What makes things look further away? Atmospheric haze. Basically the further away something is the more atmosphere there is between the viewer and the object. This haze makes the distant object look duller and it also gives the object the tint of the atmosphere – on a sunny afternoon this would be a blue tint. This illusion of distance is one of the most important things to master if you want to make your digital landscape paintings more believable.

This is also referred to as Atmospheric Perspective.

So you have two mountains on a sunny day to paint, and you want to make one look further away than the other. All you have to do to give the illusion of added distance is make one of the mountains much bluer than the other….

Easy right?

Yes and no. The main problem is colour mixing, because your object is taking on the atmosphere’s colour, the highlights, shadows and hues all change. Secondly the values don’t all change in the same way. Objects that you are used to painting like trees and green fields suddenly become purple and turquoise.

Take a look at this photo from New Zealand.

In this photo we have 3 levels of distance I’m guessing the furthest mountain is 5-10 miles away, I could be way off. Regardless of the exact distance you can clearly see the transition in colour from dark green to blue. You can also see that the darkest tones are to be found in the foreground. The transition is very abrupt in this photo because the ground between the mountain is not visible.

You will notice that snow lit by the sun is still incredibly bright and not overly blue. Bright colours appear to be less effected by the atmosphere (in this example any way). Typically, the further away something gets the lighter it becomes too, so the shadows become lighter.

If I take the colours sampled from the image above I can create a very simple painting.

Despite being extremely rushed and very simple you will notice that the overall colour and mood of the painting is believable. Despite only using 10 colours with zero blending the tone of the image is “good enough”. You might need to take a few steps back though, its not pretty up close.

If only it was as simple as adding blue, sadly the problem is the sky isn’t always blue. At sunset the light turns much warmer so a big blue mountain will look very out of place. The haze can also change greatly based on the weather conditions, sometimes you can see clearly for miles and sometimes you can’t see more than a few hundred feet.

Not a lot of Blue Haze here.

Even though the above photo from sunset features practically zero blue tones you can still see a clear transition from dark to light.

The haze effect also saps the detail from distant objects. If you look at a photograph of a very distant mountain you will typically see little more than the white snow and a handful of bluey purple tints. This is a good thing though because you don’t need to waste your time adding lots of detail to very distant objects, sometimes a few brush strokes with the right colour can look like a vast mountain range.

The best way to practice this is to simply analyse landscape photographs, take a look at the colours and observe how they change. Try sampling the colours the same way I have and align them in orders of distance not value. Then take these colours and take a stab at making a quick landscape, try working from background to foreground at first.

You don’t need to sample hundreds of colours to get a useful range to practice with.

Points to remember

At distance:

  • Things take on the colour of the atmosphere or the sky
  • Dark tones are lost
  • Contrast is reduced
  • Detail is reduced

If you only remember one thing just remember, all landscapes blend into the sky… And winter is coming.

Related Articles:

Digital Landscape Painting for Beginners – Photoshop
Digital Landscape Painting for Beginners – Krita


Works part-time as a Graphic Designer and Website Designer. Studied Animation and has been using and learning design software for over 15 years.