Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

This tutorial was originally published in December 2012 as a Tuts+ Premium tutorial. It is now available free to view. Although this tutorial does not use the latest version of Adobe Photoshop, its techniques and process are still relevant.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

When mixing photos, it’s often helpful to use digital painting techniques to help improve your scene. In this tutorial, we will show you how to combine several photos to create a realistic scene of a locomotive passing through a desert landscape. This tutorial will begin as a sketch, we will then show you how to combine photo manipulation and digital painting techniques to create finished artwork that looks amazingly close to the original sketch. Let’s get started!
Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

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Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial. But you may need to gather additional photos on your own.

Preparation

You can get brushes similar to the ones used in this tutorial from GraphicRiver. The first one is to paint details on a sketch. The second one is to draw roughly, and has its Opacity set to Pen Pressure. The third one is simply a Soft Brush. The fourth is the one I use for fog, smoke, steam and clouds. And the last one is used to add some details inside a photo.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

1. How to Create a Basic Sketch

Step 1

I had in mind to create a design with an “old west” theme. So, let’s start sketching some ideas!

Use the same settings as shown below and create a new file. Then, divide the canvas into 4 small pictures on a New Layer, simply with a Brush constrained horizontally and vertically by having Shift pressed while drawing the lines. That layer will always be at the top of the list.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Start to sketch on a New Layer called “Base”, very quickly. Start with the horizon line and some vanishing lines. The key is to be fast, and to focus on the composition. The details will come way later!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Change the “Base” layer’s Opacity to about 30%, create a New Layer called “Details” and refine the lines with a more precise brush.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

And here we are, the first sketch is already done!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

I did the same process for two other sketches. And I obviously chose the one with the train!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Tip: Always try to have your layers well grouped and organized!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

2. How to Set Up a New Document

Step 1

Now that we decided which sketch we’ll use to makes our photo realistic landscape, it’s better to put some shapes and values. But we’ll do it later. In this step, we’ll set the basic sketch, and add some special layers that will help you during the whole tutorial. Create a New Document with following settings.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Drag the Group of the sketch you chose in the new canvas.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Create a New Layer called “Thirds rule” and draw four lines in a red color which separate the drawing into nine equals parts.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Select the Group of the base sketch we just dragged, press Control-T to Transform it and place it. Think about the composition. We need the focal point to be over one of the four points of the thirds rule. In my case, I decided to put the right light of the locomotive, which can have some heavy contrasts to attract more the eye of the watcher.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Set the Opacity of the sketch group to 40%. Then, create a New Layer called “Composition”, and try to give the direction of the drawing in order to get the control of it! We Draw on this layer a focal point, and the direction lines we want on this composition such as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Now it’s time to set the perspective. As this is a photo realistic design, we want to have a three point perspective. Let’s create a New Group (Control-G) called “Persp”. First we create a new layer, “Horizon line”. We take the Line tool (U), set the Weight to 10 px and we draw the Horizon line in a very saturated color, orange in my case, by having Shift pressed to constrain. Then create a New Layer called “Point 1”, and draw smaller lines (4 px) from that first point with a different saturated color.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

The second point is a little tricky because it is far away. We create a new “Point 2” layer, and draw horizontal lines on all over the drawing. Then put it above the horizon line with the Move Tool (V).

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Then we Duplicate this layer with Control-J, and put the new one below. Merge those two layers by selecting the one above and by pressing Control-E (Merge Down). Press Control-T to transform the layer. The trick is to place the center of this layer at the same level as the horizontal line. Use those two small squares, which are at the middle of the selection. Refer to below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

When the middle of the lines is placed on the horizon line, we can Right Click, choose Perspective and from the corner, drag the mouse in order to get this.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

Do the same with the vertical lines on a new “Point 3” layer. Keep in mind that this third point is really far away. Therefore, your Perspective Transform must be really small.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

The canvas and the layers must keep well organized and look like below.

Now close the “Persp” group and set the opacity to about 40%. Do the same for the Composition layer. You can click on the eye whenever you need to, in order to keep a very correct perspective! You can always come back on the “Composition” layer as well, to be sure you keep going in the right direction. Keep the “Thirds rule” layer. You can use it if you want to add a second small focus point for example. Save your work! (always!)

