Download all the files you’ll need for this tutorial (select ‘Space art’ from the list of files)
Before you start you should already have a vision in mind of what you want. It helps to sketch it beforehand to get a feeling for composition and placement of picture elements. It doesn’t have to be very detailed – that comes during the working process. Use a small hard circular brush for the outlines and a large soft brush to visualise the first light setting. It’s necessary to find the right place for your light source at the very beginning, as this is the keystone of every scene picture.
Create a new document with a resolution of 4,800 x 6,000 pixels. As the image contains space elements, we should start with applying an atmospheric backdrop. Use a Linear Gradient (Foreground Color ‘#000000’, Background Color ‘#3e464d’) from bottom-right to top-left corners on your Background layer. The next step is the foreground. We’re going to use the landscape from ‘IMG_5642.jpg’. Add it to a new layer, flip the photo horizontally and rotate it by 10-15 degrees.
We only need the landscape section of the photo, as we’re creating our own heaven later. For this kind of task, the Pen tool (P) set to Paths is a good choice. Just follow the mountain outline, make a soft selection (Select>Modify>Feather Radius of 1 or 2 pixels) and cut off the sky portion of the image. Now we’re going to remove the buildings, so zoom in to 200% and use Clone Stamp tool (S). Sample the verge between the snow and the mountains to use with the tool.
The landscape is still not right because some snow and mountains are absent from the photo due to its angle. Mountains can again be remedied with the Clone Stamp tool. Simply paint in the snow in left and right bottom corners using a medium-sized soft round brush at 60% Opacity. To get the right colour, Opt/Alt-click and chose the one you need from another part of the photo. A texture brush or the Clone Stamp tool helps you to make the snow look more realistic.
The landscape is still looking very clean. A dirty look will help improve the feeling and realism of the scene. First we have to add haze on a new layer. It’s up to you to paint it or to use cloud stocks. If you paint it, use a white soft round brush at a low opacity, creating distant haze, especially in front of the mountains. Adjust the layer opacity to get the right look. Additionally, use some circular light blue gradients for the foreground and play with opacity again. Add another new layer and paint over the snow parts with a white brush. Set the layer to Color blending mode.
To add some more attention to the background, we’re going to add some extra mountains. Build them using the ‘IMG_6402.jpg’ and ‘IMG_6417.jpg’ images. Just cut away the un-needed areas. Layer these mountains, however works best for you, by using single parts of the given photos. Once you’ve achieved an arrangement you’re pleased with, work on the transitions. Adjust the colours by using Color Balance (Cmd/Ctrl+B). For the transitions of your crops, take the Healing Brush tool (J) and fix the edges.
Now we’ve to change the lighting situation on the newly formed mountain. Cmd/Ctrl-click the mountain layer thumbnail to make a selection. Now, on a new layer, add a black-to-transparent Linear Gradient from right to left. For the highlights, copy the mountain layer and apply a Brightness/Contrast adjustment with Brightness at 45 and Contrast to 10 (make sure that Legacy is ticked). Delete everything but the left edge of this layer. Add distant haze in the same way as in Step 5, using colours from the highlights of the foreground mountains.
Start by using a Linear Gradient (colour ‘#b19a82’ to transparent) from the snow horizon to the top of your highest peak on a new layer below your mountain layers. Open ‘IMG_1755.jpg’, which will serve as our cloud layer. Copy it in to a new layer and select Edit>Transform>Warp. Change the look to a more dynamic orientation (as in the screenshot). Now remove all the undesired image elements, as we only need the clouds themselves. Adjust the clouds’ colour saturation and darken some of the brighter clouds with the Burn tool (O). Repeat this with ‘IMG_1765.jpg’, although you have to flip this image vertically beforehand.
Duplicate your cloud layers and merge them – select the layers you want to merge and press Cmd/Ctrl+E. Apply a Gaussian Blur with a 30px Radius. Note that some details should still be visible, but very subtle. Transform (Cmd/Ctrl+T) this layer up to 125-150% of its original size and move it to a position of your liking, behind the other cloud layers. Duplicate the cloud layers individually and use Gaussian Blur again. Set their Opacity to 25% in order to soften the whole scene.