Using HDR Toning in Photoshop to Create a Fantasy Forest Scene

Using HDR Toning in Photoshop to Create a Fantasy Forest Scene

In this tutorial I’m going to show you my process for utilizing the HDR Toning feature of Photoshop CS5 in combination with a few lighting effects to create a fantasy forest scene.

Here’s a look at the before and after images.

Step 1

First off we need to find a good forest image to use as the base. After some searching I came across this image of a foggy forest with a tiny bit of light coming through the trees. That’s perfect that we can see the direction the light is coming from. It will help when placing the lighting effects later in the tutorial.

Open the forest image in Photoshop and load the HDR Toning dialog (Image | Adjust | HDR Toning).

Below is the image after applying the following settings.

This warmer tone, applied by the HDR Toning, will be the color treatment will us for the rest of the comp.

Step 2

Now lets apply some lighting as it peaks through the branches of the trees. I used a few brushes from the Ultimate Lighting Effects brush set here at WeGraphics. I chose a light yellow and applied the brushes to a new layer with a blending mode set to Overlay.

Step 3

To enhance the lighting a bit more we need to light the ground a bit. To do this use a large round soft white brush and apply the brush to the ground with a single click.

Now transform (Cmd+T) the soft white circle and flatten it vertically.

Now set the layer’s blend mode to Overlay, and repeat the step a few more times until the forest floor is well lit.

Step 4

Now lets add some rays of sunlight breaking through the leaves of the trees. To do this choose a small soft white brush, and while holding the shift key on your keyboard draw a straight line across the document on a new layer.

Now transform (Cmd+T) and rotate the line so that it appears diagonal from the top left corner.

Now set the layers blending mode to Overlay and reduce the opacity to 50%. Then repeat the step with several more lines. You may want to reduce the line weight for some and also use a soft eraser on portions so that it looks like some of the rays are going behind the tree trunks.

Step 5

Now I want to add a few lens flares at the top where the light is coming through the trees. I want these to be subtle and further enhance the lighting. I used the Bokeh Effect Brush Set here at WeGraphics to achieve the effect.

Step 6

For the final step I want to add 3 adjustment layers to help blend the effects. First up, lets add Black and White adjustment layer to reduce some of the saturation on the forest floor. Use a large soft brush to color the center portion of the layers mask to reveal the colors below the adjustment layer.

Now lets add a Gradient Fill adjustment layer to darken the edges. Use the following settings.

Now apply a gradient overlay layer style to the adjustment layer with the following settings.

For the last adjustment layer add a solid blue color fill (#2a3d83) and set the blend mode to Overlay and opacity to 50%. I added these to cool some of the warm tones in the image.

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Nathan Brown

Nathan Brown is a graphic designer who loves working with various media. He combines traditional art styles with a little experimentation and digital flare. Nathan's works have contained everything from ink and paint to leaves and a box of dirt. Everything is fare game when it comes to his approach to art. Nathan lives in Austin, Texas where he has been working as a designer for 10 years.


(+add yours)
  1. wow this is beautiful! great lighting effect! :)

  2. Michael

    This sucks , it is just a website to sell brushes..what a rip off for are just taking advantage of ppl to sell your shit brush paks

    • This is a pretty hateful comment for someone who is just dropping by on a free tutorial. I’m sure it wasn’t his intent to rip anyone off, there are free brush packs available all over the web (and a lot of them on this site). Plus, everyone needs to be paid somehow, do you think tutorial writers do this freely just for our benefit?

    • Kayla

      YOU could do what I did and create your own brush you don’t have to follow their directions exactly. IN Fact, I never do!

    • Falcon

      Some people are just stupid. Take the tutorial as it is and if you don’t want to pay for brushes then don’t.

      • Ash

        Falcon.. what can we do reduce hate???

      • Ash

        People like Micheal are out there .. and will discourage blogs and so much useful information out in the web.

  3. great color tone… like it very much.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  5. sanyou

    hei buddy, love this tutorial so much, i hope you share how to make a simpler brush like you have there,,, thank you

  6. Easy to follow, thanks :D

  7. Jess

    Doesnt work :(

    I got CS6 and in hdr toning I apply all the same numbers as this tutorial but dont get that curve so the photo doesnt look the same after as it does here..

    Pls HELP!


  8. Andreea

    u don’t have to buy the brush, u can make it on your own…in fact is in photoshop brushes

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