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

3. How to Create the Grayscale Values

Step 1

Now that the “technical stuff” is done, we can focus on the values and shapes. Now rename the “Sketch 3” group to “Sketch”. Delete the “Base” layer. Rename the “Details” layer to “Base”. Create a New Layer called “Details”. Set the Mode of the layers “Base” and “Details” to Multiply.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Now Draw some more precise details on the new “Details” layer in order to get something like this.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Hide the “Composition” layer and “Persp” group and create a New Layer, “Sky”, under the “Base” layer. Fill it with the Gradient Tool (G), with some grays (Brightness of 55 and 75). The dark must be at the top, since the sky tends to have more brightness when it goes near the horizon line. Create a New Layer over the “Sky” one called “Values” and, with a brush, draw some values! You must have in your head “light and shadow”, and “aerial perspective”. Don’t put any detail or any color, only do some quick and very simple shapes. Set the “Details” layer’s opacity to 50% once it’s done.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Here is the result, which is a very quick black and white sketch! I really didn’t put any details, but it still looks pretty good. Now let’s move to the next step!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

4. How to Color and Detail the Sketch

Step 1

Close the “Sketch” group and create a new one, “Color research”. Create a new “BG” white layer. Select the “Sketch” group, Duplicate it (Control-J), and merge it (Control-E). Rename it “BnW sketch” and place it above the “BG” layer we just created. Transform it to have some place for some references photos.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a New Group called “Color refs”, and add some photos you’ll use as color references. Since it’s a photo realistic landscape, we can’t use some custom funky color and need to pic some samples from the nature itself. I imported the “beach”, “desert-01”, “water” and “train-01”. Feel free to find additional examples on your own

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Then we’ll Draw some new layers, on a Clipping Mask. Those new Clipping Mask layers will use the transparency of the layer below. We’ll be using it a lot! Let’s create a New Layer, “Value tuning”, using the transparency of the “BnW Sketch” layer. Alt-Left-Click between the two layer makes the one above being a Clipping Mask.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Now create another similar layer, “Color pass”. Set the Blending Mode to Color. Basically, we’ll add the color picked from the refs on this layer, as we add the values picked and desaturated in the “Values tuning” layer.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create another similar layer, “Refine pass 1”. Add some more details over everything, some color variations and some more precise shapes as shown. As you can see, I changed a bit the perspective of the rails. The composition feels better to me like this. It’s never too late to do those small adjustments. One trick to get them, is to constantly Flip the canvas horizontally (Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontal). I set it as a shortcut, and use it every few minutes to check the composition.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

At this stage, the sky is a bit too dark. Use the Lasso Tool (L) and quickly select the sky. Then create a new Curves Adjustment Layer. Set the curve as shown below in order to bring some lights. Don’t forget to set that Adjustment Layer as a Clipping Mask, since we don’t want it to change anything else than this small sketch. If we don’t do it, it’ll change every layers below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Tip: Having a Selection before creating a new Ajd. Layer create an automatic layer mask. You can access to them by Alt-Left-Click on them. Desactivate/Reactivate them with Shift-Left-Click. And, as we can for every normal layers as well, you can Control-Left -Click to get their transparency. For standard layer, it selects only the non-transparent pixels. For the layer mask, it selects the white pixels, as it is the active part of the layer mask.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 5

Create a New Layer, “Refine pass 2”. Draw some last details, clouds, flip the canvas, try to feel what needs to be change, what is good. Keep in mind that it is still a sketch, and will anyway change because of the photos, which won’t exactly match our design.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

As a final step, Control-J and Control-E (Duplicate and Merge group) the “Color research” group, rename the created layer to “Color sketch” and Transform it to match the full canvas. I did some last tweaks, because the scale, perspective and contrast wasn’t very good. Here is the final color sketch I used as a reference for the next steps. I added some pixels in the left part, because it was a bit tight over there. The new format used is 4073x2160px instead of a 3840x2160px.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

5. How to Create a Photo Realistic Sky

Step 1

Save the file (tuto-sketch.psd or whatever), and save it with a different name (tuto-MattePainting.psd for example). Everything you need on this new file are the following. Delete everything else.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Add a New Layer, “Desaturation layer”. Fill it with a pure white or black, and set the Mode to Color. You can use that layer to see only the values of the draw when it’s on, and turn it off to have the colors back. Duplicate the “Sketch” layer, Apply a Find Edge Filter (Filter > Stylize > Find Edges) and set the Mode to Multiply and rename to “Sketch lines”. This layer will help us to place some photos while having an overview of the design. Add some layer mask to the layers “Sketch” and “Sketch lines”. Your layers must look as below. This is the base. Use those layers to help yourself during the whole tutorial.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a new Group, “Sky”. Add a new “Base sky” layer and fill it with a light desaturated blue. You can turn on the visibility of the “Sketch lines” layer, in order to have an idea about the draw. With the Gradient Tool (G), light the sky with the shown settings in order to get a sky as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

