How to Create Vivid Arabian Night Composite in Photoshop

Learn how to create a beautiful Arabian night photo manipulation with Photoshop. You will learn several blending tricks and composting tips that will help you create a vivid vector-like landscape.

What you’ll be creating

This photo manipulation is my vision on how the desert should look in a story: mysterious and welcoming. You will need Photoshop CS5 or newer to create this tutorial..

final-results

Tutorial Resources

Step 1

Create a new document 3797×2440 px. Using the Gradient Tool to create a nice gradient with #04243f as foreground color and #0e74d6 as background color.

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Step 2

Create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + N), set the foreground color to white and using the stars brush create some stars.

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Step 3

Create a new layer and using white and white-orange draw a comet coming from above. It’s not that hard really, just draw with the white brush a couple of short diagonal lines and draw a loose circle at the end of those lines (head of the comet).

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Step 4

Open the clouds image and choose Select> Color Range. Click with the marker once on a bright spot in the picture to select most of the white clouds. Click Ok. Press Ctrl + C to copy the selection and close the clouds document. Go back to our document and press Ctrl + V to paste. Rename the pasted layer Clouds to keep layers from cluttering. Right click the Clouds layer and choose Convert To Smart Object. Press Ctrl + T to enter Free Transform and resize the clouds as I did in the image below. Finally, set the blending mode of the layer to Lighten.

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Step 5

Add a layer mask to the Clouds layer (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All). With a soft black brush mask the edges of the clouds so that they integrate flawlessly with the sky.

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Step 6

Create a new layer and set the blending mode to Overlay. Choose #e37952 as foreground color and with a soft brush paint lightly in the area indicated below. Lower the opacity of the layer to 40-50 %. This will be the horizon diffuse light later when we will add the terrain. You can also group all the layers we created until now. To group layers select them by shift- clicking each and press Ctrl + G.

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Step 7

Open the file Moon and using the Elliptical Marquee Tool select the moon. Copy (Ctrl + C) and paste (Ctrl + V) into our document. Right click on the pasted layer and choose Convert to Smart Object. Resize and position as I did in the image below.

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Step 8

Double-click the moon layer to enter Advanced Blending Mode and apply a color overlay (#71a8e3) set to Overlay Blending Mode.

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Step 9

Add a layer mask to the layer moon and using a round black soft brush mask the lower and the left side of the moon.

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Step 10

Let’s add some highlight to our moon. Create a new layer and add a layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All). Ctrl- click on the moon layer to make a selection than press D to set the default colors. Finally, press Alt + Backspace to fill the selection with white. Click on the layer again to select it and with a white brush paint some highlights on the right and up side of the moon.

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Step 11

Now let’s create the terrain. Open file “Desert” and using the quick selection tool select the terrain only (not the sky). Copy and paste the terrain into our document. As you already guess now you should right click the desert layer and convert it to a smart object. Resize it and position the terrain as shown below. If your selection was imperfect feel free to add a layer mask and mask the

unwanted bits.

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Step 12

In this step and the following steps we will apply some adjustment layers to the desert layer in order to blend it better with our image. Usually almost any imported/pasted layer is often more saturated than the rest of the composition (not only in this case but in general) so let’s add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer and tweak with the values. We notice that the terrain looks much better if we decrease slightly the saturation. But in order to apply the effect only to the terrain layer we must clip the Hue/Saturation to the Desert layer by Alt-clicking between the two ( and we will do so for the rest of the adjustment layers applied to the terrain). If you notice the a group called City and wonder why you don’t have it don’t worry about it, you will find out why in the future steps.

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Step 13

Now let’s color correct the terrain a bit. Add a curve adjustment layer and use the settings shown below. Clip this layer to the layer below (it should be clipped to a Hue/Saturation layer which in turn is clipping the desert layer). Lower the opacity to 32%.

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Step 14

Now let’s add some selective lighting. We will make the foreground part of the terrain darker. Add a Curves adjustment layer and drag the curve down to darken. Click on the layer mask and with a black brush paint on the top part of the terrain to keep it untouched by the darkening effect. Lower the opacity until you achieve a pleasant effect (40%). Clip the layer to the layer below.

