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.
Double click this layer to open blending options window and use the following settings to create a glow and an inner shadow.
Create a new layer and paint with black a thin iris inside the eye.
Let’s change the color of the eye. Group the iris and the eye layers (select them both Shift-clicking and press Ctrl + G) and change the blending mode of the group to Normal. Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and put it inside the eye group. Because the blending mode of the group is set to Normal and not to Pass Through whatever adjustment layers we put inside will only affect the group.
Let’s improve the color of the teeth. Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Overlay. Paint with a 30% round soft brush with white over the teeth.
Make another layer and set the blending mode to Overlay. With the same white brush paint over the fang-like extremities of the dragon.
Import the bubbles brush and on a new layer paint some bubbles rising from deep below and some rising from the nostrils of the dragon.
Open the file “Rock” and make a selection of the rocky island. Copy/paste inside our document and place it as shown below.
Add a layer mask to the rock layer and hide the bottom region as I did in the image below.
Create a new Curves Adjustment Layer and drag the curve down to darken. Clip this layer to the rock layer.
Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and drag the Saturation slider to 25 and the Hue slider to 182. Clip this layer to the rock layer to make the rock blend with our overall hues.
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Overlay. Clip this layer to the rock layer and paint with black over the left side of the rock. Now change the color to white and paint over the right side of the rock. By doing this we will match the rock’s color with the overall lightning.
Because the rock is submerged in the water there should be some light waves crushing into the rock. Make a new layer and choose the standard Chalk brush. Lower the opacity to 10% and paint with white some loose lines around the rock where it enters the water.
Open the file “Guy”. Use the Pen Tool (P) to create a path around the guy and press Ctrl + Enter to convert that path into a selection. Copy (Ctrl +C) and paste in our document. Don’t forget to convert to a smart object! Place the guy on the rock as indicated below.
Create a new layer and place it underneath the guy layer. Paint with a black brush some shadow falling from the guy on the rock.
Create a new Curves Adjustment Layer and clip it to the guy layer. Use the settings shown below to darken – our guy was way too bright for our scene.
Create another Curves Adjustment Layer and clip it to the guy. Use the settings shown below to increase the contrast and further darken our character.
Open the file “Island” and select all. Copy paste the island in our scene and place it as shown below. Use a layer mask to partially hide (by painting with a dark gray in the layer mask) the bottom.
The island is too bright for this scene. Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and lower the saturation to -52. Clip the adjustment layer to the island.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and also clip it to the island. Slightly lower the red curve down and the blue curve up to increase the bluish hue in the island.
Open the file “Palm”. Copy/paste the palm in our scene and place the palm on the island. Create a new layer and place it underneath the palm – paint a very subtle dark shadow (from left to right).
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and clip it to the palm layer. Use the settings shown below to boost the green colors in the palm.
The colors of the palm are too strong – create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and clip it to the palm. Lower the Saturation slider to -46.
The trunk of the palm seems to light – let’s darken it. Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and use the settings shown below to dramatically darken. Clip this layer to the palm layer and fill the layer mask with black (Shift + F5). Paint with white in the layer mask of the curves over the trunk to reveal the darkening effect only there.
Select all the palm layers and group them. Click on the group to make it active and duplicate it by pressing Ctrl + J. Right click on the duplicate group and from the drop down menu choose “Rasterize Layer”. This will convert the group into a pixel layer. Use free transform to position the rasterized palm layer as shown below.
Create a new layer and paint some waves crashing into the island.
Let’s add another suspense element in our scene – a diver that stumbles upon the mighty underwater beast. Open the file “Diver” and use the Pen Tool to make a selection of the diver. Copy/paste in our scene and position him as shown below. Lower the opacity of the layer to 31%.
Create a new layer and set the blending mode to Overlay. Use a round soft brush to paint with white some light coming from the diver’s direction (we assume he has a lantern on his head).
Open the file “Boat”. Copy/paste the boat into our scene and place it near the island.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and clip it to the boat layer. Use the settings shown below to lower the brightness of the boat.
Create a new layer and use the standard chalk brush to paint a rope connecting the boat to the island.
The boat (like the island and the rock) is submerged in the water. Draw some loose white lines where it makes contact with the water to simulate the waves crashing into it.
Open the file “Girl”. Make a selection of the girl with the Pen Tool and copy/paste her in our scene. Place the girl just above the dragon’s mouth. Use a layer mask to partially hide the bottom region of the girl where it is submerged underwater.
Choose the Bubble brush and paint some subtle bubbles around her leg. Select the standard chalk brush (at 20% Opacity) and paint some splashes around her.
Open the file “Hand”. Make a selection of the hand with the Pen Tool and copy/paste in our scene. Move this layer below the girl layer and position it as shown below.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and clip it to the hand layer. Drag the curve down to darken.
Make a new layer and set the blending mode to Overlay. Clip it to the hand layer and paint with a white brush at 10% opacity over the tip of the hand and with black over the base of the hand to set some basic lighting.
Group all the hand layers together and duplicate the group (Ctrl + J). Put the group above the girl layer in the layer palette and position it as shown below. Add a layer mask and hide partially the base of the hand.
It’s time to add the final effects to our scene. Create a new layer and fill it with a light blue color (#377672). Change the blending mode to Soft Light and use a layer mask to restrict the effect only to the underwater region of the scene.
Create a Color Balance Adjustment Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance) and use the settings shown below to add some warm colors.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and drag the curve down to darken. Fill the layer mask with black and paint with white only over the upper region of the sky to reveal the effect there.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and use the settings shown below to boost the green colors. Select the Gradient Tool (G) and shift-drag in the layer mask (from top to bottom) to gradually hide the green effect from the sky.
Press Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E to create a layer from all the visible layers. Apply a 15px Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and change the blending mode of this layer to Soft Light. Lower the opacity to 15%. You can see we slightly increase the contrast and achieve a somewhat dreamy effect.
Press Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E again to create another layer from all the visible layers but this time apply a sharpening effect (Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask).
This scene look quite good already but the colors are still a bit desaturated. Create a new Photo Filter Adjustment Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter) and use the settings shown below to boost the colors and unify them at the same time.
Create a new Gradient Map Adjustment Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map) and use the settings shown below. Change the blending mode to Soft Light and lower the opacity to 37%. As you can see the contrast is slightly increase and we have some new warm colors.
Create a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer and increase the Brightness slider to 110. Use the Gradient Tool again in the layer mask to restrict the effect only to the lower region of the scene. By doing so we will put the focus on our underwater dragon.