With the “Sketch lines” layer turned on.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Create a New Layer called “Light direction”, and, with the same Gradient Tool you used before, apply a small white Gradient from the left to the right.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Import the “sky.jpg” from the assets in the canvas, rename it to “Sky photo insert”, set the Mode to Overlay and place it as shown below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and set the Saturation on -14. Here is how your sky should be like.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

6. How to Create a Photo Realistic Background

Step 1

Close the “Sky” group, create a new Group called “BG” (BackGround). Insert the photo “desert-01.jpg” from the asset into the canvas, rename it and place it as shown below. Try to match the perspective and the scale.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Now, with the Quick Selection Tool (W), you can very quickly select the sky. We could use some other more precise techniques using the Channels, but since we don’t have any trees or special difficulties, using this method is a great time saver.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Press Control-Shift-I to Invert the selection, and press the Add layer Mask button to mask the sky. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and set the Saturation on -9. Then add a Color Overlay Effect with those parameters, as shown below. We do this to match and accentuate a bit the aerial perspective. It’s important to create a Clipping Mask with the Adjustment Layer. It will be active on the layers below otherwise, as we already said, which isn’t good.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

At this point, it should look like this. Save your work.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Tip: From now, every change we do will be active only on the photo we insert. I won’t write it anymore, but you’ll be able to see this on the Print Screens. The general workflow is to add a photo, to correct it by using his transparency and move to the next photo.

Step 3

Now import “desert-02.jpg” from the assets. Cut the sky as we did, rename it and place it as shown below. Copy/Paste the Color Overlay Effect from the one we did before, but change the Opacity from 20% to 9%. Add some Curves and Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers. For the curve, try to match the one I show below. Set the Saturation to -11.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

Add a new clean Layer Mask to the photo and erase some parts to get some interesting shapes. And add a new “Refine” layer as well, in order to light a dark part.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add a new Curves Adjustment Layer, fill the Layer Mask with a pure dark, and paint some whites in the mask layer in order to add some light in the most dark parts of the photo. Use the guide as a reference: the reds are place as the whites in the layer mask.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

And here is the result

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

You can Group the photos and their layers in order to keep the file clean. Save your work.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 5

Create a new Group called “Insert photo 3”. Import the “desert-03.jpg”, Cut the sky with the same technique and clean the edges if needed. Scale and place it as shown below. Paste the Color Overlay Effect and set the Opacity to 8%. Add Curves and Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers. Set the curve as below, and the Saturation to -46. Again, Apply Layer Mask and add a new clean one, for cleaning some unwanted parts. Help yourself with the “Sketch lines” layer, to define which parts of the photo will be visible or not.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 6

Duplicate the “Insert photo 3” group, and rename to “Insert photo 4”. Move the layer as below, and change the Layer Mask in order to create diversity. Adjust Curves Adjustment Layer as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Clean the sky with a Layer Mask. You can Brush into it or use the Quick Selection Tool trick. Just be sure the edges are nice enough. Apply our two usual Adjustment Layers (Curves and Hue/Saturation). Set the Saturation to -21, and the curve as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 7

Clean the sky with a Layer Mask. You can brush into it or use the Quick Selection Tool trick. Just be sure the edge are nice enough. Apply our two usual Adjustment Layers (Curves and Hue/Saturation). Set the Saturation to -21, and the curve as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a New Layer called “Photo 5a add”, and, by using the Clone Stamp Tool (S), get such a result. You can brush a bit into this new shape to have some variations.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 8

Import “beach.jpg” and place it as below. Add our two usual Adjustment Layers, Set +10 for the Saturation, and the curve as below. Add a Layer Mask and adjust it to be similar as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 9

Create a new “Water” layer. Make a Selection as below and Fill it with the same color.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now place the picture from the asset as shown and, on a new layer called “Beach”, Draw with the Clone Stamp Tool (s).