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Step 15

And as a last adjustment layer applied to the desert create a Brightness/Contrast layer and drag the Contrast slider to the right until a value of 70 is reached. Clip the layer to the layer below.

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Step 16

Group the terrain layer and the all the adjustment layers we applied to it into a new group.

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Step 17

Now we’ll create a city in the distance. Create a new layer and press Ctrl + G to add it to a group. Name the group city and move it below the terrain layer.

Step 18

First of all be careful to put all city related layers inside the group City or else we will have a messy document. Our city will have three layers of building outlines to simulate depth. First outline will be dark and it will sit in front, second will be a little lighter than the first and sit in the back of the first outline and third will be even lighter and will sit behind the two other outlines. If you followed the step 17 you should have a single empty layer inside the City group. Select this empty layer and group it again by pressing Ctrl + G. Name the group Dark Buildings. Choose the Mosque Brush and with click a couple of times using a variety of mosque buildings to create a something like I did below.

Step 19

Now we will add some highlights to our dark outlines in order to give them some 3d volume. Create a new layer in the Dark Buildings group and name it Highlight. Clip this layer to the outline layer we created in step 18 (for clipping refer to step 12). We assume that the light comes from the left up side of our image so the highlights will have to be on the left side of the building outlines. Select a white round soft brush at 10% Opacity and paint some highlights on the left side and top of each building. Don’t overdo, be subtle.

Step 20

When light hits an object we usually notice a very sharp bright line on the corner or top of it. This is called specular highlight and it gives our objects a nice look. Create a new layer and clip it to the highlights layer. Name this layer Specular Highlight. With a white brush at 30-40% Opacity and 1px size paint some subtle specular highlights on top and left side of the buildings. Again, be subtle.

Step 21

Now let’s create the second city outline. Repeat the steps 18 to 20 but increase the size of the Mosque brushes and place them a little higher than the Dark Buildings outline. Name the newly created group Medium Dark Buildings and place this group below the Dark Buildings group in the Layer Palette. Lower the opacity of the Medium Dark Buildings to 85%.

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Step 22

For the last city outline we will use a mosque from a picture. Open file Mosque and make a selection of the mosque using the Lasso Tool or the Pen Tool. Copy and paste into our image. Right click the pasted layer and choose Convert To Smart Object. Use Free Transform (Ctrl + T) to place the mosque behind the two other building outlines.

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Step 23

Now let’s fill the Mosque with black color in order to make it an outline. There are multiple ways to do that but I went for a Adjustment Layer solution. Create a new Curves Adjustment layer and place it above the Mosque layer. Clip the Curves layer to the Mosque layer and drag the right point of the curve all the way down.

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Step 24

Select both the Mosque and the Curves layer and group them together (Shift – click each and press Ctrl + G) and name the group Big Mosque. Add a layer mask to the group. Shift click both the Dark Mosque layer (the layer where you applied the brushes) and the Medium Dark Buildings. This will create a selection of both. Now click back on the layer mask of the group Big Mosque and press D to set default colors and Alt + Backspace to fill selection with black. This will prevent the ugly look caused by stacking multiple transparent layers on top of each other.

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Step 25

Apply both a specular highlight layer and a highlight layer to the Big Mosque group (as we did in step 18 to 20) and group all these layers together. Name the new group Light Buildings.

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Step 26

It starts to look good but we still need to make the city look more real. And the best way to make a city look real is to add smoke/dust. Create two new layers and name them Smoke. Place one between Dark Buildings group and Medium Dark Buildings Group. Place the second one between Medium Dark Building group and Light Building group. Choose a soft white brush at 1% Opacity and paint some smoke/dust (just draw some loose horizontal lines). The effect will be barely visible but it helps selling our city.

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Step 27

Group all the city layers we created until now and name the new group City Outlines.

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Step 28

Let’s create some extra smoke. Create a new layer, name it Smoke and paint a more pronounced smoke effect than we did at step 26. Place this layer above the City Outlines group.

