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Members Area Tutorial: Create Beautiful Sunrise Landscape Matte Painting in Photoshop

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to create a beautiful sunrise landscape. We’ll work with different manipulating techniques through practicing common photoshop tools to understand proper use of light, shadows, color and perspective.

Final Image

As always, this is the final image that we’ll be creating:

Step 1

We will take first steps to build up the ground base. In next ones we’ll go deeper in color, lighting,shadows and other details.

I use several landscape stocks that you may notice most of them were taken in the same place but from different views, angles and distances. I name them according to the position they will be located so you can follow my steps easier.

Create a new layer and fill it with white. You can choose the size you want (mine is 1300×800). Open left mountain image. Extract the mountain and valley only (don’t take the sky and foggy parts) and move it into our white canvas. Press Cmd/Ctrl+ to active Distort Tool and scale it to create a suitable size. Hold the Shift key white resizing to keep the right proportions of it. I locate it at the left:

Step 2

Open midground image. Drag it into the middle section of main picture and remember to downsize it:

Click the second button on the bottom of Layer Pallete to add layer mask for this part. Then use soft black brush to hide selected area as shown below:

Don’t worry about the bad look of this picture as we’ll add more elements to hide these flaws later.

Step 3

Choose the right mountain and make a part with any selection tools you’re familiar with:

Place it here after changing the size:

To get the right perspective, I flip it horizontally. Go to Edit-Transform-Flip Horizontal:

Now use layer mask to eliminate the hard edges:

Step 4

The ground is more completed but still boring and uninteresting. There are lots of plant areas and they look like repeated. So I use right foreground to correct it. Make a square with Retangular Marquee Tool (M) on this stock as the image below shows:

Move it into our main document by Move Tool and position it on the right:

Blend it with the ground by layer mask and black brush. One thing you have to take care is to look at the edges of this ground before masking out and see how it can be blended with the rest. First I use soft brush to remove hard edges. Then I use brush with hardness 100% to remove soft remained parts:

Step 5

Now it’s time for adding sky. It’s better choose a sunrise image with good contrast and lighting, rich colors and we will have more chance to play with light effect as the selected one. Copy sky part as I did below:

Add it into our main scene and situate sky layer above background and under ground base (mountains, midground, right foreground):

Duplicate this sky then move it upwards and rightwards:

Use layer mask and soft black brush with big size (300-400 px, but it depends on the size of your document) to hide selected area. I vary brush opacity for different parts while blending. You can see how I masked it on layer mask:


Step 6

I want to group sky layers to edit them together. Make sky layers selected (click to choose one of them then hold Cmd/Ctrl or Shift and click another). Press Cmd/Ctrl+G and we have group of these ones. Now change the mode of this group from Pass Through (default mode group) to Normal 100%:

To make colors of sky richer, more vibrant and contrasted, I use an adjustment layer. On sky copy layer, go to New Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Selective Color:

Because the mode of group changed to Normal 100% (no Pass Through) so this Selective Color layer only affects the layers inside the group (sky ones).

Step 7

I add a new layer within this group to enhance colors of sky a little. Take soft brush with a bright yellow color (I choose #fcda81) and paint on the sides of sky. I paint with brush 100% opacity and flow on the left but with very low opacity on the right (20%). Put this layer mode to Overlay 100%:

Step 8

To add more details for the bottom of sky, I use another stock. Open sky 2 image and choose the part below:

Place this sky part above sky group and name it “sky 2″ after renaming this group as “sky 1″.

Use layer mask to remove rough edges of it:

Step 9

I want to add more contrast for the top part of sky so I make a new layer and use soft black brush with low opacity (20-30%) and paint gently on the middle top and two sides. Change the mode to Soft Light 90%:

Step 10

In this and next steps we’re going to enhance colors of ground base to fit sky light.

