This tutorial is written exclusively for PSD Vault by digital artist Maria Semelevich.
In this tutorial, you will learn the process of creating a spring fairytale composition in Photoshop. You can see the world through the eyes of a child and to dream outside the box to create a harmonious and slightly exaggerated design.
You will also learn how to create complex selections quickly and efficiently, using adjustment layers, plus create lighting effect, use texturing and add color toning.
Let’s begin our fascinating journey into the world of Photoshop.
Final Result Preview
What you’ll be creating
The tutorial will consider the technique of creating masks using adjustment layers. Sharpening and creating the depth of field effect by using the blur gallery.
We will begin the tutorial by creating a scenery and a field of flowers. Then, separate objects from the background and add it to the scene. We will apply the general lighting with added objects and retouch the butterfly. Add more objects to reveal the mood and plot in the composition. Next, create lighting and add color toning. At the end of the tutorial, we will focus on working on the depth of field, detail, and sharpening. I used Photoshop CC 2019 without extra tools or plugins.
- Mountains Landscape (5184×3456) – Pixabay
- Little Girl (5760×3840) – Pixabay
- Butterfly (2848×4288) – Pixabay
- Optional Butterfly 1 (4288×3216) – Pixabay
- Optional Butterfly 2 (2202×1468) – Pixabay
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Let’s start from opening Photoshop and creating a new document via File > New or use keyboard shortcut Cmd + N (Mac) / Ctrl + N (Win). In dialog box set Width: 4000px, Height: 2162px, Resolution: 200 Pixels/inch, Color Mode: Adobe RGB (1998). The aspect ratio of this document is 1.85:1 like for concept art. Go to File > Place Embedded and specify a path to Mountains Landscape image on your drive.
In Free Transform Mode scale image and position it so the width of the photo filled the entire working area (around 116.24% for vertical and horizontal scale). Leave a small image margin outside the edges of the working field. In terms of composition, is advantageous to use most of the sky than the hill.
Duplicate layer (Layer > Duplicate Layer or Cmd/Ctrl + J) and change Blending Mode to “Lighten”. This hides all darken areas on the photo, so leave only the flowers of daffodils and bright grass. With Move Tool (V) position daffodils on the hill so the blurred flower showing up in the foreground. This blurred flower help to create a depth of field in the image, at the same time add more flowers.
Hide all by adding black Layer Mask (hold Opt (Mac) / Alt (Win) and click on the icon at the bottom of Layers panel or go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All). Take Brush Tool (B) with Soft Round preset, Size: 70-200px, Opacity: 100%, and set the color to white on the Tools panel. Make the mask active and restore flowers on the foreground, Also, clean up areas where textures have mixed badly.
In some places, grass appears through the flowers. This is due to the influence of the blending mode. If for small flowers it’s okay, then large flowers in the foreground need to fix. Duplicate this layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J), restore Blending Mode back to “Normal”. Fill a layer mask with black color via Edit > Fill > Contents > Black or use shortcut Shift + F5. Take the Brush Tool (B) with Soft Round preset and white color. Restore the flowers in the foreground, but so that the original background does not appear. Just stay away from the edges of the flowers.
Make the same thing again, repeat Steps 2 and 3. Duplicates Landscape layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and bring it to the top of the Layers panel. Go to Edit > Transform > Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to scale layer and make smaller flower nearby. Add a black layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All) and with the Brush Tool (B) restore flowers on the hill. Remove overlapping flowers where it not realistic.
The sky is overexposed and the shadows from the clouds have partially disappeared. This time we are not using standard solutions like Curves, Levels or Camera Raw, even though it is possible to deal with it better. Instead of this, use the “Black & White” adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White) with preset “High Contrast Red Filter”. These settings have greatly changed our image, the sky has become darker, the details are more saturated, and the tonal values has partially returned to the clouds. It remains only to change the Blending Modeto “Luminosity” and reduce Opacity to 90% to manipulate lightness values in the image and ignore the color information completely.
And yet, flowers of daffodils and mountains suffered from such a strong impact of the adjustment layer. For the sky, this is right, but for the foreground, you need to remove this effect. Highlight a layer mask, invert it (Cmd/Ctrl + I or Image > Adjustments > Invert). By using the Brush Tool (B) with Soft Round preset and white color, restore effect on the sky area.
