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Photo Manipulate a Dramatic Battle Scene in Photoshop

Photo Manipulate a Dramatic Battle Scene in Photoshop

In this tutorial I will show you how to create a dramatic action scene. During process of making this piece, you will learn how to combine different stock images, create exciting effects, effectively use blending modes, adjust color correctly and much more!

Final Image

As always, this is the final image that we’ll be creating:

Step 1

Create a new document and fill it with white. I choose the settings below:

Open old building stock. You do not have to use the same stock of mine but your own. I cut it and place into our canvas, at the right side. Then duplicate it, apply Flip Horizontal and situate it at the left side.

Name two these layers as “building 1″ and “building 2″:

Step 2

I don’t want two sides of road look the same so on building 2 layer, use Polygonal Lasso Tool to make a selection on road, copy it into a new layer ( right click, choose Layer via Copy or use Cmd/Ctrl+C to copy, Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste):

Move this part to to right side then add layer mask with soft black brush to hide the rough edges:

Duplicate this part and move it down to the bottom of the road, left building ( building 2). With layer mask we use brush to eraser unecessary parts to get natural look:

Step 3

Open sky stock. I choose this selected part and drag it into our main document, place this layer under building ones:

Name it as “sky”. Duplicate sky layer and set to Screen 100%:

Step 4

Now we will brighten the parts of buildings which catch the light from sky. Make a new layer on the top with Soft light mode 100%, use soft white brush to paint on buildings parts which meet sky:

Step 5

Cut the tank and position it at the road as show below:

Create a new layer under tank layer. Use black brush with hardness about 10-15% with different opacity to paint under tank to make its shadow. You can see how i used brush in the screenshot below:

Step 6

Now we will remove paper piece stuck on iron sheet in front of right track. It makes the tank look like in a museum than in a battlefied.

On the tank layer, use Polygonal Lasso Tool ( or any tool you like) to make a selection on left sheet, copy it and paste into a new layer. Duplicate this part and press Cmd/Ctrl+Alt+G to create Clipping Mask for two these layers.

Add layer mask to eraser the edges to make these parts blend better with right sheet.

To get a more realistic look, i use a new layer with Clipping Mask and take Clone Tool to hide this paper piece completely.

Step 7

I use two new adjustment layers with Clipping Mask for tank layer to make its color fit background:



Step 8

Open ruined building. I make selection for this part and copy it into our document, place this layer under tank ones. Transform it and place it at left side and add layer mask to hide rough edges ( using brush with big hardness, about 70-80%):

Set this layer to Overlay 100% and call it “ruin 1″:

I add a Hue/Saturation layer for this ruin to reduce light and saturation :

Also, to remove dark parts of this ruin ( its caused from shadow in original ruined building), i choose a similar color with the road color (#808080) and paint on these parts on a new layer ( with Clipping Mask of course) :

Step 9

Move the part we cut from step 8 into our document again, place it under tank:

Use layer mask and brush with hardness 80 -90% to eraser outside of this part then rename it as “ruin 2″.

To change color and light of this part, i use two adjustment layers ( Clipping Mask):



I make a new layer with Clipping Mask, use Clone tool to hide dark part as the image below shows:

Step 10

Open ruined building again. I choose the part which has red contour shown in image below:

Transform and position it at the right side of picture, call it “ruin 3″:

Use Hue/Saturation layer with Clipping Mask to reduce light and saturation:

I also use a new layer with Clipping Mask, take brush with color #434345 to paint on this ruin and put layer as Multipy 80%:

Step 11

In this step i want to make some dirts for the tank. We suppose it’s run on a long road and its unreasonable if its track is clean like a tank in museum. On ruin 2 layer, make selection within this ruin, set feather = 1, copy this selection into a new layer and put it on the top. Set layer to Overlay 100%.