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a New Layer called “Water tweak” and paint some variation in the water. You must have an active selection of the “Water” layer in order to draw only over the water. We’re done for now with the water. We’ll come later for the last effects, such as shadow and reflection.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Here is the render of the sky and the background! Save your work.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

7. How to Create a Realistic Middle Ground

Step 1

Let’s get started with the MidGround! Create a new “MG” Group, and a “Insert photo 1” group inside. Your file must be well organized once again, and looks like this.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

We start with the “Insert photo 1” group. Import “desert-05.jpg” remove the sky and place is as shown. Then create the two usual Adjustment Layers. Saturation is set to -50, the curve as below. Apply a new clean Layer Mask to the photo and create an interesting shape.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Make a selection, add a new Curves Adjustment Layer and set it as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Now Duplicate the “Insert photo 1” and rename it “Insert photo 2”. Delete the last Curves Adjustment Layer, Delete the Layer Mask (do not Apply!) and add a new clean one. Place it as below. Change the Saturation to -43, and the curve as shown. Adjust the mask layer as well, as it is below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

Import “desert-06.jpg” from the asset, place it as shown, create the 2 usual Adjustment Layers (Saturation is set to -11, curve as below) and add a Layer Mask to the photo. Create an interesting and believable shape.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 5

Create a New Layer called “Transition” and place it at the bottom of the group. Draw with a soft brush with a black brown some shadows to separate better the two pictures, at places where it’s hard to make a difference of depth, of layers.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a “Water” layer, select as below and Fill it with a green. Just pick the color from the existing water.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now create a “Beach” layer, and, as we did before, use the “water.jpg” and place it was below. You can Transform it in any way to fit what you need to draw. Use the Clone Stamp Tool (S), and get something as shown below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Then create a new “Beach refine” layer, and try to have a nice render, by Cloning and/or Brushing.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Here is the result with the Sky, the BG, and the MG! Once again, we’ll come back later to adjust some stuff like reflection, shadows, contrast, and whatever is needed. Please save your work.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

8. How to Create a Photo Realistic Bridge

Step 1

Since I didn’t find any good reference, I decided to Draw this bridge by hand. So, brace yourself! You have to follow precisely hierarchy with groups and layers in this step. Make the “Persp” Group Visible, and draw something like this, using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L). I used a brush for the “Diag. structures” layer. Refine shapes with a layer if needed.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add a “Details” layer over each one you just created, and simply Paint into in in order to get a pretty good looking wood.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Duplicate the “Front side” group, rename it “Middle” and place it under the “Front side” group. Transform it as below. Use the Free Transform, with Control-Left-Click on corners to adjust the perspective. Delete the “Diag. structures” layer and his “Details” one.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a layer called “Middle”, and place it at the end of the “Middle” group. Draw inside some horizontal lines” but following the perspective. It can be pretty random, but think about the light and some logical wood structure. Have a look below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now duplicate again the “Front side” group. Rename it to “Back side”, and place it at the bottom of the “Bridge” group. Transform it to match position and perspective, as below. It isn’t important if we don’t really understand everything, because it would be the same with a real bridge.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Now create a Curves Adjustment Layer you place over the “Back side” group as shown below. Adjust the curves to match the picture. Duplicate it for the “Middle” group and place it. Draw in the layer mask of the Curves for the “Middle” group some place of dark, which will erase the effect of the Curves Adjustment Layer, and bring light therefore.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add a new “Posts feet overlay” layer in the top of the group and draw some details as below. You can see the render and the complete group hierarchy.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

That’s all for the bridge. Close the group and… Save your work!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

9. How to Create Photo Realistic Rails

Step 1

Okay, back to photo manipulation now. Let’s do the rails! Create a new “Rails” Group, and import the picture “train-03.jpg” from the assets. Rename it to “Insert photo rails”. Make a selection with the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) as shown, invert it (Control-Shift-I) and Delete the rest of the imported layer.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Manage to Transform it as below using the Free Transform. Select with the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) as show below, Press Control-X to cut that part, then Control-V to Paste on a New Layer. Place it under the “Insert photo rails” layer.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

First, Transform the layer to have the upper rail horizontal. Help yourself with a guide. Once it’s done, make a new transformation and match the perspective, as shown below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Merge the two layers, Duplicate them, and place the new one as Below. It needs to follow the perspective, but it doesn’t need to be really clean, since we’ll add lots of dark shadow from the wagon here. Merge them again. You should have one layer in the “Rails” group now. Add a Layer Mask, and Erase the unwanted part to get a similar result.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Okay, now, with the two usual Adjustment Layers, color correct this. Saturation is set to -79 and the curve as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

