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Members Area Tutorial: Create a Richly Detailed Viking Themed Photo Manipulation

Members Area Tutorial: Create a Richly Detailed Viking Themed Photo Manipulation

I’m really excited! Today’s design lesson is one of our most comprehensive tutorials ever.

I’m not going to bang on about how this tutorial is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Instead, I want to show you just how much you’ll learn from following along:

  • You’ll learn how to create an axe (like a real, solid, scary Viking looking axe) from scratch! This includes a ton of actionable techniques from drawing, to texturing, layer management, masking, lighting, photo manipulation etc… Bottom line – the creation of this axe could form an awesome tutorial all on it’s own!
  • You’ll learn some cool matte painting techniques when creating the background for your frightening axe. Do your scenes often look fake and over-shopped? You’ll learn how to pull multiple images together into a cohesive scene today.
  • Lighting. Lighting is a tricky art, but in today’s lesson you’ll learn some really cool lighting techniques to add focus to your scenes.
  • You’ll also get to work with eerie stuff like skulls and crows. Sometimes it’s fun to dive into a dark, moody project and capture this kind of atmosphere skillfully.
  • There are also some amazing bonuses that accompany this tut. The author Ed Lopez has included his hand-crafted brush set, and a HUGE library of personally created layer styles for you to enjoy. He has even put together a 2 minute sped-up video version of his workflow, which is a fantastic insight into how the final piece comes together. It’s the perfect reference as you follow along with the main tutorial.

Cummon, let’s get started!

Final Image Preview:

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Photoshop
  • Version: CS6
  • Difficulty: Advanced
  • Estimated Completion Time: 4 Hours

Tutorial Assets


Step 1

To start things off I made a quick sketch of what I had in mind for the main subject of the image, which is a heavy Viking Axe with all the visual details to hold a good strong sense of that culture. You can use this sketch, or maybe choose to make one of your own; the technique for bringing it to life will work either way.

So on top of the sketch we will start tracing with the pen tool the main all around shape as shown.

Step 2

Be sure to setup the pen tool options as shown here so your tracing makes a shape, yet it doesn’t block the view with any fill color and the line is thin enough for us to lay it down where needed accurately.

Step 3

Once you have traced the main shape you can start creating the shapes inside again with the pen tool, keeping each shape in a separate layer.

Step 4

Now we have the main shape and the two inner sections of the Axe, so now we can select a fill color for each; so just pick a mid gray for the overall Axe and a slightly brighter gray for the inner sections, and setting the stroke to none.

Step 5

At this point we can resize the image to the final size, and since we have vector shapes in place, we can resize those as well without loosing any detail or resolution. Then we continue our tracing in exactly the same way for the other pieces of the Axe as shown here until we have a shape for each of the sections.

Step 6

Lets continue by bringing in this image of a tribal graphic and make a quick color range selection to extract it on to our image.

Step 7

Scale it down to fit over the top left section of the inner Axe, and then create a clipping mask for it so it only shows over that section.

Step 8

Repeat the same for the lower right section, choosing a slightly different framing

Step 9

Then open up the layer style for this graphic layer and apply the settings for both drop shadow and color overlay as shown here.

Step 10

Then copy the same layer style to the other sections so we have the subtle shadow effect for all of them. Just in the handle section of the Axe remove the color overlay to keep them a lighter color.

Step 11

Once we are finished with the layer styles, we will now group all of the Axe layers, duplicate the group; and then merge the duplicate so we have now one layer to continue working on while keeping the original shapes hidden in case we need them. Once we have the merged single layer we can apply some subtle shading to the Axe so we have a bit of thickness on it just by painting in with a soft brush a bit darker color.


Step 1

Next up we will start introducing texture to our Axe shape, so we will use a section of this image to start applying some texture to our Axe; so copy the clean section shown here and paste it over to a new layer.

That’s the end of the preview!

About the Author:

I was born in Mexico City, worked and studied photography at Eastman Kodak while training in minilab management and traditional darkroom techniques. Now I am steadily growing in the freelance world on matte painting, digital art/illustration and even some 3d modeling.

Leave a comment


  1. Mireille D says:

    Thank you for this great tutorial, worked great.
    The work of the ax was too complicated for me, I simplified working from an ax in picture.
    Here are my results:

    • Tom Ross says:

      Wow, that’s one of my favorite designs you’ve produced Mireille! I really like the symettry of your axe design too, it looks great. One improvement I’d suggest is that your vignette effect seems a little strong, giving overly dark shadows around the edges of the image.

      • Mireille D says:

        Thank you Tom!
        I agree to the dark side too, I liked it better without the vignette effect.

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