Give your studio project renderings a sense of place. This Photoshop tutorial will show you ways to add realistic context to architectural visualizations.

The trick to context is having a balance of background, midground, and foreground elements in your rendering. The environment you create should always match the mood you are going for as well.


Recommended Use: We recommend learning this whenever you begin making graphical presentations of your architecture projects such as presentation boards.

Photoshop Difficulty: Medium. You should know the basic tools in photoshop.


Steps to Adding Context:

1. Start with your base image exported from your program of choice. This was rendered with Podium straight out of SketchUp with materials already on it. Many programs can do this as well.

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2. Find a Suitable Background. For this project, a tree line was just what I needed. You may want a city-scape or neighboring buildings. It just depends on your setting. I took the tree line and duplicated it one time, merged the two layers, then applied and clipped a “Brightness/Contrast” adjustment layer to brighten up the trees, just as it would be at the site. Reference the layers panel on the right of the image.

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3. Place foreground elements. I used horsetail as a vegetation element in my project. I found this image in Google and removed the background. No need to be perfect, it will be small enough not to notice the imperfections. I placed the horsetail in three locations and named them accordingly. In order to do this, I used the transform tool to put the elements in perspective. A more subtle move I made was placing “Brightness/ Contrast” adjustment layers to brighten up the left and right segments of horsetail.

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4. Fix noticeable imperfections. This was a mishap in the Podium rendering from Sketchup. Nothing the “Clone Tool” can’t fix.

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5a. Add midground elements. You can take this opportunity to add activity or events in the background. These tensile structures were cut out and colored in photoshop from various pictures around the internet. Even though they are chopped off, they fit perfectly when applied to the file.

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5b. Add more midground elements. Think about what objects will reference the area accurately. This project is in the Blackham Coliseum area of Lafayette, LA. What better way to show context than to add a picture of the Coliseum. I simply cut it out of a photo I had with the “Polygonal Lasso Tool”

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6. Match the mood with your sky. I usually add a sky about 80% through a rendering. You want to get a feel for how the elements are going to be laid out to see what sky will work for you. I grabbed a sky which wasn’t too distracting to the eye. To reduce the distraction from the sky even more, I placed a “Hue/ Saturation” adjustment layer and lowered the saturation of blue color. Check out this excellent tutorial on choosing the best sky for your rendering.

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6. Add grass for realism. Find a grass texture on Google and multiply as needed. If you are doing a site plan find a top-down view of grass. If in a perspective such as this, find a perspective of grass to match the scene. Check out this tutorial on to learn how to apply grass textures.

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7. Add details such as people and lowlights (shadows). Find cut out people (you should be making your own library collected from the internet). Check out this website for cut out people. I put people in the midground and background. I didn’t but any in the foreground because I felt it would have been too distracting in the center (which is the only place people would be walking. Use people who match the mood of the rendering. This is a student union so they are sitting down relaxing or walking to the tensile structures where the activity is. But notice there is an overcast in this setting so notice shadows I applied were soft. Shadows were done with a soft brush set to a black color on low opacity.

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8. Add a color overlay to seamlessly even out various color tones. This is one of the last things I do, after all of my elements are in the rendering. Check out this tutorial on Visualizing Architecture to see how to do quick color overlays. I put a warm color overlay in this case.

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9. A final touch: HDR Effects. The HDR tool is only available in the latest versions of Photoshop. If you do have the HDR tool, check out this tutorial by Visualizing Architecture on applying HDR effects. HDR lets you intensify color, glow, and detail like no one’s business.

What Goes into A Rendering Cover