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Urban montages in Photoshop

How to go about adding that fine-art look to your urban-themed web graphics, with a little help from Photoshop

In this article, it is our goal to help you expand your Photoshop horizons and provide you with new creative avenues by showing you a fresh approach to the basic Photoshop tools. You will discover how to create a stunning illustration with photographs and painted textures by utilising only layers and without using any of the filters.

Personally, we have turned away from using the filters that you find in Adobe Photoshop. We also prefer to avoid the sharp crispness and lines found in some digital art that you find these days (however, we’re not saying that those looks don’t have their place in the world of art and design). To overcome this sharpness, we are going to add a ‘fine art feel’ to our illustration creations. To help create that fine art look, you will be going back to basics, so go down to your local art supplier or dust off your brushes and get out your paints and start painting.

In this tutorial, you will work extensively with the Layers palette to create your image, basically dragging and dropping your photographs onto the canvas. You will also be working with the Mask tools throughout.

You can download all the source files for this tutorial here

01 Create a new canvas

Step 1
Step 1

Regardless of your composite’s complexity, always plan your illustration ahead. Start by creating a sketch in your art book first, figuring out where different elements go before starting work on the computer. To begin with, go to File and select New Document. Set the image size of the new document to 460mm in width and 230mm in height, then set the Resolution to 300dpi. Name your document ‘Exit Signal’.

02 A little bit of paint

Step 2

To start off with, you need to import all the files from the CD onto your desktop. Before you do that, make a folder and name it ‘Exit Signal photos’. Import ‘Light Yellow Background’, then drag and drop it into the main canvas. Next, scale the background up to fit the canvas by going to File>Transform. Once you are happy with the size of everything, click OK. In the Layers palette, set the blending mode to Normal and set the Opacity to 100 per cent.

03 Swatch your colour

Step 3
Step 3

Repeat step two with the ‘Yellow Background’ file. Drag and drop it, then scale it up to fit the canvas. If you don’t want to use the background that comes with this tutorial, you can get out your paintbrush and watercolour paper and try creating your own swatches. This is a great way to lend a fine-art feel to your photomontage. In the Layers palette, set the blending mode to Lighten and the Opacity to 100 per cent.

04 Undulating

Step 4
Step 4

From the Exit Signals folder on your desktop, import the photograph ‘El Segundo B/W’ onto your canvas. Next, scale up the photograph until it looks like the image above. In the Layers palette, set the blending mode to Vivid Light and the Opacity to 100 per cent.

05 Red-hot background

Step 5
Step 5

So far, you have added your swatches and one photo. As in the last couple of steps, drag and drop ‘Painted Red Background’ on top of the El Segundo image. Go to File>Edit >Transform>Scale. In the Layers palette, set the blending mode to Darken and the Opacity to 100 per cent.

06 Black and white or colour

Step 6

Duplicate Layer 3 and place it on top of Layer 4. Rename this layer as ‘El Segundo B/W copy’. In the Layers palette, set the layer blending mode to Vivid Light and the Opacity to 100 per cent. Next, we mention Adobe Lightroom. This has some great tools for professional photographers.

07 Los Angeles – street level

Step 7

This image of LA began coloured, but in Lightroom you can manipulate the image to suit your needs (changing it to black and white). Reproduce this in Photoshop via Image>Adjustments>Black and White. Name it ‘Downtown LA B/W’ and add a mask to take out some of the sky

08 Lasso vs mask

Step 8
Step 8

Set the blending mode to Hard Light and 100 per cent Opacity. Duplicate the layer, naming it ‘Downtown LA B/W 7 copy’. Duplicate twice more and give these a suffix of ‘8 copy 2’ and ‘8 copy 3’. Set the mode for 7 and 8 to Hard Light and 8 copy 3 to Normal, all at 100 per cent Opacity.

09 Spring into action

Step 9

Open ‘Spring Street’ and change to black and white. Place in the bottom right of the canvas, add a mask and with the Brush tool, take out the unneeded elements. Duplicate the layer, naming one ‘Layer 9’ and the other ‘10 Spring Street B/W’, both set to Hard Light with 100 per cent Opacity.