Create a new Group called “Wood detail” and draw with the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) something like this on a new layer called “Wood top”. Then Duplicate it, place the copy below and call it “Wood bot”. Nudge it down with the Move Tool (V), so the wood plank looks in 3D. Lock the transparency of the layer and paint it some dark tone to get something similar. Then create a “Details” layer, place it above the “Wood top”, clipping mask, and paint some details.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now create a layer, “Refine rail 01”, and add some small details and highlights as it is below. Do it only for one rail, the nearest. Duplicate it, rename it “Refine rail 02” and Transform it to match as it is.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 5

On a new layer called “Overlay paint”, Draw some small details. It is needed as this is the first ground here.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a New Layer called “Shadow”. We’ll come back later. Here is the result. Save.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

10. How to Create a Photo Realistic Train

Step 1

Okay, that will be the most difficult part. We have some good refs, but we want to create our own locomotive, because that’s fun and a pretty nice challenge. I’ll explain step by step how I achieve this, even if it’s kind of chaotic.

Let’s start by having a base from the sketch as reference. Selection with the Lasso Tool (L) the loco, and Control-C to Copy, Control-Shift-V to Paste in place. That means it will paste exactly at the same place. Rename to “Loco sketch” and create a hierarchy of groups as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Okay, now Import the “train-01.jpg” from the assets, and place it as below in order to create two new “Insert photo #” layers from that import.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Do the same with the “train-02.jpg” asset. Take example as I did below. I managed to get those shapes with the basic Free Transform. Place those 3 layers in a new Group, “Base”.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now add a Curves Adjustment Layer to the “Insert photo 3” and set it as shown below. Add a “Reflections” layer in clipping mask to the “Insert photo 1” layer to correct this wrong perspective and reflection. Then, Draw a basic black shape on a new “Black fill” layer where the motor is, as below. It will avoid having some artifacts coming from the BG, due to partial transparent pixels coming from imported photos. Place it between “Insert photo 1” and “Insert photo 2”.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Create a new “Refine pass 1” layer and start to refine some parts and add some details. Remember to respect the perspective. We’ll Paint lots of those refine passes along this step.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a new Group between the layers “Insert photo 1” and “Insert photo 2” called “Roof”. Draw a 3D shape, add a “Details” layer and Paint some stokes, highlights, rivets, color variations.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add a new “Roof back” layer, and paint the back side of the roof as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

Add a new Group, call it “Front cabin”, and draw a silhouette of a man. Then create a “Front panel” layer to Draw the basic shape and his “Details” layer painted with… details!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Below those layers, add a “Front glass” one. Set his Opacity to 50%.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 5

Add a “Reflections” layer and draw some reflections with a soft brush at a low Opacity. Add some more reflection on a “Reflection light” layer.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 6

Now grab the “train-01.jpg” and create a “Insert photo body” as below in a new “Base body” Group. Create “Over paint 1” layer to make a clean surface. “Over paint 2” to add some separations, and, between those last 2 layers, “Over paint 3”, to add some light and shadows under the separations.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Time to clean up a bit on a “Refine pass 2” layer. Add some details as well.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 7

On a new “Front motor details” Group, add a new “Insert photo 4” layer from the “train-02.jpg” asset as shown below. Then add a Layer Mask and Hide some parts to make the photo fit. Create some details on a new layer, and add a “Body extension” layer where you paint some body parts.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 8

Now create a new “Refine pass 3”, and add some details. Do the same on a “Refine pass 4” if you need some over details.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now close the “Base” group. Make a Selection as below. Then create a new Curves Adjustment Layer and set it Clipping Mask to that “Base” group. Set the curve as below to color correct the ground.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 9

In a new “Fireplaces” group, add 3 fireplaces from the “train-02.jpg” asset. Create some layer mask to Cut the unwanted parts if needed.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now create a new “Front top” group. On a new “Base shape” layer, create a basic shape of the front of the locomotive. Create then a “Front shape” layer as below. Make a “Details” layer for the “Base shape” one and add details.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a “Variations” layer, set it as Clipping Mask to the “Front shape” layer and add some variations in the light, as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 10

