Photoshop Tutorial – How to Create a Floating Island Scene Similar to James Cameron’s Avatar

In this photo manipulation tutorial, you will learn how to create a realistic composition of a sunset in a world with floating islands! We will cover professional-level Photoshop tricks such as adding accurate shadows and highlights, various blending techniques such as giving the image a soft focus effect and altering luminosity and shadows of the scene, adding haziness, and much more!


Preview of Final Results

Floating Islands

Step 1 – Create a new file

Create a new file The image that we would be creating may be used as a high-resolution desktop wallpaper thus the following settings to begin with:

  • Width: 1800px
  • Height: 1500px
  • Resolution: 300 dpi
  • Color Mode: RGB Color; 8bit
  • Background Contents: Transparent

Step 2 – Create the scenery

To begin, let’s open “River Stock 3”. Use your Move tool (V) and drag it to our canvas, with the image in place, activate your Transform tool by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + T and rotate the image.


The sky of our present image doesn’t look that good, so we have to change it. Open “Field of dreams”, then select its sky using the Marquee tool (M) and drag the selected region to our canvas using the Move Tool (V). Once it is on our canvas, transform the image by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + T. Flip the image horizontally once the transform menu pops up and rotate that selected sky.


We would need to erase the unwanted parts of our sky to bring out the mountains. Activate the Eraser tool (E) and use the following option values:

  • Brush size: 300px
  • Hardness: 0%
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Flow: 100%

Note: The brush hardness can be activated by pressing the drop-down menu on the Brush size tab.


Now that you have your Eraser tool ready, we can now erase parts of the sky that covers our mountains.


We will be increasing the hazy effect on the mountains. Create a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N) then name that layer “hazy”, you may rename it by double clicking on the word “layer” and typing a new name for it. Activate your Brush tool (B) and enter these values:

  • Brush size: 175px
  • Hardness: 0%
  • Opacity: 15%
  • Flow: 100%

Use the Brush Tool on the region indicated by the image below.


We would need to darken a small part of the sky to make the sky look a bit more dramatic. Create a new layer and name it “Darken” then activate your brush tool and use the same Brush values above.


Step 3 – Add the floating islands

In this step, we will be adding the floating islands. Open “James Bond island 1.2” and drag it to our canvas. We would need to resize this image due to its size. Activate your Transform tool (Ctrl/Cmd + T) to resize and to rotate the image.


Now that the first floating island is in place, we would need to separate it from its background. Activate your Magic Wand (W) tool and select the regions you want removed and after selecting those just press delete. Notice that the Magic Wand tool doesn’t totally remove all those unwanted areas, so we would have to erase it manually. Activate your Eraser tool (E) and erase the areas that have not been removed. For more accuracy, I suggest you increase the zoom to 400%. You can do that by going to the Navigator window and increasing the Zoom slider or the Zoom level. Erase those areas and come up with an image similar to the one below:

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