10 Switch on the background

Step 10

Switch back on Layers 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 to see the foreground of your illustration; once you are happy with everything, you can then switch back on the five layers you have been working on. Keep it in mind to take out all of the sky and to cut back to the building.

11 Hailing a New York taxi

Step 11
Step 11

Switch off all the layers now. Drop the image ‘NYC Taxi’ onto your canvas and place it at the bottom right of the canvas. Next, add a mask layer to your image. With the Brush tool, erase the entire element around the actual taxi Set the layer to Hard Light and the Opacity to 100 per cent.

12 Mellowing yellowing

Step 12

Switch on Layer 1. Duplicate Layer 17, naming it ‘Layer 18’. The taxi will then be covered by the background. Add a mask to Layer 1 and erase the background around the taxi. We want to bring the taxi forward from the background. Do this to each step until the taxi is the main focus.

13 Switching on

Step 13
Step 13

Now switch on Layers 2 and 3. Go back to the Mask tool and erase the part of the background that’s obscuring the taxi. Repeat this with Layers 4 and 5, adding the mask and erasing the background so you are left with just the taxi. Then switch back on Layers 6-10.

14 Just like a London bus…

Step 14

With your taxi, you are aiming to add depth to your illustration. Open up ‘LA Taxi’ and position it at the bottom left-hand corner of the canvas. Add the mask layer and take out any unwanted background. Set the layer to Hard Light and the Opacity to 100 per cent.

15 Focus on the main image

Step 15

Switch on the remaining layers. As you can see, it is slowly taking shape. You have the background and the foreground with your two main images, the NYC taxi and the LA taxi. Duplicate Layer 19, placing above Layer 19 and rename it, setting to Hard Light and 100 per cent Opacity.

16 Getting that fine-art look

Step 16

You are aiming to create a fine-art feel. As you can see in the last step, this was lost in the foreground. With this in mind, go back to Layer 4. Duplicate this layer and move it above Layer 20. Rename it ‘Layer 21’ and set the blending mode to Lighten and the Opacity to 100 per cent.

17 They call me mellow yellow

Step 17

The Spring Street image behind the NYC Taxi has now been washed out by the Painted Red Background, and this is also the same for the LA Taxi. To bring both of the images back to the fore, duplicate the layers, place above Layer 21 and set both to Lighten and 100 per cent Opacity.

18 Building block

Step 18

Each time something is added, you have to add more layers to bring back the composition. Duplicate the El Segundo B/W layer, placing the new one above Layer 21. Add a mask and erase all of the unwanted image around the taxis. Set it to Vivid Light and 100 per cent Opacity.

19 A lighter shade of grey

Step 19

The image is not pulling together, so the best thing to do is add a white background. Head to the Layers palette and create a new layer. Go to the toolbar and click on the Fill Bucket tool. Set the foreground colour to white, then set the layer to Saturation and the Opacity to 100 per cent.

20 Uptown cab

Step 20

The illustration now has too much black and white. To make the taxis really stand out, duplicate the NYC Taxi and LA Taxi layers. Set Layer 26 to Overlay and the Opacity to 54 per cent, but Layer 27 to Normal and the Opacity to 70 per cent. This will bring the two cabs to the forefront.

21 Grab some background

Step 21

Duplicate Layer 1 and add to the top of the Layers palette, naming all of the layers. Make Layer 28 ‘Light Yellow Background’, set to Color Burn and 100 per cent Opacity. Highlight the Mask tool and use the Brush tool to eliminate part of Layer 28’s background to bring the cab back.

22 Exit parking

Open up the file referred to as the ‘signs photographs’ and place these on top of Layer 10 (‘Spring Street’). Now you should have layers from 11 through to 16. Move each image into its position and set all the layers to Normal and the Opacity to 100 per cent.

23 Exit, stage left

Step 23

You have now created an illustration in Photoshop without using any of the filters, just laying down photographs and painted backgrounds in your Layers palette. We hope that you enjoyed working on this illustration as much as we had creating it.