How to Make Trees in Photoshop

Here's how to make realistic looking trees in Photoshop

Photoshop is so rich and feature-laden that you can sometimes miss cool features. The Tree filter is one of those. Photoshop CC introduced the filter to the Filter menu, which is super handy to use when you're creating or working with landscaping.

How to Create a Tree in Photoshop

  1. Create a new Photoshop document and add a Layer named Tree. This ensures you can manipulate your tree once it is created.

    New layer named Tree in Photoshop
  2. With the Tree layer selected, choose Filters > Render >Tree to open the Tree Filter Dialog box.

    Photoshop Filter menu with Render and Tree selected
  3. When it opens, the Tree filter dialog box can be intimidating, but you'll need to make selections in most areas. Here's what you see in the dialog box:

    • Base Tree Type: This selection lists 34 tree types you can choose from. Each item contains a small image of the tree. Choose Oak Tree
    • Light Direction: This slider sets the direction, in degrees, of the light hitting the tree.
    • Leaves Amount: You can go for a winter look with 0 leaves or to full bushiness by setting the value to 100. The default is 70.
    • Leaves Size: This slider lets you go from buds at 0 to full summer foliage at 200 by moving the slider or entering a value. This example uses 100.
    • Branches Height: This slider determines how far up the tree trunk the branches start. A value of 70 starts the branches close to the ground and a maximum of 300 puts them at the crown of the tree. This example uses the value of 124.
    • Branches Thickness: This slider lets you have some fun. A value of 0 results in a tree with no trunk and the maximum value of 200 results in a rather stately old oak. This example uses a value of 150.
    • Default Leaves: Deselect this to create a custom tree using one of the 16 Leaf Types in a pop-up menu.
    The basic tree filter options in Photoshop.
  4. When you are happy with your choices, select OK.

How to Manipulate Your Photoshop Tree

Now that you have a tree, what next? If your plan is to create a grove or even forest of trees, your next step is to convert your tree to a Smart Object.

Smart Objects allow for nondestructive editing in Photoshop. For example, if you were to scale your tree down, accept the change and then scale the object up to a slightly larger size, your tree will sprout jagged pixels and turn fuzzy because all you did was to make the pixels larger. Here’s how to turn the tree into a Smart Object:

  1. Open the Layers panel and right click on your Tree layer and select Convert To Smart Object in the resulting context menu.

    When you do that your layer now sports a small Smart Object icon in the thumbnail. If you double click on that icon the Tree opens in a separate document with the .psb extension. This is the Smart Object.

    Photoshop showing Convert to Smart Option in menu

    If you opened the Smart Object, close the .psb file to return to the main .psd file. 

  2. Scale, duplicate, and move your tree(s) around.

    A duplicated tree smart object in Photoshop.

How to Create Autumn Foliage Using the Photoshop Tree Filter

When you think about it, creating autumn foliage is much like autumn itself, the leaves change color. This example uses a maple tree.

  1. Create a new tree filter by going to Filters > Render >Tree to open the Tree Filter Dialog box.

    Adobe Filters menu with Render and Tree highlighted
  2. Under the Basic tab of the Tree filter dialogue, select your desired settings for the base tree.

    Base tab of tree filter dialogue in Photoshop
  3. Select the Advanced tab of the Tree filter dialogue.

    The Advanced tab of the Tree filter dialogue
  4. Select Use Custom Color for Leaves.

    The Tree Filter dialogue Advanced tab with Use Custom Color for Leaves selected
  5. Under Use Custom Color for Leaves, select the colored box next to Custom Color for Leaves to activate the color palette.

    Color box next to Custom Color for Leaves
  6. Select a fall foliage color such as orange and select OK.

    If you are a purist, open an image containing trees sporting their fall foliage and sample a color that catches your attention instead.

    Color selection for Tree Filter
  7. Enjoy your fall colored tree.

    Changing the tree color to orange in Photoshop.