Duplicate this layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and restore the mask to white (Edit > Fill or shortcut Shift + F5 either Cmd/Ctrl + Del). Take a Gradient Tool (G) with a black and white, radial gradientpreset. Start to draw a gradient from top left to bottom right corners. Reduce layer Opacity to 30%. This layer will help emphasize the light source, darken the edges of the image so that all parts are in the same key. Also, soften the effect on mountains and hill.
Add more details to the background. Suitable for using the cloud right from this image. Create a merged layer of the current state of our artwork at the top of the Layers panel (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + E). Adjust the scale of the clouds with Free Transform Tool (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to match the proportions in the image. Position clouds in the bottom right corner, over mountains. With Brush Tool (B) and layer mask remove all except clouds.
You can change texture mapping not only using layer masks, blending options and opacity. On the other hand, by using a lighter group of blending modes with “Curves” or “Levels” adjustments to control brightness. That is what we do. Change Blending Mode to “Screen”. Apply the “Levels” adjustment (Cmd/Ctrl + L or Image > Adjustments > Levels) and move all three sliders until you reach realistic clouds, with a little brightness and transparency. Always start with the contrast tonal values or those that you do not need. The rest will be easier to adjust with the gray slider or layer mask.
Repeat the previous two steps to add more clouds, near the previous layer. The organic texture is good because its size and scale are relative. But still, do not neglect the details. So, play around with the number of layers or settings. When done with the clouds, you can merge all these layers into one via Layer > Merge Layers or Cmd/Ctrl + E. With that be more convenient to work. And do not forget to return the blend mode back to “Screen”.
So, our background is ready, and we can fill the stage with the characters. Let’s start with the Butterfly because it is our main and largest object. The butterfly requires much more work and detail to create a magical creature from it. Let’s open the butterfly image via File > Open (Cmd/Ctrl + O) and make a duplicate of background layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J). To work with the image easier, go to Image > Image Rotation > 90 Counter Clockwise.
Add “Black & White” adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White) with the settings from the image below to make background black as possible. Add a layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All) and make Opt/Alt + click on the mask thumbnail to enter in edit mode. Go to Image > Apply Image. Default settings are fine until you get exact image transfer on the mask.
Now a bit of work. I used a Brush Tool (B) with Size: 40-300px, Opacity: 100%. Switch between “Normal” or “Overlay” brush blend modes to faster and better make a mask. Also, it is useful to use a Hard Round brush. All the gray tones on the butterfly need to be white. All dark areas that the previous brush failed to do, paint it with white on “Normal” blend mode. Entire background needs to be black. Check all the details of the butterfly, especially the legs. In the gray areas, the shadow of the leg can often disappear and an unnecessary background appears. Achieve a strong contrast and make sure that no noise of the opposite color on the butterfly or background.
Improve the edges of the mask. To do this, apply several filters and the first is the “Minimum” (Filter > Other > Minimum) with the Radius: 1px, Preserve: Roundness. To make the edge softer, apply Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches with the Radius: 1-2px, Threshold: 0-40 levels. Usually, to assess the quality of the mask and identify the flaws, I create two layers of pure black and white. Examining the edges of the masked object different background helps me to better understand if there is a light glow around the object and what are the disadvantages of the mask. You can try this too.
The butterfly is quite fluffy and the mask does not show the edge of the hair. You have to manually restore the fur to make it more realistic. If you are the owner of the tablet, it is not difficult. Use Hard Round Pressure Size brush preset with Size: 1-3px, Opacity: 100%. Or, you can customize brush and work with the mouse. On a new layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + N), select color samples with Eyedropper Tool (I) near the place where you want to add hairs. You can hold Opt/Alt to quickly switch between tools. Make small strokes in the direction of the fur. The technique is more calligraphic than hatching.
If you are satisfied with the result, hide all the layers except the butterfly and hair, so that the background becomes transparent (a chessboard). Save your render (File > Save As), just in case. Optional, merge both the layers (Layer > Merge Layers or Cmd/Ctrl + E). With Move Tool (V) drag and drop the butterfly into our working document with the artwork. Note that this layer is not a Smart Object. With Free Transform tool (Cmd/Ctrl + T), scale and rotate it so that it matches the direction of the hill. Duplicate butterfly (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and place this layer below previous. Move or rotate it a bit to add the missing two side legs. On the layer mask remove everything else, leaving only the legs.