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Step 29

There are probably people still active in the city even at night (unless it is a deserted city) so let’s show that by creating some window lights. Create a new layer and name it Window Lights. Choose a light yellow color and with a round soft brush at 2-3px draw some dots where you feel that windows or doors should be. If you don’t feel anything take a look at how I did it below.

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Step 30

Now let’s add some random detail to break the monotony. Create a new layer and name it Extra Detail. Using a 3-4px size brush at 10% Opacity squiggle a few lines here and there.

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Step 31

A city in the desert wouldn’t be a city without some palm trees. Open the file Palm Tree and press Ctrl + A to select all and Ctrl + C to copy. Go back to our document and press Ctrl + V to paste. Right click the newly pasted layer and choose Convert To Smart Object. Free Transform (Ctrl + T) to resize and position the palm to look like in the image below.

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Step 32

Let’s darken the palm so that it matches the city. Create a new Curves Adjustment Layer and place it above the Palm Tree layer. Clip the Curves layer to Palm Trees layer. Drag the curve down to darken the palm. Group both the Curves and the palm layer and name the group Palm Tree.

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Step 33

In order to add more palms simply duplicate the Palm Tree group (Ctrl + J) and resize and rotate slightly each palm. Place 6-10 palms across the city length. Group all the Palm Tree Groups under a new group called Palm Trees.

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Step 34

Now shift-click City Outlines group, Smoke layer, Window Lights layer, Extra detail layer, Palm Trees layer and group them together. Name this new group City. Make sure this group is below the Terrain group.

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Step 35

This is a desert so it probably should have a snake. Open file Snake and make a selection of the snake. Copy and paste it into our document. Right click the layer and choose Convert To Smart Object. Free Transform to position and resize as shown below.

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Step 36

Let’s add some lights and shadows to our snake. Create a Curves Adjustment layer and clip it to the Snake layer. Drag the curve up to lighten. In the layer mask paint with black the bottom parts of the snake to lighten only the upper parts.

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Step 37

Create a new Curves Adjustment layer and clip it to the Curves Adjustment layer below. Drag the curve down to darken. In the layer mask paint with black mostly the upper parts of the snake to prevent the darkening effect from happening here (the light comes from left up side so the superior part of the snake should be light and the lower part should be dark).

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Step 38

In order to make our snake stand out let’s create some strong shiny highlights on his back. Create a new layer and name it Highlights. Clip this layer to the two Curve Adjustment layers below. Change the blending mode to Overlay and with a round white soft brush at 20% Opacity paint on some of the top area of the snake (go for the head, a little in the middle and a little near the tail).

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Step 39

The snake looks like it’s floating above the desert. That’s because he lacks a shadow. Create a new layer, name it Shadow and change it’s blending mode to Multiply. Place this layer below the snake layer and with a soft round black brush at 50% Opacity paint some shadow under the snake. Group all the snake related layers and name the group (obviously)Snake.

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Step 40

Open file Crane and make a selection of the crane. Copy and paste into our document. Ctrl-click the layer, press D to set default colors and Alt + Backspace to fill the selection with black. Use Free Transform to resize and position the layer as shown below. Usually we convert the imported layers into Smart Objects, however because in this case I thought it to be an overkill I didn’t convert it.

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Step 41

Create a new layer, put it below the Crane layer and change the blending mode to Multiply. Draw some light shadows with a black brush at 20-30% Opacity. Group the crane related layers and name the group Crane.

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Step 42

A desert without an oasis would be a poor desert. Since there are no oasis photos we can use in this case we will draw the oasis. It’s not as hard as it seems, you’ll see. In almost any drawing the water should have the color of the sky. Sample a color from the blue sky (with the brush tool selected hold Alt and click to sample). Create a new layer and name it Color Base. With the chalk brush at 90% Opacity paint an approximate rough ellipse as indicated below. I also added a layer mask and further mask the edges in order to blend with the desert.

