Sky Traveler – Surreal Manipulation
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Learn how to create a simple surreal manipulation of a flying boat through the clouds. I’ll show you how to creatively blend the boat using a custom cloud brush. Also you’ll see how to adjust the contrast and light in order to get a more realistic and cinematic effect.
Resources used in this tutorial
Step 1 – Creating a custom brush
The first step of this surreal manipulation tutorial is a bit out of ordinary because we first need to create a custom brush. Creating brushes in Photoshop is really simple so don’t be intimidated.
Download the Cloud for custom brush image from Unsplash and open in Photoshop. Scale it down to 5000px or 2500px if you are using an older version of Photoshop: these are the maximum sizes Photoshop will allow you for creating brushes.
Using a soft brush to blend the boat and the statue with the background clouds is for newbies so I will show you how to use the edges of the a real cloud to mask the boat and the statue in a realistic way.
Invert the image with Ctrl/Cmd+i and desaturate it using the keyboard shortcut or from the menu Image/Adjust/Desaturate. Use levels to increase the contrast and make the sky almost white.
Make sure the cloud keeps it’s volume and is not a flat black color as you can see on the image below.
Watch the video tutorial at the end of this article for more details.
When you’re done with the steps explained above, go to the menu Edit and choose Define brush preset. If it’s grayed out it’s because the image is too big and you have to scale it down to the values mentioned above. Name your brush and save it. You can now close the image of the cloud, we already have our custom brush
Step 2 – Adding the boat and the statue
Open the Clouds background image. It will be or main background. Now open the Boat and the Liberty statue and crop them from the background using the Quick selection Tool, Magic Wand Tool or any other technique or tool you prefer. Position the two elements over the background as shown on the image below.
Step 3 – Cloud blending
Now it’s time to use the cloud brush we created. If you select the Brush Tool, on the list you should find the brush you just created. Select it and set your Foreground Color to Black.
Create a layer mask for the statue layer and one for the boat layer. Let’s start blending the statue. Select its layer mask and paint with the cloud with black over it to blend the bottom part as shown on the image below.
Masking with a brush like this will give you a more realistic effect than doing it with a simple soft brush. Do the same with the boat.
Step 4 – Elements color and light adjustments
I used the background image as guide for the lighting of the scene, that’s why I placed the illuminated part of the statue facing the left side which is where the light comes from on the background image.
I used layer styles like inner shadows to add light and shadow on the sides of the two elements (statue and boat). You can also use a soft brush and clipped layers to achieve the same effect. Adding a glow of light using the Screen blend mode helps to create a better lighting.
Watch the video for more info on how I created the lights and shadows using layer styles.
All that’s left to do is create some general adjustments using Adjustment Layers to give the final touch of color and contrast and get the look you like.