Make dirt for the rest track with same technique and you should transform the dirt and eraser any parts outside the track:

I use Hue/Saturation layer ( Clipping Mask) for each “dirt” layer with same value:

This is what we have:

Step 12

Extract soldier 1 and move him into the right corner of picture:

Add a Curves layer ( with Clipping Mask) to make color change on soldier:

As we see, the light on soldier comes from behind and the top looks very dark. To fix it, i use a new layer with Clipping Mask, take Linear Gradient with black and white ( default color), drag from right bottom to left top:

Set this layer as Soft light 70% and with layer mask, brush with medium opacity (40-50%) to reduce the dark on right leg of sodier:

Step 13

To reduce saturation on soldier skin, i add a new layer ( with Clipping Mask and Color mode 50%) , take soft brush with color #a9aeb1 and paint on skin:

To make light and shadow of soldier 1 look more realistic, i use two layers with Clipping Mask and with brush which has color #acacac . On the first layer, i set to Overlay 100% and paint on the top of soldier which catch the light from in front. On second layer, i set to Multipy 100% to paint on the back and right side of soldier hand. I vary opacity and flow of brush as light and shadow are not the same in every part:

Step 14

Extract soldier 2 and move it to the left side. Then i make a new layer under soldier 2 layer, take soft black brush ( with very small size) and opacity 50% to paint under his shoe:

With same steps we did with soldier 1, change color, light and shadow for soldier 2:

To decrease saturation of the gun and some parts on his clothes and shoe ( i think it has much yellow cast against the background), i add a new layer ( Clipping Mask), change the mode to Color 80%, use brush with color #acacac ( same color in previous layers) painting on these parts:

Step 15

Create new layer on the top. Take random debris brushes with color #c0c0c6 to paint on sky and the top of building, then change the mode to Multipy 100%:

Step 16

In next steps we will make smoke effect. On a new layer, create a selection on the left top of picture with feather = 50 ( it depends on the size of your picture):

Set foreground to #212530 and #b3b5bc for background. Choose Filter-Render-Clouds:

Lower opacity to 70%:

Duplicate this layer 4 times, move them to the center and the right. I change one to Screen 100% ( center), one to Multipy 50% and two rests with Normal 70%. Name these layers as “smoke 1″, “smoke 2″, “smoke 3″, “smoke 4″, “smoke 5″:

You can see how i ordered smoke layers and result after adding one layer in screenshot below:

Add layer mask for “smoke 5″ layer and remove rough edge of this smoke.

We have result:

Step 17

Make a new layer, make selection for the part between soldiers with feather = 60. . Change background color to #6e6f75 ( don’t change foreground color in step 16). Apply Clouds filter again and lower opacity to 70%:

Step 18

Now we will create smoke coming out from one of window building. Open smoke pack after downloading, i choose this one and move it to the right of picture, scale it to be smaller:

Add layer mask and eraser some parts of it and change the mode to Multipy 100%:

I will do some techniques to make this kind of smoke look more realistic. Open explosion stock and copy this selected one to place over smoke on window ( remember to downsize it to fit all elements of picture). Hit Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+U to desaturate it and Cmd/Ctrl+I to invert color:

Add layer mask to eraser outside area of this smoke:

The window which has smoke must be darker as it was burnt out. Make a new layer under smoke layers and set to Multipy 100%, use color #0e0609 to paint on this window:

Step 19

Open explosion stock again. I choose the first left and copy it into our canvas.

Resize and place it on the tank:

Set this layer to Multipy 100%, name it “explosion 1″. Duplicate it with Screen mode 100% and call it “explosion 2″. Add layer mask for “explosion 1″ and eraser the dark part outside explosion:

Add layer mask for “explosion 2″ and clear the part on tank gun:

Select two explosion layers, right click and choose Duplicate Layers. Press Cmd/Ctrl+T to transform two layers while keeping selecting them:

Rename them as “explosion 3″ and “explosion 4″. After it, use soft black brush on layer mask for these layers and clear the parts covered tank gun:

Step 20

We will do some techniques to complete our first explosion effect. Make a new layer with Multipy mode 100% under explosion ones. I use brush with color #6d6a70 to paint at its bottom to darken it:

To increase red tone and contrast for explosion, make a new layer on the top with Soft light mode 100%. I use brush with color #af1805 painting on explosion as the image below shows:

I use a new layer again with black brush painting on the top of explosion to make stronger contrast. Put it as Soft light 100%:

Step 21

With same technique, we create two small explosions on the tank ( without coloring and darkening like step 20). Name them “explosion 5″ and “explosion 6″ and set them under previous explosions ( in step 19):

Step 22

In this step i use brush with color #d27864 to coloring background around explosions. Make two new layers , the first with Color mode 100% ( call it “coloring 1″) and another with Soft light mode 100% ( “coloring 2″) . Take brush with opacity about 30-70% to paint around explosion. I use bigger opacity for the parts nearer explosions and smaller for further ones:

With same technique, i use brush with color #fbe0b0 to paint around the parts nearest the brightest of explosions. Set this layer to Overlay 100%:

Step 23

Make a new layer, i use brush 3 px with hardness about 50% to draw around explosions to make fire spots:

Step 24

In this step we will make bullet stream coming out from soldier guns. Create a new layer under explosion ones. Use any tools you’re familiar with to make a selection like the pic below ( i use Polygonal Lasso Tool and set feather = 1):

Fill this selection with color #f9ba4b:

Duplicate this layer twice and set duplicated layers to Hard light 100%. Move duplicated layers above and under first layer ( which with Normal mode):

With each duplicated layer, i apply Radial and Motion blur with parameters below:

Add layer mask for these layers to blur some parts on stream to make a look of bullets being shot contiuously from the gun:

Select bullet stream layers and make group for them. Duplicate this group and move it to left side of soldier 2. Transform the motion to make it fit the soldier 2 gun. Name these group as “bullet stream 1″ and “bullet stream 2″. Right click “bullet stream 2″, choose Ungroup Layers. Use soft black brush for 3 layers inside to clear the parts in screenshot below:

Step 25

Open plane stock. Extract it and move it to right side of sky, resize and transform as shown below:

Set this layer to Overlay 100%. Duplicate and place on left side, then rotate it to make a look of falling down:

Add layer mask for plane layers, use brush with opacity about 40-50% to blur them, make them intergrate better with sky:

Step 26

In this step we use similar method for explosions in previous steps to make plane 2 trail ( which on the left): one layer with Normal mode, one with Screen mode and of course with layer mask to hide or blur unecessary parts:

Step 27

In this step we will make fire gushing out from tank gun. Create a new layer on the top, use Polygonal Lasso Tool to make selection as shown below ( i set feather = 1) :

Fill this selection with color #fd9880:

Apply Radial Blur and Motion Blur:

Name it “tank firing 1″.

Create a new layer , do with same technique but with color #fead81 then set this layer to Hard light 100%. Move it to the right of tank firing 1. Duplicate this layer , merge two layers ( which are set to Hard light mode). Set merged layer to Hard light 100% again. Duplicate it, move it to the left of tank firing 1.

Add layer mask to blur bottom of these firing effects. You can use transform tool to rotate it a bit as i did:

Step 28

Now it’s time for coloring picture. I only use a Gradient Map and Color Balance layer.

Gradient Map:

Set this Gradient Map layer to Soft light 80%.

Color Balance:

Step 29

We’re almost done! Create a new layer with Overlay mode and fill with 50% gray:

Use Dodge Tool with Midtones range and big Exposure ( 60-70%) to brighten soldier parts which should catch the light from explosions and especially the middle of bullet stream from soldier gun 1. Also i use this tool to brighten the parts which are nearest the brightest parts of explosion. You can see how i use this tool in Normal mode:

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.

Download Source File for this Tutorial

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About the Author:

I'm a self-taught designer from Vietnam who enjoys writing and doing most kinds of graphic design, especially photo manipulation. I've always tried to improve my skill and felt happy to share it through my website where you can find lots of my writings as well as photoshop tutorials.

Leave a comment


  1. Chris says:

    Wow, very impressive tutorial using some simple techniques! Can’t wait to give it a try!

  2. Nisha says:

    wow very detailed one Jenny! nice! :)

  3. Zakisyaari says:

    Very nice work and detail. But why the road too clean, war!

  4. wow very nice….
    i just think that you are the best designer!!

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