Now let’s work on the details and lighting. For this, I used the so-called “Dodge and Burn” technique. Create a new layer with “Overlay” Blending Mode as clipping mask to the butterfly layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N) to create light and shadow with Dodge/Burn Tools (O). Start adding light and shadows according to the light source, add more volume, emphasize the edges, and fix the lighting. But do not overdo it and do not forget that you can create several layers with corrections. Change the settings, depending on the situation. There is a lot of manual and accurate work, so do not rush and use Zoom Tool (Z) to better see details. Also the Opt/Alt key toggles between tools.
A little butterfly retouching does not hurt. Create a new layer with “Color” Blending Mode (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N), as clipping mask to the butterfly. Use a soft round brush with Size: 70px, Opacity: 20-50%, Color: #59919d to make light fur the same tint, like the butterfly. Add more extra layers with fur, as in Step 15. One with “Screen” Blending Mode to add lighted hairs, and one with “Color Dodge” to create sparkling hairs, gloss on fur. All this is necessary for the butterfly to more match the general lighting in our artwork.
Add the next character. Open the image of Little Girl (Cmd/Ctrl + O) and use Pen Tool (P) to make a selection. In this case, this method is much easier and faster. Slightly blur the mask by entering the mask’s properties via making double-click on the mask and set Feather: 1px or do the same thing on selection dialog box. Adjust the girl’s hair a little using the technique from Step 15. All the same as with the butterfly, only use the color #f9f5ec. Merge layers (Cmd/Ctrl + E) without background and with Move Tool (V) place that layer into the working document.
Scale the girl (Cmd/Ctrl + T), making her even a little less than necessary, keeping in mind the proportions of the butterfly. Regarding the proportions in the image. Do not be afraid to embellish it a little. Considering that, arrange the elements relative to each other. The scale of the girl should not exceed the height of the butterfly. In this case, if it is a little less, it is good.
As in the case with the butterfly, we fit the lighting of the figure with the estimated lighting source. I used the technique of Step 17. Repeat this on the girl, but do not overdo it. The effect is less, so it is more realistic. Lighten the image to match the overall atmosphere. I used the “Curves” adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) and create an “S” shaped curve, as shown in the image below. Place that layer between “Overlay” and original layers. Feels free to reduce effects if you feel that this is too much influence the image.
Now we make the characters stand among the grass. We do not use common methods because they require a lot of time and effort. Hide all introduced objects from Steps 11-21 by clicking on eye icon near the layers. Create a merged copy of that state of artwork (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + E), without any additional objects at the top of all layers. Add “Black & White” adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White) with the settings from the image below. Further, as in Step 12, add a layer mask to the merged layer and apply black and white state on it (Image > Apply Image). Apply the image on the mask again with “Linear Light” and then “Color Burn” Blending option.
If necessary, you can apply “Levels” adjustment (Cmd/Ctrl + L) to make the mask a more contrast. You need to darken the background to the maximum so that you can get a clear outline of grass and daffodils. Use a brush with a hard edge and remove the remnants of the sky, like in Step 13. Remove the halftones that create opacity and shadows on the flower petals. You need hard and clear silhouette, otherwise, the background will be visible in these places. Mask edges can be enhanced with filters, like in Step 14. Use the Zoom Tool (Z) and take a close look so that there are no black areas on the flowers, a dark glow around the grass. If this happens, use Brush Tool (B) of the appropriate size and settings to correct it carefully.
To play with the scale, add bright spots and variety to the hill, I added a flock of little blue butterflies. Open images Optional Butterfly 1 and Optional Butterfly 2. You can separate the images from the background, using Steps 12-14 or technique that you like more (for example, Image > Calculations). Clear both images from the background. Since the butterflies are rather small, they do not require additional detail. The main thing is a high-quality mask and saves renderings for the future if you need it.
Move the finished images into a working document. Reduce the scale of the butterflies and rotate them to get the most varied figures. Use Move Tool (V) with the Opt/Alt key to quickly duplicate the layer. Try to place large butterflies, and then make up the harmony with the help of small ones. Start from the foreground and move to the hill or horizon. Do not make large flocks. When done with butterflies, group all these layers (Cmd/Ctrl + G or Layer > Group Layers) or merge these layers (Cmd/Ctrl + E). Apply the “Curves” adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) as a clipping mask to the group. Lighten the shadows to create a blurred look.
