Photobashing a landscape

This post continues on from the previous tutorial: How to make a 3D heightmap in Photoshop and I will be using that outcome as a starting point for this landscape! It’s not required as a starting point, you can easily play around with photobashing a landscape using a quick sketch or just an existing stock photo.

Last time I showed you how to create a height map and then turn it into a 3D landscape right in Photoshop, but today I will be showing you how to turn it into a picturesque landscape using free creative commons images from Unsplash.

Looking at my starting reference, I will need to find images of:

  • mountains or hills
  • rivers
  • coastline
  • sky

So let’s do just that!

I started with this image (links to all images will be available at the end of this post) and will use it for the water.

Now, clearly this is a lake and it’s very wide, so I’ll create a layer mask by reducing the opacity of this layer (so I can see the layer beneath easier), creating a layer mask (click the button next to the layer effects down by new layer) and brush black on the layer mask (don’t draw black on the layer).

Here’s what I have now. I had to invert the layer mask using Ctrl/Cmd + I as I’d been masking out the smallest area to work quicker.

Next I wanted to fill in some of the land. Whilst searching for images I was mindful to look for landscapes that look like they are from a similar climate, so that they blend in well.

I found this photo on Unsplash and put it on a new layer. I reduce the opacity to try and see where it will fit best. It may be that I only use a small part of this image!

The first thing I did was give this layer the same layer mask by Ctrl/Cmd + Clicking the layer mask of the water, selecting the land image and then pressing the layer mask button. I had to invert it again so that it would block out the water but appear everywhere else.

Pro tip : if you click the link icon in between the layer mask and the image, you can then move the image around whilst the mask stays in place.

I duplicated the image and used parts on each side of the river. I used the Clone Stamp Tool to remove any paths, roads and people from the photo to give it a more uniform look.

It looks very flat at the moment, so I duplicated the original black & white layer (Ctrl/Cmd + J) and put it above all of the layers so far and set the blend mode to Hard Light and 60% opacity.

Much better!

Moving on to the mountains, it’s off to unsplash again to find something suitable.

I’m going to try and work with this photo from Unsplash.

Using the same techniques as before using layer masks, I grabbed parts of the landscape that I wanted for my own and blended them in using a soft round brush set to about 60% opacity.

It’s quite natural at this stage for the dynamics of the landscape to change slightly and the mountain edge looks quite different now in comparison to the original.

It looks like a grey old morning in that scene, so let’s add some clouds to the sky. Here’s an image I found on Unsplash:

Using the Quick Selection Tool (W) set to Select All Layers, I selected the white space above the horizon and used this to create a layer mask for the clouds.

Ok this is looking pretty good, but there are some areas which I’m not happy with. First, let’s tackle the edge of the rivers. At the moment they are way too clean cut and look unnatural.

I’m going to take some inspiration from this image on Unsplash and use elements of the river edges to break it up a bit.

The image is quite dark in comparison to my composition so I’ll adjust it with either Levels or Curves adjustment layers.

This part took much longer than expected and I duplicated the layer many times to achieve the right effect. I also used a lot of clone stamp tool to remove any bits that weren’t to my liking.

I’m pretty happy with this landscape so for the sake of a shorter tutorial I’ll stop tweaking things (because it can take all day!) and move on to lighting.

Currently in the image there are some light areas and shadowy patches that don’t match up very well, so I’m going to make them look a bit more natural.

I brushed some pale yellow on a new layer, blurred it with Gaussian Blur and changed the blending mode to Overlay and reduced the opacity to make the middle area of land feel lighter.

I also duplicated the water image and brought it to the top to adjust the right hand corner because it was previously too dark.

The first fix was some New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Maps set to different blending modes such as darken to increase the contrast, darken it overall and reduce a bit of the saturation.

I then used the dodge & burn tool and brushed some white over the top of the mountains to add extra depth.

Speaking of depth, I’d like to enhance it further by blurring the background slightly. To do this, I created a new layer and went Image > Apply Image and then used a Gaussian Blur to blur it.

I created a layer mask to show the areas that I wanted to keep in focus.

I made use of the selection of this layer mask and used it again on a New Adjustment Layer > Brightness & Contrast, and used this to increase the contrast and brighten my focus area, and decrease contrast and darken the opposite (blurry areas).

I’m really happy with how this landscape turned out!

If I had used snowy photos it could have turned into a completely different scene. I love this technique and use it on a daily basis, so get practising using those layer masks because they are a lifesaver!

Here are the list of images from Unsplash:

Let me know how you get on with these techniques!

Looking for some different mapmaking tutorials? Gotcha covered with my post on Mapmaking and Toponymy!


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