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Adding a bit of mist to your landscapes is not only simple, but fully customizable in Photoshop. This is a great way to alter the entire mood of your image and make an otherwise boring landscape into something more powerful.
Before we get into the techniques, you should always consider the subject of your landscape before you add your mist – it won’t look right on every photograph. Choose an image taken either on an overcast day or during the golden hours – times where mist is most plausible. A photo of the local park at noon time with the sun directly overhead will not exactly come across as a convincing misty situation.
1. Open your image in Photoshop and create a new layer (the folded paper icon in your layers palette).
2. Using your paint bucket tool, fill your new layer with white and add a layer mask (Figure 1).
3. Select your Gradient tool and make sure your settings look similar to the menu below.
4. With your layer mask selected, click the point closest to your camera (for this photo, it would be the bottom) and drag your mouse to the opposite end of your photo. This will create a gradual mask, giving you a smooth transition in tones – your layer mask should look something similar to Figure 2.
You can also do this with your brush tool set at 0% hardness and a low opacity level, but I find using the gradient tool to be much quicker and accurate – you can always go back with your brush and work the layer mask later for more detailed editing.
Note: Always remember that mist and fog will be more transparent the closer you get to the camera, so keep that in mind when adding your layer mask and blending in the white fill layer.
5. We’re getting there, but not quite yet. Adjust the layer opacity level until you get a pleasing transparency. For my image, I set it to 30% to get the result shown below.
6. Now I'm going to add a bit more mist to specific spots in my photo. This works great when you want to make your mist more authentic by adding density to confined areas – such as in an alley between two buildings, or along the road, like in my image.
Duplicate your mist layer (with the mask) and reselect your gradient tool. We’re going to reverse the effect of the gradient so that the areas we click + drag on our image will be saturated with mist. Make sure your gradient tool has the settings below selected.
7. Select your layer mask and click and drag your gradient around the area you want to increase with mist – don’t worry, the copied layer mask will be replaced with your new gradient selection. For my image here, I selected the area around the road for a more authentic look, and also increased the layer opacity to 60%. You can repeat these steps as many times as you want throughout your image depending on its complexity.
One final tip: The paint bucket in step 2 was used for this photo because I wanted a gradual mist across the entire image. If you have a more complicated landscape (such as a river flowing through your photo) and you want the mist to go along a certain path, do the following:
Instead of creating an entire fill layer, take a large soft white brush on a fresh layer and paint around the area you want your mist to appear. You can then continue with the rest of Step 2 and the tutorial, or use a combination of your layer opacity and a layer mask to make your mist appear more gradual.
Be sure to browse through our misty landscape collection for some inspiration and to also see how real mist moves throughout an image – they're great guides for your Photoshopping.
Read more great articles by Christopher O’Donnell at his blog or follow him on Facebook.