On left mountain layer, go to New Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Gradient Map and choose Clipping Mask option:

I pick three colors of blue, orange and yellow:

Change the mode to Soft Light 100%:

Step 11

The mountain should be a bit darker as it’s early morning now and not everything is illuminated already. So I use a Levels layer with Clipping Mask for it. On Gradient Map layer, choose New Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Levels and increase shadow value:

Also I use soft black brush with opacity about 40% on Levels layer mask to reduce dark contrast on bottom left of mountain (it’s the part that catches a little light from sky):

Step 12

I add a Gradient Map layer with same settings (Clipping Mask) to right mountain, right foreground and midground:

Step 13

For right mountain, I increase contrast by Curves. Make a Curves layer (Clipping Mask):

Use soft black brush to remove dark effect on the left (as it’s the parts near the sunlight and must be very bright):

Step 14

I found the right mountain a bit flat . To fix it, I make a new layer with Clipping Mask above Curves one (in previous step), change the mode to Overlay 50% and fill with 50% gray:

Take Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range and Exposure about 15-20% to create more details for this mountain. You can see how I apply this tool with Normal mode:

Overlay mode 100% (you can see difference before and after this step):

Step 15

Open river stock. Extract the river part only and copy it into our picture, resize as I did below:

Add layer mask for this river and remove the right side by soft black brush (see result on mask and picture):

Step 16

I use some adjustment layers (Clipping Mask) to change color and brightness of the river.


Remove dark contrast on the reflection of river top with black brush:

Color Balance:

Then I use soft black brush again to keep natural color of the river flow (it becomes purple after altering color with Color Balance):

Step 17

I make a new layer and use soft brush with color #b9a16e to paint on the edge of river, hillside and the top of the bush. I aim to create some reflected sunlight . Change the mode to Soft Light 30%:

Step 18

The underneath part of the hill should be darker as its hidden from the light by bush. So I use soft brush with color #b9a16e again to paint there (on a new layer with Clipping Mask) and set the mode to Multipy 100%:

Step 19

The reflection below river edge should be brighter and smaller to fit the new light source and new elements on the edge. To correct this details, I make a new layer and paint on this part with soft white brush and put the mode as Soft Light 100%:

Step 20

In this step we’ll add shadow of bush on the hill. Make a new layer on the top (or you can make it as a clipped layer – it’s not really important). Use any tools you like to make selection for the bush (no need to be so neat):

Fill this selection with black:

Choose Edit-Transform-Flip Vertical, then use Cmd/Ctrl+T to transform it to get the look below:

Lower opacity to 50% then apply Gassian Blur with 3 px (Filter-Blur-Gassian Blur):

Step 21

You can see the top of this shadow look very solid and not correct with the real shape of bush. To fix it, add layer mask for it then change basic brush to grass ones. I choose this brush:

Press F5 to change direction of this brush to fit the bush shadow (drag arrow):

Now use this brush to trim the top and bottom of the shadow. Do it carefully until you you feel it believeable. Here is mine:

Step 22

Open waterfall stock. I only take the part of waterfall flow:

Move it onto the left mountain after scaling it down:

Use layer mask to hide hard edges:

Step 23

I use two adjustment layers with Clipping Mask to make color and brightness of waterfall fit the rest.



The top of waterfall should be brighter than the rest as it receives more light from background. So I use black brush to erase this part on Hue/Saturation layer mask:

Step 24

Make a new layer under waterfall layer and change brush to water ones. Make foreground to be white and use waterfall brush, number 604 to paint on the part near waterfall:

Make it narrower with Cmd/Ctrl+T then choose Edit-Transform-Warp and tweak its edges:

I remove the top part of this waterfall brush and leave the bottom only (with layer mask):

I name this layer “waterfall bottom”.

Step 25

This bottom looks a bit brighter than waterfall rest. So I darken it by a Hue/Saturation layer (Clipping Mask):

I clear effect from this adjusment layer on the top of this part (as it’s dark already):

Step 26

In this step I want to create a rock hole and waterfall flows from it. Open rock stock. There are some holes on this rock and you can choose as you like or your own. I copy this one:

Paste into left mountain and place this layer under waterfall ones:

Use layer mask to erase around it:

Step 27

Make a Curves layer (Clipping Mask) to darken and change color from blue to dark yellow:

Step 28

This time we’ll go more for small details. Look at the left and right mountain we’ll see some things to fix:

One thing that is very important is the shadow of the elements on ground. In original stocks, the light comes from above and creates soft shadows under these subjects and it doesn’t fit the light of our main scene:

A part to correct at horizon:

Make a new layer and use Clone Tool (S) to clone over all of these areas.

