Get ready to create an epic battle between a sea creature and a courageous pirate girl. I will share you various tips and techniques that will hopefully improve your current workflow. In this tutorial I will make extensive use of layers, masks, Smart Objects and other basic Photoshop tools so if you’re not familiar with them I recommend you read my article.
In order to follow this tutorial you will need Photoshop CS3 or newer.
First of all go ahead and download and import the brushes used in this tutorial so you won’t have to do it later. You can also download the rest of the images used as resources to have them ready when needed.
Create a new document (Ctrl + N) with 2000 x 1500px size and click ok.
Open the image “Sky”. Select all by pressing Ctrl + A and copy by pressing Ctrl + C. Go back to our newly created document and press Ctrl + V to paste. Convert this layer as well as all the future pasted images from other documents into a smart object (right click the layer and from the drop down menu choose Convert To Smart Object).
Use Free Transform (Ctrl + T) to position the sky as shown below.
Open the image “Underwater”. Select all and copy/paste in our document. Place this layer as shown below with Free Transform. This will serve as a basis for the underwater portion of our scene.
Hopefully you are already familiar with layer masks so I won’t go into much detail about how to create one. Create a layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All) and use the Gradient Tool (G) to fill the upper portion of the underwater layer with black. Using the Gradient Tool instead of the Rectangular Marquee will grant us a smooth and seamless masking effect.
Open the image mill. Use the Pen Tool (P) to make a selection of the mill and copy/paste in our document. Place the mill as indicated below.
As you can see we are starting to place various objects in our scene to make this work visually.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) and drag the curve down to darken. As you can see it darkens the whole scene but we want the darkening effect to restrict only to the mill. In order to do that simply Alt-click between the curves layer and the mill layer. This operation is called clipping a layer to another – it will restrict all the effects of a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to the clipped layer (the layer below). You can have an unlimited number of upper clipped layers that will be visible/restricted through a single layer below.
Open the image “Sea”. Make a selection of the sea surface with the Rectangular Marquee Tool and copy/paste into our scene. Add a layer mask and use the standard soft round brush to paint with black in the layer mask the horizon and the lower hard edge of the sea surface. Don’t forget about converting it to a smart object too.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer like shown below and clip it to the water surface layer. Drag the blue curve up and red curve down to color the water surface blue.
Often when importing objects they will look out of place because they have a different hue than the rest of the scene. When this happens you should color correct the imported object to fit with the rest of the scene by using a Curves Adjustment Layer or a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer. There are no fixed recipes for this – the knowledge comes from lots of experience.
In our case the water surface has a warm hue (yellow/red) while our scene has a more cold one (blue/cyan). By dragging the red curve down in the Curves Adjustment Layer I lowered the amount of red. Dragging the blue and green curve up increased the amount of blue/magenta thus making the surface blend nicely with the rest of the scene.
Create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + Alt + N) and use one of the imported splash brushes to create some waves where the water surface meets the underwater. Use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase unwanted splash. Apply a subtle Color Overlay effect to blend it better with the water.
You can apply Shadows, Color Overlay and lots of other effects by double clicking a layer and opening the Blending Options screen. When working with smart objects double clicking will open the smart object in another window so don’t that – instead right click the smart object and from the drop down menu choose Blending Options.
Create a new layer and with the standard chalk brush at 40% opacity paint a piece of distand land as shown below and place this layer below the water surface layer. Here’s how your layer palette should look like.
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Multiply. Choose the round soft brush at 20% Opacity and paint with black on the water surface as indicated below. This will be the shadow of the sea creature. The reason I’m doing this now instead of doing it after I place the creature is because you’ll probably have a hard way finding your way through countless layer and putting this layer where it should be.
Create a new layer and fill it with a deep blue color sampled from the sky(#060733). Change the blending mode to Linear Dodge.
Photoshop has a foreground and a background color. If you press Alt + Backspace you will fill the selected layer with the foreground and pressing Ctrl + Backspace will fill the layer with the background color. Also pressing D will set the foreground color to black and background to white. So if you wanted to quickly fill a layer with black or white you would select the layer, press D and then press Alt + Backspace or Ctrl + Backspace.
