Water: The source of life – Dust bowl

For my second background/hero image I wanted to represent the opposite end of the effects of climate change and make an image that showed an arid, waterless environment. Additionally I wanted to mimic the perspective view from the Tsunami scene to provide a link between the two images. As with the Tsunami image finding initial images of the right perspective and size took some time but eventually I came up with these images from a ghost town in Africa.


I flipped the horizontal on one image, used a layer mask and low opacity brush in quick mask to blend the sandy floor together and used selections made with the pen tool to remove the sky. To provide some drama similar to a blooming great wave storming down a street I decided to go with the mother of all dust devils ripping up the horizon and blowing sand and dust all over the place. For this I managed to find several images of dust devils taken by revellers at the Burning man festival in Nevada. The selection of these and their fine edges using quick selection tool and refine edges took quite a long time and proved to be quite fiddly as it was very easy to make the thing just look like a big solid tube. At the same time I experimented with different skies, trying to find one that would represent a dry arid location, but with enough cloud cover to give the effect of a storm. The foreground buildings here kicked up a bit of a problem as they are starkly lit from above without much shadow, and therefore looked odd with anything other than a pretty open bright sky.


With a sky chosen I then layered the two dust devils on top of each other and used quick masks edited with very opacity brushes to blend the two together and into the sky layer. This involved a lot of tweaking and experimentation, eventually I decided to try and use the lighter white dust devil to sort of represent highlights on one side of the tornado and sort of brushed through the mask with a diagonal motion to provide some movement. I also sourced some images of dust (again thanks to Burning man) and made selections of just the dust. These I used kind of in the same way as my solid shadow layers in the previous Tsunami image to tie various layers together and provide some atmospheric perspective to the image. It sort of worked, perhaps it makes everything a little flat. I also tried to find some skyscrapers to make the image look a bit more like a ruined metropolis and not just a small road in the middle of nowhere. This turned out to be extremely difficult, the lighting on the small buildings meant that a lot of source images with strong shadows were difficult to use, also the perspective meant that a lot of buildings just seemed unnatural and like they were just plonked on top of the houses. Eventually I found one that seemed to look as if it was situated perhaps one block back and also matched the sand blasted colour of the houses.

I  made a selection using the pen tool and dropped this in using a layer mask and small soft brush to soften the edges a little. Then I used the dust layer to give it some atmospheric perspective and indicate some actual dust blowing around in front of it from the tornado. I also gave it a slight levels adjustment to reduce the contrast a little. With all that in place the image looked like this.

The big problem here I though was that the whole image is basically the same tone and colour (which I guess it would be if everything was coated in dust but it doesn’t look too great) It still also kind of looks like a street with a building plonked behind it. So next I tried to get some more buildings in to give scale and perhaps some colour. I found this image from Dubai I think it was.

Which I chopped up into two segments, selected out the sky and positioned on the left to sort of balance out the composition. The blue building especially gave some tonal difference that made everything a bit nicer so I decided to put the centrally and have it be just about to be attacked by the tornado, which immediately made the thing look absolutely massive and threatening.  

To make the building look as though it was being swallowed up a bit I used a layer mask on the building and cut away using a scattered brush on low opacity and also some use of the clone stamp to take bits of the tornado and make it look as if there were dust trails coming off elements of the structure. I also broke the radio mast on top. Then I took a one pixel brush and using colours sourced from the building drew in some debris flying off to suggest a bit more movement and wind.

After these bits were in place I started giving the impression of damage and decay to the buildings using a similar technique to that used in the previous image, masking out sections, dropping in sections of damaged buildings behind then masking the edges further to represent sections that were completely missing. 

A big part of this was masking the edges to keep various structural elements intact and follow the perspective of blocks of masonry etc. I also used the free transform tool to try and match perspective on certain sections. For the house in the foreground I had to find an image from roughly the same perspective, and use the clone stamp tool to give depth to walls and floors that were cut away.

After the usual adjustments to levels were made and with a photo filter on to along with the dust layer both sections ended up looking like this.


Finally I needed to add some foreground detail and the text. As the last scene was perhaps a little cluttered I had deliberately left some space down in the foreground for the titles. At the end of this I added a sign free transformed to match the perspective and masked out along the edges to make it look buried. I then added some foliage to further hide the join. For the text I re-tried the disaster movie perspective idea from the tsunami image but changed the clipping mask image to a dry cracked mud surface.

I also added some stippled burning to the buildings to suggest fire damage or rust, then I added a masked dust layer to the text to make it seem like the foreground dust was swirling in between the letters. The end result seemed to work ok but the text was just too massive and covered a lot of the interesting elements of the image. So I tried again with the smaller flat text using the antique map images as texture.

I also reproduced the selection of the text and gave it a stroke in white of one pixel, and then offset this a little up and to the left to make a sort of makeshift highlight. And copied a layer and moved it down and to the right to suggest a kind of low key bevel effect. A dust layer was masked off in front of the text to try and tie the whole thing together. I guess I’m quite happy with the way this turned out, the image still hasnt quite got away from looking like a street with bits plonked behind it and the perspective is a little wonkly on the skyscraper still but I think there’s probably enough going on to distract from that a bit. Both the images I suppose would not be suitable for backgrounds as you’d lose a lot of the content but for high impact hero images to draw people in I think they might work quite well.


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