bigger as you come forward. Single tap the Dodge tool all over the Sea area in a way that looks natural for ocean or lake water. 
  • As you get closer to the foreground you can use the same idea but drag a little ways to make more detailed waves.  You may also want to use other types of brushes for the waves.  One I like is under Thick Heavy Brushes, Flat Bristle but modify it so its horizontal, plus use Shape Dynamics->Fade
  • Also you can use the Smudge tool to turn some of these flat water highlights into more wavey shapes 
  • If you can follow all that you are awesome! Seriously all the steps are there to make a cool ocean or lake.  I really want to make a Video Tutorial for this step but will have to come back to it later.

Trees or other

Usually Trees or other large items are in the Mid or Fore Ground but can be in a perspective that makes them large enough to be the Back Tier Formation.  Skyscrapers could also fit this bill. Read on to the next sections for more info on this level of detail.

3. Mid Ground

Mid Ground is the most open ended area of a painting.  You could have layer upon layer of natural formations. There could be 10 or more layers of mountains and hills in the far distant background.  Then you could have stacked forests with the less detailed tree groupings. So this section is going to be hard to write an all inclusive resource.  I will share how to make distant trees soon.  Hills and mountains have been covered.  More detailed tree painting techniques will be covered in the section on Fore Ground.

4. Fore Ground

This is where the more detailed work comes in.  Many options here, but for now I'd like to share a technique for Painting Trees in Photoshop.  Others to follow.

5. Optional Subject

...coming soon...

Hope that helps. More to come.