Create a new layer. Select a bubble brush and lower the Opacity to 10-20%. Paint some bubbles on the underwater portion of our scene. Use a layer mask to hide unwanted bubbles.
Create a couple of new layers and choose a light ray brush from the light brushes set. Change the blend of the layers to Overlay and create some rays coming from above (use 50% Opacity). Create layer masks for each layer and hide the upper portion of the light rays leaving them visible only underwater.
As you can see the Overlay blending mode is great for light effects. Color dodge is also great for achieving glow effects.
Open the file “Small Fish”. Select the fish and copy/paste into our document. Place three fish (simply duplicate the pasted fish layer by pressing Ctrl + J a couple of times) near the water surface in a tight pack and one loose fish near the bottom. Lower the opacity of the fish layers to 31%.
One good practice is to group layers in order to keep the document nice and tidy. Select multiple layers (hold Ctrl while selecting) and press Ctrl + G to group.
Open the image “Scary Fish”. Make a selection of the fish and copy/paste in our document. Place the fish near the bottom and lower the opacity to 38%.
I intend to put a light in front of the fish so we should make its head brighter. Create a couple of new layers and clip them to the fish layer. Change their blending modes to Overlay or Color Dodge and use the standard round soft brush at 10% opacity to paint on the indicated area of the fish.
The reason I am using multiple layers is for flexibility. I can create a new layer, paint a little and if I like the effect I’ll keep it. Later if for some reason it doesn’t fit with the rest of the scene I can delete it.
Create a new Curves Adjustment Layer and clip it to the fish layer. Drag the curve down to darken the fish.
Create a new layer and select the standard round soft brush. Max the opacity to 100% and click once in the area indicated below to create a light.
Now let’s achieve a cool effect. Select a lightning brush from the lightning brush set and create some white lightnings emerging from the light. With a lower opacity put some small lightnings on the fish. Add a Color Overlay effect to make the lightnings blend.
Create a new layer and lower the opacity of the round soft brush to 10%. Make it 100px large and click once or twice over the light. Change the blending mode to Color Dodge. As you can see the Color Dodge work wonderfully for achieving glow effects. Lower the fill of the layer if the effect is too strong.
Open the image “Creature”. Select all and copy paste in our scene. Once you’ve put the creature as indicated below add a layer mask and partially hide the underwater area of the creature by painting in the layer with a brush at 40% Opacity with black.
As you can see I placed the creature to fit nicely over the shadow we created at step 11.
Create a new Curves Adjustment Layer and drag the curve down to darken. Clip it to the creature layer. Fill the layer mask with black and with a white brush at 50% Opacity paint over the underwater portion of the creature to reveal the effect there.
Remember Jaws? I sure do and the thing I remember the most are those white sharp teeth. Our poor creature have slightly yellowish teeth – no dentists would dare looking into that mouth – so let’s fix them ourselves. Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and drag the curve up to lighten. Fill the layer mask with black and paint with white in the layer mask over the teeth.
Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and clip it to the creature layer. Drag the hue slider to 135 and the Saturation slider to 57. Fill the layer mask with black and paint with white in the layer mask to reveal the effect over the eye.
Repeat the step above but this time change the hue slider to -40 and the saturation to 79. Paint with white over the mouth in the layer mask.
Create a layer (or more for flexibility) and change the blending mode to Overlay (or Color Dodge). With the standard round soft brush at 20% opacity paint with white over the bumps and forms of the creature to make them stand out. Lower the size of the brush to 1px and paint some hard white outlines in the nose and neck area.
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to overlay. Sample a light blue from the sky and paint with 20% opacity over the creature’s head and neck to make it blend with the scene.
On a new layer paint with the standard chalk brush at 40% opacity a thin line on the neck of the creature where it supposedly emerges from the water.
On a new layer set to Multiply paint some blood near the creature’s mouth using the blood brushes with a dark red (#8b0e16).
