Create a Snowy Landscape From Desert Photography

Photoshop is a great tool because it allows us to be creative and produce imagery that would be impossible to create otherwise. In this tutorial, author Tony Aubé will create a snowy landscape from desert photography and photos of sand.

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Tutorial Details
  • Applications Used: Adobe Photoshop CS5
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Estimated Completion Time: 3h +
  • Updated: December 11,2013

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Final Product What You’ll Be Creating

Step 1 – Setting up the scene

In Photoshop, create a new file. Make the file 4500 by 2750 pixels.

Place Landscapes0143 (File > Place) into your canvas and stretch it so it fits the lenght of your canvas. Name the layer “Background Mountains.”

Usually I don’t recommend stretching photo elements because it usually
breaks the realism. However, since this is a background element, it will
most likely go unnoticed. Now, give your layer a mask (Layer >
Layer Mask > Reveal All) and paint out the sky.

Import Sahara Dunes and name the layer “Background Dunes”. Stretch the layer 245% in width and 135% in height and place it like in the example.

Duplicate the layer (Command/Ctrl + J while having the layer selected),
flip it (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal) and place it more to
the left and under the original layer.

Grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), select the left part of the layer and mask it.

Place Lifes a Journey, Enjoy the ride and Desert Sand.
Place Desert Sand to the left and the other one to the right, and name
them respectively “Dunes Left” and “Dunes Right”. Now, “Dunes Right” is a
little bit small so we’ll have to scale it. Place it to the bottom
right corner, hit Command/Ctrl + T, and by clicking the top left corner,
scale it up until it reach the left part (should be around 195%). Make
sure you hold shift to keep the proportions while scaling. Finally, move
down “Dunes Left” until the two fit together.

Step 2 – Masking the skies

Give both “Dunes Left” and “Dunes Right” a mask. Using your favorite method, remove the sky for both images.

Let’s do the same process for the two “Background Dune” layers. Now,
since one of them already have a mask, we are going to group them and
give the group a mask. This will allow us to manage both masks
individually if we ever want to make some changes further on.

Finally, let’s give our white background a cold sky color. This will
make our whole image easier to work with until we add the clouds. Give
your first Swatch the color #8098D8 and your second swatch the color
#D1D9E6. Click the Gradient Tool (G), select the Radial Gradient mode,
and drag a gradient across the screen as shown in the example.

Step 3 – Turning the sand into snow

To color correct the sand, we’ll use the Gradient Map adjustment.
Gradient Map is a very powerful feature that is often overlooked. It
basically uses the luminosity of the image to apply color based on the
gradient you create. In other words, this mean that if you apply a red
to blue gradient on a black and white image, the blacks will become red,
the whites will become blue, and everything in between will become a
mix of both depending on their level of gray.

However, the gradient adjustment layer can’t do it all on its own,
that’s why we’ll also need a Curves and a Color Balance adjustment. On
the top of everything, add the following:

Step 4 – Some adjustments

Now, while this technically looks like snow, there are a few issues we
can notice. First, the sky is affected by the adjustments. Secondly, the
left and the right part of the dunes don’t have the same contrast. And
finally, the distant dunes and mountains are kind of washed out.

First, let’s block our sky. To do this, we will get the selection from
our already extracted dunes layers, and use this selection as a mask for
our adjustment layers. Select your three layer adjustments along with
the dunes layers (holding Shift or Command/Ctrl) and group them
(Command/Ctrl + G). Name the group “Dunes”, duplicate the group
(Command/Ctrl + J) and merge it.

Command/Ctrl + Click on the “Dunes copy” vignette to create a selection
from it, then select your “Dunes” folder and create a mask. Now, the
previous adjustments won’t affect our sky.

You can now delete the “Dunes copy” layer as we won’t need it anymore.

Next, give both the “Dunes right” and “Dunes left” the following Curve
adjustment layer. Make sure they are clipped to the layer so they won’t
affect anything else.

Add the following curves adjustments inside the “Background Dunes”
folder. There is no need to clip it since the “Dunes” folder’s mask will
prevent it from affecting the sky and the mountain below anyway.

Step 5 – Blending & Cleaning

This is starting to look good. In this step, we’ll remove the unwanted
plants and car in the right part of our image. Also, we’ll blend the
middle together. We can either do this under or over the color
adjustments. I choose to do them under because this will give me the
flexibility to change the adjustments later if I ever want to, without
having to repaint everything over.

First, hide the three adjustment layers used to create the snow. Then,
using your favorite tools, paint over the car and the plants.

Let’s improve the composition by adding a small ledge on the right part.
Grab the Pen Tool (P) and draw a shape according to the example. In the
Path Panel, click the load Path as selection button. Create a new
layer, and paint the ledge within the selection. Name the layer “Ledge”.

To make the ledge blend softly with the left part, you can gently erase or mask its side with a large soft brush.

…and that’s the end of the preview!

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