Import the asset “train-02.jpg” and create a selection as below. Create a Layer Mask to remove unwanted parts, as usual. Rename it “Insert photo 1” and add a Curves Adjustment Layer. Set is as shown below. Create a “Overlay paint” to remove the front details as shown.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a new “Lights” group, and a new “Light 1” one. Import from the asset “train-01.jpg” and create a Selection as below. Call that new layer “Insert photo light” Add a “Details” layer and Paint some fine details. Duplicate the “Light 1” group, rename “Light 2”, place it as shown. Scale it a bit to match the perspective.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 11

Finally, create a “Refine pass” layer, and add some details and some glow. We want some heavy contrasts here.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a new “Refine pass” in the top of the “Front top” group, and refine the bottom as shown below. Close the “Front top” Group.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 12

Create a new “Front bot” Group, and a new “Base shape” layer. Then add some new layers, as Clipping Mask, one after the other and following the pictures below. It’s time to hide the “Loco sketch” layer as well.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Import “rust.jpg” from the asset. Place it over our piece, create a Layer Mask, fill it with black and make some small parts being visible with a soft brush by painting some whites in the layer mask.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a “Details” layer and Paint some details as shown. Close the “Front bot” group.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 13

Create a “Details” layer in the top of the “Loco” group. Add the final details you want for your loco.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a “White smoke” layer and paint with a “smoke and cloud” brush some steam as shown. Set the Opacity to 80%.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a “Black smoke” layer and paint a similar smoke as below, using some dark tones and picking in the sky to get the light colors. Set the Opacity to 90%. Our locomotive is done now!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 14

But the train needs some wagons. Let’s create a new “Wagon 01” Group under the “Loco” one. Import from the asset “train-03.jpg”, keep only the wagon as shown, and place it in perspective. Select the front face as shown below and Transform it to match the perspective in both directions. Clean the unwanted parts in a layer mask.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add some new Hue/Saturations, Levels and Color Balance Adjustment Layers. Set the Saturation to -69. Use the picture below for the other settings. Adjust Layer Mask of the Color Balance to be effective only on the bottom body part of the wagon. Use his Layer Mask to remove the Color Balance on unwanted parts of the wagon.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add some details on a new “Bottom details” layer.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add some soft shadows on a new “Inside shadow” layer.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a new “Glass reflections” Group and a new “Base shape” layer. In black, Paint the glass in order to have a nice clean shape as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 15

Then, set to Clipping Mask, add a “Reflections” layer and paint with some color picked from the landscape.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Set to Clipping Mask, add a “Light” layer and paint some light in the top and bottom of the windows, as shown below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add a new Levels Adjustment Layer, and set it as below. Create some diversions with the layer mask of that Adjustment Layer.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Finally, paint the final details and tuning on a new “Paint overlay” layer.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Duplicate the “Wagon 01” group, Rename to “Wagon 02”, place it under and Transform it as below. Then add a Layer Mask, and remove the unwanted parts. Now we’re done with the train!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

11. How to Create a Photo Realistic Foreground

Step 1

Let’s start our last part before the final details and adjustments! Create a new “FG” Group above the “Train” one. Import “desert-07.jpg”, rename to “Insert photo 1”, place it as below, and delete the unwanted parts with a layer mask. Add a Curves Adjustment Layer with following settings.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now Import the “desert-08.jpg”. Rename to”Insert photo 2″. Place it as below and Erase the unwanted parts as well.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Create a new “Rock” Group. Import the “rock.jpg”. Rename to”Insert photo 3″. Place it as below and erase the unwanted parts as well. Add a Curves Adjustment Layer with following settings. Close the Group.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a layer called “Clone pass”. With the Clone Stamp Tool (S), fill the layer to something similar as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Add a “Details” layer and paint some details and vegetation. Then, create a “Shadows” layer, set Mode to Multiply, and, with a low opacity brush and a dark saturated brown, paint some shadows as below. Our foreground is now ready, and everything has a pretty decent level of details! Let’s move to the adjustment step.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

12. How to Adjust the Overall Colors

Step 1

The draw looks good, but a bit flat and boring. We’ll add some contrasts and shadows set to Clipping Mask to general group, in order to fix that feeling. Create a “Shadow” layer in Multiply node and Curves Adjustment Layer for the “MG” group. Paint some shadow as below, the red represent the shadows area. Use a dark saturated braun for the shadows.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

I had this result, so I set to Opacity to 40%, because it was obviously too dark. Set is to have a similar result as shown below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Decrease a little bit of the highlights with the Curves Adjustment Layer as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

On a new Multiply “Dark pass” layer placed as below, add some dark values.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

