Creating breathtaking landscape scenes in Photoshop

Introduction

I made this tutorial to give an insight into the techniques that I use to build my landscapes. The aim here is not to replicate the final piece in this tutorial but to understand what I do and to apply these techniques when creating your own landscapes. I advise that you read through the whole tutorial before starting and I hope that you will find it useful.

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Finished shot of the “Majestic Hour” landscape in Photoshop.

Preparing our canvas

I always start by applying a neutral grey/brown color to my background, although this isn’t necessary as it’s just a personal preference. Although by default it's 100% white and I feel that it’s the best way to kick start your imagination! Sometimes you can even use a big round and soft brush and cover your whole background with it, and it will already bring some nice effect to your canvas.  After that you can then place your main lines. As you can see it's very basic as I just want to get a rough idea of the landscape and I don't want to be locked into one vision.

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A prepared canvas with a roughly sketched outline of the landscape

Setting the sky and clouds

For the sky itself, just use any random soft brush and apply a bright/pale orange color to set the main color.

For the clouds I use a very simple technique. I select a basic hard round brush and in the brush options, I do the following:

  • Enable the Scattering (not too much, around 5-6 %),
  • Enable the Transfer
  • Enable the Color Dynamics (set "Hue jitter" to 2 or 3%, same for "saturation jitter" and "brightness jitter." I leave the others to zero)

I do this as it adds lots of colors to your brush and the scattering will simulate random clouds like the cumulonimbus clouds. Next you need to choose your color palette and start applying this brush on your canvas. Think about the big shapes and you can use references to help with this part. Work in layers and start with the bright colors and then the dark colors as they are closer to you. With that color palette, the horizon needs to be orange, almost red. You'll find many "cloud brush pack" on the internet and using some touches of these brushes can give more depth and more shapes to your sky. Be careful not to overuse them though, as it can ruin your work with the round brush.

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The brush options used to set the sky and clouds

Blending the sky

Now it's time to use the Mixer brush on our clouds. Left-click on the brush tool to open a mini menu and then select the Mixer brush tool. As you can see, you now have a new toolbar at the top. Select the "Very wet, heavy mix" option and make sure that the "sample all layers" option is enabled, while leaving the other options on default.

The Mixer brush is a very powerful tool and will help to blend your colors together. It’s similar to the finger tool but I find it to be better. It’s like real paint on a real canvas and simulates color mixing.  I suggest adding a new layer before using this tool, and to practice it on a different painting to see how it works. With the same brush we used to paint our clouds, we blend them.  It’s a bit difficult to describe but keep your edges sharp and blend the inner part of your clouds. You can use any brushes you want to have different effects. This is where you can showcase your style.

The options used to blend the sky and clouds

Painting the land

Nothing fancy needs to be done to paint the land as any brush will work. You just need to the think about the shapes that make up your land.  But don't draw straight lines; be sure to give some angles or it will look too perfect and won't look natural (just draw as if you had a real brush in your hand.)  You can also use foliage brushes to simulate trees far in the distance, but don't go into too much detail, as it just needs to give the illusion of a forest. Simply use a color a bit darker than the ground.

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The clouds and sky are nicely blended and appear soft and smooth, while the land below has been painted

Drawing trees and the river

Add the river before you paint your trees. Usually water reflects the color of the sky, so just grab a neutral brown/grey color and start tracing some basic colors (when the "Transfer" is enabled in your brush settings, it helps find the right colors and create a nice mix of various tones and values).

The trees will be larger as you are working towards the bottom of the landscape as they are closer to you. They also will need to be darker too.  Here again a foliage brush will help a lot to give shapes to your trees. Don't hesitate to cover a bit your river here and there as it adds depth to your landscape. Don't forget to add a trunk, and of course, a shadow below your trees, otherwise they look out of place.

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The finished trees and river can be seen on the bottom left side of the landscape.

Blocking the bottom right corner

Now as you can see the right corner of the canvas is empty. I know what I want here but you do not need to do the same thing. Anyway, just cover the area with a dark color, because we need shadows to show the light, so we'll come back later to work on this area. It also helps to see how the landscape will look like with that area filled/painted.

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The bottom right corner has been blocked out to see what the landscape will look like

Giving sunlight to the sky

Here we’ll use many layers (use as many as you want). Create a new layer, and turn it to "Linear Dodge (add)" and do the same with your brush. Choose the darkest variation of the color you want.  Example: we want a bright orange/yellow color for our sunlight. We won't take a bright orange/yellow, but a very dark one.

Then, with a very soft round brush (you can even lower the brush's opacity if you wish), we start applying that color on the desired areas. With the layer and the brush turned to "Linear Dodge (add)", this will create a very nice lighting effect. You need to apply your brush on the same spot many times, if you want to increase the effect (I would practice on another canvas to see what works). This effect works even better on a darker background. It gives incredible results for sunlight, fireplace, candles, or any glowing effect. But don't overdo it as it's a powerful effect and can easily become ugly.

If needed, you can add a layer turned to "soft light," and apply a bright orange/peach color with a very soft brush for a warmer touch to your light source (don't forget to reset your brush to "normal.")

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These brush and color options are useful in creating a sunlight effect for the sky

Setting the foreground

I won’t say much in this step because this area could be a tutorial by itself. For the foreground, you could simply draw a grassy area, some trees, big stones and rocks, and so on.  I drew some ruins but if you feel confident with characters, then draw some people. Just keep in mind that because the color is very dark, you need bright colors for highlights. Same as the land in the background, think about the shape of the ground. Like a real brush, if you draw just straight lines, it will not look natural.

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The completed foreground in which I painted some ruins

Adding the final touches

Here is the final touch that will give a strong feeling to your artwork. As in a previous step; create a new layer "Linear Dodge (add)" and the same with your brush, then grab a dark orange/brown. Now, with a square brush, trace some horizontal lines on your canvas. It should be something like this:

I want to create the feeling of perspective so that the sunrays are coming from behind the clouds toward us. Press Ctrl+T to select these lines. Hold Ctrl, then grab and pull the top left hand corner of your lines toward the top of your canvas, and the bottom left hand corner toward the bottom left hand corner of your canvas.

Of course if the light source comes from the right, do the same thing but with the right side of your lines. And now you simply have to move your selected shape to wherever you think it should be.

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Using this step will give a strong feeling to your landscape.

Top tip 1 - Don't rush!

As I said at the beginning of this tutorial, this landscape took me around 6 hours to complete. So don't expect to get the same result after 2 hours of drawing... take your time and be patient with yourself.

Top tip 2 - Use your layers

There's no shame in creating 10 layers to draw a single tree. If it helps you, then do it. At the end of my artworks, I have around 30 or 35 layers, and 10 of them are for the lighting effects only.

Top tip 3 - Use lots of references

Here is a list of many masters who inspire me every day, you should check their work, they will inspire you: Albert Bierstadt, A.T Bricher, W.T Richards, Peder Monsted, Sydney R. Percy, Thomas Moran... You'll learn a lot by studying their masterpieces. Also, if you like to draw and paint, you probably know Bob Ross. If not, check his channel on YouTube. Of course his work wasn't digital at all, but a lot of his advice easily applies to digital painting in Photoshop.

Top tip 4 - Enjoy the process

It is very important to enjoy what you are doing! Painting should make you happy but if it isn’t then you're doing it wrong.

You'll find a foliage brush pack on my profile on Deviantart. It will certainly help you at some point. And of course there's a lot of grass/bush packs on the internet.

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