Some questions on 2D artwork and compositing

Hi
I hope this is a suitable forum for these questions.
I would like to create some ambient scenes and upload them to YouTube. I am new to this so have some novice questions that would be great if you could answer.

An example of what I would like to create is an image of a mountain-range background with trees and a log cabin in the foreground, along with a river and camp fire.
I would then like to add some composition to the image with the camp fire flickering and the river shimmering. I would like to add some background wind noise to add to the ambience mood.

This is completely new to me and so all will be a learning curve. Before I set off and learn these tools and techniques, I would like to make sure I am learning the most suitable tools.

Having read some into what I need, I believe I only need to focus on these tools:

  1. A photo-editing software to layer the multiple images. I foresee having a mountain-range image, then to bring in another image of trees, and then river image, then the log cabin, and finally the top layer will be a camp fire. So here we have multiple images layered to create a desired scene.
  2. A composition software to import the completed scene and then to add a shimmering effect on the river and a flickering effect on the camp fire.

I’m unsure on which is the most suitable software. The images I’ll use may be photos I’ve taken with my phone camera or 2D/3D assets that free to download and use. I’ve read that Adobe Photoshop and After Effects will do the job just fine but… the subscription fee is off-putting. Shame as I am understand all Adobe software work well with each other. Also, I would prefer to use ‘Layer’ based software rather than ‘Node’ based software - which I understand Abode is all Layer based.
Also, I am using this software as a hobbyist and therefore do not need to ensure other professionals can use my creation - I just to be able to upload it to YouTube.

Questions:

  1. I have a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2022 - is this software capable for all the photo-editing I need to do? (I also have Adobe Premiere Elements 2022 but I don’t expect I need this)
  2. Is there an alternative software that is either free or less in cost, that is capable of what I need to do? Preferably something that doesn’t have a steep learning curve as my use will be basic. I have read that PhotoPea , GIMP , and Affinity Pro are alternative software, if Elements isn’t suitable then maybe I could one of these.
  3. Is the full version of PhotoShop downloadable or is it cloud-based (i.e. that you use through a browser only)?
  4. I hear After Effects is perfect for my compositing needs and it’s Layer based, however it’s expensive. Are there any ‘Layer’ based compositing software that’s suitable, free or costs little, and that can utilise/interact with the suggested photo-editing software?
  5. Is After Effects downloadable or is it cloud-based (i.e. that you use through a browser only)?
  6. Software to add sound effects (i.e. rain or flowing water) and then to package it up for uploading to YouTube?

What is the minimum hardware requirement for all suggested software? I have read the minimum requirements for Adobe software but running the software and having a smooth experience can be two different things.
7a) My current laptop is an i7-7500U, 16Gb DDR3, AMD Radeon R7 M440 2Gb - is this suitable?
7b) Would a i5-11400H , 16Gb DDR4, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 4Gb GDDR6 be better suited?
7c) Would a i7-8850H, 32Gb, NVIDIA GP107GLM (Quadro P1000 Mobile) be better?
I would expect if I was to create 3D gaming or videos then a powerful laptop is a must but for my simpler needs it would be interesting to know in which order is the higher priority - the CPU, RAM or GPU?

If you able to provide me the requested guidance, it will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.