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Step 43

Create a new layer and name it Water Basic Reflection. Clip it to the Color Base layer and change the blending mode to Color Dodge. Using #1c71ae color and a round soft brush at 40-50% Opacity paint over the water surface. Paint more in the middle.

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Step 44

Create another layer and clip it to the Water Basic Reflection layer. Change the blending mode to Color Dodge and name it Moon Reflection. Sample a color from the moon (a lighter blue) and draw some lines in the middle of the water surface. If the effect is too strong lower the fill to 50-60%.

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Step 45

When the sand is wet it will be a darker color than the dray sand. Let’s create some wet sand effect on the shores of our lake. Create a new layer and with a black chalk brush at 30% Opacity draw some loose lines around the lake.

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Step 46

Add some extra moon highlight by creating a new layer, setting the blending mode to Color Dodge and painting just a little bit in the very center of the lake with a light blue color.

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Step 47

Let’s add some glow to our lake. Create a new layer and set the blending mode to Overlay. Using a soft round brush at 5% Opacity paint a little bit with white over the center of the lake.

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Step 48

Usually there are some sort of plants growing around lakes. Create a new layer and with a black chalk brush at 2px size and 80% Opacity squiggle a few herbs here and there. Group all the oasis related layers and name the group Oasis Lake.

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Step 49

Select the Brush and choose one of the Camel brushes. Choose black as a foreground color and create a new layer .Click once on it to draw the camels. Resize and position the camels as shown below.

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Step 50

Open the Palm file again and copy/paste the palm into our document. Convert it to Smart Object. Add a layer mask and with a black brush paint a little at the bottom of the palm trunk so that it will blend nicely with the terrain. Make 2 extra duplicates by pressing Ctrl + J twice. Resize and position each pals above the oasis lake (as shown below).

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Step 51

Open the Palm file again and copy/paste the palm into our document. Convert it to Smart Object. Add a layer mask and with a black brush paint a little at the bottom of the palm trunk so that it will blend nicely with the terrain. Make 2 extra duplicates by pressing Ctrl + J twice. Resize and position each pals above the oasis lake (as shown below).

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Step 52

Let’s add some shadow to our palms. Create a new layer and place it inside the Palms group. Change the blending mode to Multiply and with a black chalk brush at 60% Opacity draw some shadows for the palms. Remember that the light is coming from the left up so the shadows should be directed towards right and down.

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Step 53

Ok, so now we are done with the composition of our scene. Time to add some color effects. Let’s start by setting a night mood to our scene. Create a Gradient Map Adjustment layer and choose the indicated preset. Change the blending mode to Soft Light and lower the fill to 66%.

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Step 54

Let’s boost up the contrast. Add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer and drag the Contrast slider to the right until we reach a value of 45.

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Step 55

Light areas in a painting draw the eye and establish the interest points. Create a new Curves Adjustment layer and drag the curves up to lighten. Click on the layer mask, press D to set default colors and press Alt + Backspace to fill the mask with black. Now choose a soft white brush at 30% opacity and paint over the horizon, the moon, the oasis and the city.

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Step 56

Sampling a color from a scene, filling a layer with that color and setting the layer blending mode to Color Dodge will give a nice punch to the colors. Let’s do this in our scene. Sample a dark blue from the sky (#1c71ae), create a new layer and fill it with the sampled color. Change the blending mode to Color Dodge.

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Step 57

In order to further increase the focus on the sky let’s darken the terrain a bit. Create a Curves Adjustment layer and drag the curve down a little to darken. Choose the Gradient tool and press D to set default colors. Click on the layer mask and holding Shift drag from the top of the scene to the bottom area.

Step 58

Finally, let’s add some color tint. Create a new Gradient Map Adjustment layer an choose the same preset as we choose at step 53. Change the blending mode to Linear Dodge and lower the Opacity to 23%. That’s it.

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Final Results

final-results[1]

Download the PSD

Tutorial by Adrian Scheff

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Thanks for following my tutorial and I hope you learned some useful Photoshop tips and techniques. You can find me on deviant art at fantmayo.deviantart.com.

-Adrian Scheff

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