Step 29

After removing wrong shadows, in this step we’ll make correct ones. Looking at the direction of the light spreaded from the sun helps to determine where the shadows should fall.

Make a new layer above the top. Use soft black brush with very small size ( 4-6 px), opacity and flow about 40-50% to create shadow on the right of brushes, tree, houses…over the parts you think they’re noticeable. If you work on a larger size, you may want to take care more of small details. Don’t worry if they are not really look like tree shapes as the shadow is always stretched. Just experiment and practice with your fingers. Here is my result:

Step 30

In this step we’ll create some mist for mountains (as it’s early morning now), also to help mountains blended better with sky.

Make a new layer on the top and use Lasso Tool (L) to create selection for sky and mountains with feather = 50:

Fill with color #c8a260:

Lower opacity to 30%:

Create layer mask for this layer and use soft black brush with opacity and flow 100% to remove mist on the top of sky, and lower opacity and flow to 50% to reduce mist intensity on two sides of sky and mountains:

Step 31

Open windmill stock. Use your own method to extract it and position it on the right of river edge:

Step 32

We’ll change light and shadow of the windmill in this step. Create a new layer above windmill one (Clipping Mask). Hit G to active Gradient Tool and choose Linear Gradient with default color (black and white). Drag a line from right to left:

Change the mode to Soft Light 100% :

I use layer mask to remove dark effect on the left side:

Step 33

There are several ways to create reflection for windmill through water. I’ll show you how I did it.

First I want to create ripple texture that will be used for Displacement filter. Press Cmd/Ctrl+N to create a new document with 2000×1000 px and fill it with white. It’s better to work on the large size (depends on your document) as it will be cropped later. On background layer, go to Filter-Noise-Add Noise:

Make sure that foreground and background are set to black and white (so texture will be easier to see). Choose Filter-Sketch-Bas Relief:

Filter-Blur-Motion Blur to smooth the lines:

Duplicate this background layer then use Cmd/Ctrl+T to transform it:

Crop it (C):

I save this file as ripple-texture1.psd.

Step 34

Duplicate windmill layer and place duplicated layer under the first. I move it upwards:

Go to Filter-Distort-Displace and fill the value as shown (reflection in original stock is shattered so new reflection must be the same). Then browse the ripple-texture1.psd file we created in previous step and click OK. The result should look like this:

Flip it vertically (Edit-Transform-Flip Vertical) and locate it under windmill, then lower opacity to 60%:

Apply Gassian Blur with 0,5 px then add layer mask to hide the part on the ground and blur the top of it:

Step 35

Make group for windmill and its reflection as done with sky (remember to change group mode to Normal). Then I create two adjustment layers within this group to change their color.


Color Balance:

Step 36

To make shadow for windmill, I create a new layer under windmill layer. Hold Cmd/Ctrl and click windmill thumbnail to load its selection:

Fill this selection with black and use Cmd/Ctrl+T to transform and turn it into the left of windmill:

Apply Gassian Blur with 1,5 px and use layer mask to remove the part covering the water:

Step 37

I use Inner Shadow effect to add reflected light for windmill. Double click windmill layer, choose Blending Options:

To make light effect on windmill more visible, I make a new layer with Clipping Mask for windmill and use Dodge and Burn Tool with same method done with right mountain (in step 14) but with Exposure about 10-15%. Here is Normal mode:

Overlay mode:

Step 38

In this step we’ll use yellow brush to paint over the parts illuminated by sunslight ( ground, mountains, river, bush…). Make a new layer on the top and set mode as Overlay 100%. I choose brush color as #bfaa87 and vary brush opacity following the rule : the further the less. You can use layer mask to remove any unwanted light parts.

I use a layer with Overlay mode again. Continue to paint but I focus on smaller details. Call these layers as “light 1″, “light 2″.

Step 39

In final step we’ll change color, increase saturation and contrast with some adjustment layers.

Photo Filter:

Color Balance:


I use soft black brush to remove red cast on some parts of picture:


I find the bush part behind the bush much contrasted so I use brush to remove it:

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.

Member File Download

Download the original .psd file for this tutorial here:


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