Fake Reality In Photoshop


There are several crucial Photoshop features we will cover today:

… but as always, we’ll focus on showing you how to make stuff rather than how to use the features. So with that in mind, we will do the following interventions on this image:

base-imagetati-finalOriginal image (left) and our intervention adding content and changing materials (right).

Download The Material

To get started, please download the files we will use in this tutorial:

Download Material (3.6Mb .zip)

Easier Workflow: Layer Groups

Using Layer Groups allow us to:

We’ll see how that works in action.

Getting The Sculpture Into Our Base Image

Open base image and the sculpture file. We’ll start by simply dragging the sculpture layer into our document. First drag to the TAB showing document name at the top, then when the base image shows, drag down to position the sculpture:

Now we need to obviously use layer mask to hide the parts of the sculpture that are supposed to be behind other objects. But our sculpture layer already has a layer mask – so what do we do?
Layer groups come to rescue.

Create New Layer Group

First we’ll create new layer group, and make sure that the sculpture layer is inside (drag it into it if it isn’t there already):

This layer group will not only contain this sculpture layer but several other layers we’ll create to improve the sculpture appearance. Having all layers inside one group -again- makes it easier to organize/find the layer we want, plus -more importantly- it allows us to create one layer mask that will be applied to all layers inside.

Apply Layer Mask To The Group

The concept is simple – we apply a layer mask to the group, and it will affect every layer that’s inside that group. Here’s how we do it:

Faking Reality : Blending Modes

In the next steps we will create illusion of several real-world phenomenons:

One of the crucial features we’ll use in this process are Blending Modes.Blending mode defines how each layer blends in with the layer below it  it can darken things below, lighten them up or provide more complex effects. For the detail overview of the most important Blending Modes, click here check this detailed tutorial.

Let’s start from the simple and work our way up to the more complex workflows.

Simple Reflections

We’ll start by adding a simple reflection that our sculpture casts on a polished floor.
Here’s the process:

Here’s how, step by step:

Now the final touches to this part of the image – we need to match the color and lighting conditions of the sculpture better to the base image.

First, we’ll paint in some shadow on top of the sculpture (in another layer) as well as desaturate our sculpture. This we already covered in the last tutorial, here’s a quick overview:

Finally, we will link together all 3 layers (Sculpture shadow, sculpture and reflection) by selecting them together (SHIFT + Click to select multiple layers) and clicking on the “Chain Icon“. Now we can drag these layers together, which prevents us from ruining the shadow and reflection effects:

Frosted Glass

Frosted (translucent) glass is one of the effects that CAN be produced in rendering, but it can give relatively bad results with HUGE increase in rendering times – especially when we use the Rhino’s built-in renderer. That’s why it’s often more cost effective to fake it in Photoshop.

frost-glassLet’s take a look at nature to see how to fake it.

If we look closely to this (or any other) image of frosted glass, it appears to blur what’s behind it. So this is exactly what we’ll do in order to create this effect in Photoshop!

An essence of the workflow:

Easier said than done, but not too difficult to do neither:

Complex Reflections: Wet Pavement

This is one of the more complex realistic effects we may need to create, the one which unfortunately is completely impossible to make in Rhino without using of specialized (and expensive) rendering plugins such as V-Ray or Maxwell.

Luckily, with a bit of practice and understanding of what this effect really looks like, we can easily recreate this in Photoshop.

As always, first we’ll take a look at the nature:


We can make following observations:

Which may gives us the following hints on how to make it:

Again, step by step guide:

Create Layer Group for pavement, then add more texture (from another file):

Now we will make the actual reflection, blur it, and mask it using the concrete texture that we already “added” to the pavement:

The great advantage of this process -although it looks complex the first time you see- is that we can see and tweak the results in real-time, much easier to get the results we need (comparatively, each test render with V-Ray may take at least 5 minutes).

Finishing Touches

Now we almost have the final image. By now it should look similar to this:


While this is already pretty good, the image requires a couple of interventions to make it more focused – currently, although we have a visually dominant element (the sculpture, as well as the actor looking at it – remember continuance?), it would be good to bring in more focus into that dominant area.

By the end of these last stages we will make the image more engaging (ok, maybe I went a little overboard with color effect, but that was just to emphasize the difference that this process can make):


We’ll use one common technique used near the end of image compositing: creating a colored image overlay that will both provide the focus in the areas we need, and also “even up” the entire image. Evening up means: making the new content we added stick out less. By applying a color overlay to entire image, all the layers will receive the same “color treatment” which will decrease the difference between them.
Here’s how…

Adjustment Layer To Color Balance Entire Image

Usually when we do typical Image Adjustments > Hue/Saturation, or Color Balance or any other adjustment, we can only affect one layer at the time. What’s worse – once we make an adjustment, it’s there forever; unless we UNDO, we can’t go back and tweak it.

That’s why we use Adjustment Layers, one of Photoshop’s most important features.

Adjustment Layers let us manipulate (color balance, hue/saturation, levels…) all layers below it at once. Plus, we can always go click on the layer again and tweak our parameters.

Here’s how to create an adjustment layer and use it:

Adding More Expression Using Color Overlays

We will end up this rather long tutorial by bringing the very finishing touch: we’ll adjust the colors of the image in such way that brings more focus to the central area of interest (in this case a sculpture and an actor observing it).

The idea is to create a layer that sits on top of all the layers that contains a simple color gradient. This color gradient ideally will move between contrasting colors and it will affect all the layers below, at once “unifying” the look of the image, while also bringing focus to where we want to have it.

And it’s done like this:

This has been a very long tutorial but look at it as a collection of tricks you can use to drastically improve your productivity when creating high quality architectural images. I strongly recommend that you try to repeat this tutorial with different images – or much better: try using all these tips in your next project.


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