In this tutorial we will create an underwater scene with various elements and an overall mysterious atmosphere. We’ll use most of the Photoshop power tools: layers masks, adjustment layers, Smart Objects and more. It helps if you’re an intermediate user but beginners will also be able to follow this tut and learn about various precious techniques. Let’s begin!
This is a classic underwater-above water Photoshop manipulation with a monsters lurking in the mysterious depths while unaware characters swim above. One personal touch is the scene’s deep green hue – it further increases the poisonous-strange underwater monster looks. You will need Photoshop CS3 or newer to follow this tutorial.
- Water Background – monika-es-stock
- Moon – monika-es-stock
- Fish – darkadathea
- Dragon – elevit-stock
- Bubble Brush – millertimemsu
- Rock – whynotastock
- Guy – ailinstock
- Island – mindsqueeze
- Palm – digitaltwist
- Diver – zeds-stock
- Boat – jinxmim
- Girl – twilitesmuse
- Hand – isostock
- Light Brush – redheadstock
- Moon – Pixabay
Create a new document (Ctrl +N) 1500×1823 pixels. Save this file somewhere on your computer (Ctrl + S).
Open the file “Underwater” in Photoshop. Select all (Ctrl + A) and copy (Ctrl + C). Go back to our newly created document and paste (Ctrl +V). Convert the pasted layer into a smart object (smart objects allow us to resize and modify layers without any permanent loss of information) by right-clicking the layer and choosing “Convert To Smart Object” from the drop down menu. Convert all the layers you paste in this document from other sources into smart objects – it is good practice.
Press Ctrl + T to enter Free Transform and position the underwater layer as shown below. You can hold Shift while dragging the handles of Free Transform to resize the layer proportionally.
Create a new Curves Adjustment Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) and use the settings shown below to make our scene dark and mysterious.
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Overlay. Select the standard round soft brush and lower the size to 3px. Set the Opacity to 10% and paint some squiggly lines where the surface of the water meets the underwater. If the effect is not enough create another layer and set the blending mode to Color Dodge – paint the same squiggly lines.
Open the file “Moon”. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool to select the moon. Press Q to enter Quick Mask mode and paint with black over the lower part of the moon to deselect it. Press Q again and copy the selection (Ctrl +C). Paste the moon in our scene and place it as shown below. Change the blending mode to Linear Dodge and lower the Fill to 33%.
Create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + Alt + N) and fill it with black (Shift + F5). Add some Gaussian noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise).
Add some 2px of Gaussian blur to the noise layer.
Apply a curves adjustment to the noise layer and use the settings shown below to create a dark background with specks of white.
Change the blending mode of the noise layer to Color Dodge and lower the Opacity to 52%. As you can see only the specks of light are visible now (the dark color has disappeared thanks to the magic of the blending modes)
Add a layer mask to the noise layer (Layer > New Layer Mask > Reveal All). Select the standard round soft brush and paint with black in the layer mask on the lower regions of our scene to hide them. As you (should) know in a layer mask black hides everything while white reveals. Name this layer “Stars”.
Duplicate the “Stars” layer (Ctrl + J) and name it “Debris”. Fill the layer mask with black (click on the layer mask and press Shift + F5). Select the standard round soft brush and paint with white (in the layer mask) on the underwater regions of our scene to reveal the specks of white. Change the blending mode of this layer to Screen.
When taking a picture underwater there are blurred particles that appear in front of the camera. Let’s replicate that effect. Duplicate the “Debris” layer and apply a 30px Gaussian blur to the layer, not the mask.
As we go deeper underwater the light gets dimmer and dimmer. Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Overlay. With the round soft brush at 20% opacity paint with black on the bottom of our scene.
Import the light brush (double click on the .abr file). Create a couple of new layers and set their blending modes to Overlay or Soft Light (a weaker version of Overlay). Choose some light brushes from the Brush Presets window (Window > Brush Presets) and create some light rays underwater. Lower the opacity of the layers to 30-40% and use layer masks to hide the light that is visible above the surface.
Let’s create a sun rising above the horizon. First let’s create the background light emerging from the sun. I used a couple of layers set to different blending modes (Color Dodge, Overlay) with a red and a white brush at 20% Opacity to achieve the effect shown below.
Create a new layer and choose the standard round soft brush. Lower the size to 20 px and the opacity to 40%. Click a couple of times in the area indicated below to create the hot center of the sun.
On a new layer set to Overlay paint with a light yellow over the surface of the water in front of the sun. This represents the reflection the sun casts over water.
Naturally the sun should also affect the upper regions of underwater. Sample a color from the underwater section of our scene (a light blue) and paint with the round soft brush at 10% opacity in the area indicated below.
No scene is complete without a lens flare so let’s make one. Create a new layer and fill it with black (Shift + F5). Go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare and select 105mm Prime.
Change the blending mode of the lens flare layer to Screen to hide the black color and reveal only the lens flare. Add a layer mask and hide the bright portions leaving only the bottom of the flare.
The background is done, now it’s time to add the actors in our scene. Let’ start with the usual inhabitants of seas – fish. Open the file “Fish” and make a selection of a fish you like (using the Polygonal Lasso Tool – T). Copy/paste the fish in our scene (and don’t forget to convert into a smart object) and place a fish underwater. Lower the opacity of the fish layer to 13%. Repeat this step 5 or 6 more times but choose different fish and place them at various positions underwater.
Select all the fish layers (hold the Shift key while clicking on each of them) and press Ctrl + G to group. Change the blending mode of the group to Normal and create a Curves Adjustment Layer inside the group (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color) with the settings shown below to darken the fish.
Now let’s add our aquatic monster. Open the file “Dragon” and press copy/paste the dragon in our scene. Place the dragon underwater as shown below and lower the opacity of the layer to 34%.
Add a layer mask to the dragon layer and hide the lower regions to add more to immersity.
Create a new layer and set the blending mode to Overlay. Paint with a round soft brush at 20% Opacity with black and white over the dragon to both darken the already dark areas and lighten the light areas. Clip this layer to the dragon layer (Alt-click between the two layers in the layers palette) to restrict our overlay painting flow outside the dragon.
Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation) and clip it to the dragon layer. Drag the Hue slider to 133 and the Saturation slider to 25.
Make a new layer and set the blending mode to Color Dodge. Paint with a white round soft brush some specular highlights on the areas indicated below.
On a new layer set to Color Dodge paint with a light blue (#377672) over the dragon’s head to boost the luminosity.
Create a new layer and paint with whatever color you like inside the dragon’s eye.