On a new Multiply “Shadows” layer placed as below, add some dropped shadows.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Now add a Multiply “Shadow” layer and a Curves Adjustment Layer active for the “Bridge” group. I put some shadows in the red part as below, and set a similar curve, to increase the contrasts.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

As the back of the bridge has a bit too much contrast, use the Layer Mask to low the effect on the back. Get a similar result as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Go to the “Shadow” layer in the “Rails” group, and Paint some very dark shadow as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add a new Curves Adjustment Layer active for the “Rails” group. Make it match the picture below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

Let’s move to the “Train” group. Add some “Shadow” layers active for the two wagons, and some Curves Adjustment Layers for the loco and the 2 wagons. Set the curves as below, and remove some effect with the layer mask on each curve, using the picture below as a guide. Use the second guide to place the shadows on the wagons.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now add a Curves Adjustment Layer active for the FG. Set it as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now we got that picture. It’s way better than before, but we need some reflections in the water and some final tweaks. Let’s create the reflections! But before, it’s really time to save!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

13. How to Add Water Reflections

Step 1

Okay, go to the “BG” Group, create a new one called “Water reflections” and a new one called “Front”. Make a Selection as below, and apply an image on it (Image > Apply Image). Keep the settings by default. Set it to Screen and his Opacity to 80%. Transform it as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Add a Layer Mask filled with black. Use the guide to paint some whites to get a similar result.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Now Duplicate it, call it “Waves”, and apply a Liquify Filter as below. Create some waves effect. Change the layer’s Opacity to 40%.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create some fine details on a new “Details” layer. Close the Group.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Hide the “Train” Group. Create a new “Back” Group above the “Front” one we just did before. Then do a Selection, apply the image, rename to “Apply 2”, Transform it as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Set the layer to Screen with a 50% Opacity. Erase the border parts using a layer mask and the guide below. Then add again a “Details” layer and paint some very small details. Turn On the “Train” group and Close the “BG” one.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

Now move to the “MG” group. Create a new “Water reflections” Group. Insert “water.jpg” from the asset and rename it to “Photo insert reflections”. Place it and Erase uneccessary parts as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Set the Mode to Screen and the Opacity to 50%.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

I won’t explain everything precisely again, because this is exactly the same idea that we made for the “BG”. Make 2 different applies. The first one with the mountains, the second one with the bridge. Set the Opacity of the “Apply 1” to 25%, “Apply 2 to 60%, “Waves 1” to 10% and “Waves 2” to 30%. See the step by step below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 5

On a new “Bridge shadows” layer, with a Soft Brush, paint some dark tones as shadow of the bridge as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Here is our result. We’re done for the water’s reflections! You know it, save!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

14. How to Finish the Composition

Step 1

Okay, now we’re doing the final passes. They are final because they apply some effect on every other layers, and it’s useless to make them before the end. They change a lot the look of the draw, so be careful not to overuse those kind of techniques. Let’s create a “Last tweaks” group, in top of every other ones. First, add a new Vibrance Adjustment Layer. Set the Vibrance to + 96. the Layer Mask must be similar to this.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Then create a new “Sharpen more” layer. Apply the full image on it, and do a Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen more. The layer mask must look like this, in order to sharpen only the loco. That’s to attract a bit more the eye, as we saw at the very beginning.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 2

Create a new “Color dodge pass” layer, and, with a saturated dark brown and a Soft Brush, try to simulate some rays of light as below. Set the Mode to Color Dodge, and the Opacity to 50%.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

The render must look like this.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now we create a vignetting. Create a Curves Adjustment Layer, set it as below, and get a similar Layer Mask by painting with a big Soft Brush.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 3

Now I find the dark medium values a bit too high. Let’s create a new Curves Adjustment Layer in order to fix it. Set is as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Okay, add a Photo Filter Adjustment Layer and set it as below.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Now, with a smoke and cloud brush, paint some light fog in a light desaturated yellow. Try to get the same. Then set the Opacity to 50%.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Step 4

Now and as a last layer of that tutorial, we add some very small grain. Press “D” to reset the color. On a new “Grain” layer, make a Filter > Render > Clouds. Then Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Set the Amount to 400%, Distribution to Uniform and check Monochromatic. You must get the same. Then, simply set the Opacity on 2%.

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

Conclusion

I really hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Here is the final image below. Let us know how you liked this tutorial in the comments!

Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch

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Create a Realistic Photo Composite From a Sketch