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Dramatic Skies in Adobe Photoshop

Blending modes and painting with cloud brushes to create sky effects By Dave Nagel
Earlier this week we posted a new collection of cloud brushes for Adobe Photoshop CS and CS2. It's a simple enough matter to use them to paint white, puffy clouds or dark storm clouds or even gray mist. But they can also be used to create dramatic sky effects--cool, clear scenes, volumetric skies, bright sunsets, etc.

For this tutorial, we'll be using the latest collection of cloud brushes for Photoshop (Nagel Series 35). If you haven't done so already, you can download them by clicking here. This particular collection is designed to be used on large images. If you're working on a smaller image, you might be better off using one or more of our previous cloud brush collections. You can find those by clicking here.

Basic concepts
The brushes in our cloud collections are designed primarily for compositing with existing image, and for this reason the specifics of these tutorials will vary widely based on the existing lighting of your individual images, not to mention the composition of the image.

But, in general, we can produce a wide range of sky, cloud and haze effects with just a few basic techniques. The primary requirement for these techniques is a Wacom tablet for controlling the opacity, size and other dynamics of the brushes we'll be using. You can work around this requirement by making manual adjustments to the brushes in between paint strokes, but the whole thing is much easier with a tablet. It's a small expanse and one that will make your life easier for any number of projects, and I recommend you shell out the cash at least for a Graphire tablet.

Beyond pressure sensitivity, we'll also be using various blending modes in the painting process. For some of these, we'll be switching the blend mode of the paint brush itself; for others, we'll be using multiple layers, with a particular blend mode assigned to the layer itself.


In the case that you're not familiar with blend modes in Photoshop, here's the basic trick. I show you this now so that I don't have to do individual screen grabs of every blend mode change for the techniques below. If the technique requires a change in blend mode to the brush itself, you make this change up in the top Tool Options bar in Photoshop. Select the Paint Brush tool. Then, up in the Tool Options bar, change the blend mode as required.



Changing the blend mode of a layer is accomplished in the Layers palette. Select the layer in question, and then adjust the blending mode in the pull-down menu.



There are also times when you'll want to use one layer as a clipping mask for another layer. Basically this is when you use the transparency of one layer to define the mask of another layer. For example, in the screen shot below, "Layer 5" is being masked by the contents of "Layer 4." So when you paint on Layer 5, your paint will be visible only where something is also visible on Layer 4.



To create a clipping mask of this type, in Photoshop CS, you select a layer and type Command-G (Mac) or Control-G (Windows)> In Photoshop CS2, the command has changed to Option-Command-G (Mac) and Alt-Control-G (Windows).

Finally, we will also, of course, be accessing brushes and changing some settings as we go along. So open up the Brushes palette and load up the collection you want to use for this technique in the flyaway menu on the top right of the palette. (Instructions for doing this can be found on the download pages for the collections you're using.)

Cool sky
For our first technique, we'll start with something simple: the creation of a cool sky (cool in the sense that the hues used in the image are all blue). This is a good technique not just for generating cloudy backdrops, but also for creating effects like distant vapor or smoke plumes, suggesting the distance through the illusion of atmospheric volume, as the vapors take on some of the color of the sky.



To begin, I'm going to create a background layer filled entirely with deep blue (HSB values: H 213, S 100, B 25). It's also known as "Darker Blue" in Photoshop's default swatches.



Next I'll create a new layer and change my color selection to Pastel Cyan Blue (H 211, S 41, B 78). Using NagelSeries35-Clouds11, I'll paint a fairly quick stroke back and fourth a few times diagonally from the top left of the canvas.




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Related Keywords:adobe photoshop brushes, sky effects, painting clouds, compositing sky, atmosphere effects, vapors, smoke, fire, haze, mist

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