Now that we have nothing else to add and the composition is ready. It is necessary to bring the lighting of our picture to a single source so that the details do not seem disconnected. Using Step 17, create a new “Overlay” layer at the top of the Layers panel (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N). Adjust the lighting a bit, with Dodge and Burn Tools (O). Add shadows under the butterfly and from the girl. Some details on small butterflies.
To darken the foreground and right side of artwork, I use “Gradient Fill” layer (Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient) with settings: black and white preset, Style: Linear, Angle: 105 degrees. Use “Overlay” Blending Mode and Opacity: 82%, Fill: 15% to reduce the effect.
Our artwork is very nice. But after the adjustment layers a bit gray. Let’s make colors more expressive and vibrant. I will also show up a sunny atmosphere. Add “Vibrance” adjustment layer (Layer >New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance) and set Vibrance: +22, Saturation: +15.
To create a more joyful and sunny atmosphere, I use two “Gradient Fill” layers (Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient). First of it with the settings: Style: Radial, Scale: 300%, gradient preset “Foreground to Transparent”. A change gradient left color stop to #eaca35. Move the gradient while “Gradient Fill” window is active, so drag the center of the spot in the top left corner. Set Blending Mode to “Screen”, reduce Fill to 49%.
Next “Gradient Fill” layer is very like to the previous one with the exception that changed color to #e8deb1. If the effect seems strong, move the gradient slightly to the left. Change Blending Mode to “Lighten”, Fill: 47%.
I wanted to create sun rays effect from the butterfly, just like when the sun breaks through the leaves. Here I want to create the same effect because the butterfly covers the source of light. Create a copy of the butterfly by highlighting all layers with it and using Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + E to create merged copy only that layers. Move that layer at the top of Layers panel and go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur. Use settings like Radius: 50 pixels, Quality: Best and move reference point directly to the top left corner. To prevent the rays from having such hard edges, apply a “Gaussian Blur” (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with a Radius: 15 pixels. We will need two more copies of this layer, so duplicate it two times (Cmd/Ctrl + J). Change Blending Mode of the first layer to “Soft Light”, reduce Fill to 95%. A move rays to around half of the wing with Move Tool (V). To reveal the texture of the rays, apply the same trick as for the clouds, apply the adjustment “Levels” (Image > Adjustments > Levels or Cmd/Ctrl + L) with the settings as shown in the image below.
For the second copy, use “Lighten” Blending Mode and reduce layer Fill to around 36%. This layer will help to make the rays more tangible, and the light more like volumetric. Move this layer to the upper left corner and slightly stretch it horizontally (Cmd/Ctrl + T) so that the rays touch the hill. Move the third copy there, scale it so that the rays cover even the girl. Change Blending Mode to “Soft Light” and reduce layer Fill to around 39%.
To combine all the elements of lighting and add an unusual shade to the image. “Solid Color” layer (Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color) and set a color to #b293b0. Use “Pin Light” Blending Mode.
You can create a merged copy of artwork and use Brush Tool (B) with different blending like “Color Dodge”, “Overlay” to add more details and glow. Use small brush opacity values, around 20-30%. I have embellished a little butterfly, added a glow to the wings, flowers and the girl. This is a destructive approach, but it helps to achieve a much more beautiful result than when using layers. You can control the effect using a layer mask and opacity.
A blur helps to hide many flaws when used correctly. We use Tilt-Shift Blur from Blur Gallery. Again, create a merged copy of artwork (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + E), go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Tilt-Shift. This feature is available in Photoshop CS6 and above. In the workspace that appears, set Blur to around 20-25 pixels, Angle in the range from -12 to -15 degrees. Add a layer mask and remove blur from antennae of the big butterfly.
Now sharpen a bit the final result, if you want. Create a merged copy of image (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + E), and apply “High Pass” filter (Filter > Other > High Pass) with Radius: 1 pixel. Reduce Fill to 50% and change Blending Mode to “Linear Light”.
Add a little texture to the image will be a good addition. This will certainly add vintage and artificiality to the image, but it will help to integrate all the introduced elements. You can go option and add a universal noise texture, canvas texture or use a third-party image. In the image below are some examples.
That’s all! Enjoy your final result. Here, my final surreal artwork and Photoshop project. Do not be afraid to go beyond software, style, and genre. But, most importantly does to create and experiment! Thank you for your attention and good luck to you in your creative projects! Has something to add or ask? Use the comment section below!