Open one of the paint splash images and use Select > Color Range to make a selection of the paint splash. Copy and paste the splash in our scene. Use a layer mask to blend it nicely.
Create Curves Adjustment Layer with the settings shown below and clip it to the splash layer. By doing this we will do the color correct needed for some imported objects as we discussed at step 8. You can also add clipped Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and drag the saturation slider to -50 to tone down the intensity.
Open the image “Hand” and use the Pen Tool to make a selection of the hand. Copy/paste into our document and place the hand inside the creature’s mouth.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and clip it to the hand. Drag the curve down to darken it. You can also add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and clip it to the hand. Drag the saturation slider to -52.
Open the image “Boat”. Use the Pen Tool to make a selection of the boat. Copy/paste the boat in our scene and place it as indicated below. Use a layer mask to partially hide the bottom part of the boat (where it is emerged underwater).
Create Curves Adjustment Layer and drag the curve down to darken. Clip it to the boat layer.
Now create another clipped Curves Adjustment Layer but this time drag the red curve up to increase the color intensity of the boat.
We should tone down the intensity of the boat a little. Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and clip it to the boat layer. Drag the saturation slider to -74.
Create yet another clipped Curves Adjustment Layer and clip it to the boat layer. This time use the settings shown below to increase the contrast.
Create a new layer and set the blending mode to Overlay or Color Dodge. Use a white round soft brush to paint over the boat to make it stand out like we did at step 27.
Create a new layer and make a wave line where the water surface hits the boat with the chalk brush.
Open the image “Dolphin”. Make a selection of the dolphin and paste it in our scene. Place the dolphin in the background as indicated below and lower the opacity to 69%. Use a splash brush to mark the place where the dolphin jumps from the water.
On the distant land near the mill use the palm brush to create a couple of dark palms. Apply a dark green color overlay effect.
Time to put a pirate in the boat! Open the image “Girl”. Use the Pen Tool to make a selection of the girl (it does not have to be extremely precise as we will resize the girl). Place the pirate girl in the boat as shown below. Use the layer mask to hide the legs so that it looks like she is inside the boat.
I used a couple of layers set to either Overlay or Color Dodge to paint on the pirate girl and make her stand out. Create some subtle outlines with a 1px brush , especially around the sword (it will make it look sharp). After that use a larger soft brush at a very low opacity and paint over the existing highlights to make them stand out even more.
Our scene look pretty good but it lacks dynamism. We can achieve that in this particular scene by adding some nice white splashes. With the splash brushes at various sizes and opacities create some splashes where the creature is emerging from the water and near the front of the boat. Use layers mask to blend them better and clipped Curves Adjustment Layers to make them whiter.
As you can see the devil is in the details. We could go on forever and add all kind of little details but I think that our scene looks good overall. Like a famous person said once a piece of art is not finished when you cannot add more to it but rather when you can’t take elements away from it without make it look incomplete (or something along those lines).
Now it comes my favorite part: adding those nice final effects that will make the scene really stand out. So how do I know what to add? Well, there are a couples of think I almost always do for good looking final effects. I almost always add a lens flare, I paint with white on layers set to overlay to emphasize the main points, I increase the contrast, sometimes I add a vignette, I place good looking textures(nebulas, glitter and special fx) at top of everything and change the blending mode to Color Dodge.
Let’s start with a lens flare. Create a new layer and fill it with black. Go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare and choose the settings shown below. Change the blending mode of the layer to Screen and in the layer mask hide all the bright parts and leave only the subtle lower parts.
The underwater part of our scene looks a bit dull. Let’s fix that by adding some random details. Open the image “Underwater2”, select all and copy/paste in our scene. Change the blending mode of the pasted layer to Overlay. Use the layer mask to hide the part above water. (And don’t forget to convert it to a smart object !)
Create a couple of new layer and change their blending modes to Overlay. On one of them use a soft brush to paint with white over the scary fish is and on another use the same brush to paint with a subtle black over the bottom of the scene.
Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and drag the saturation slider to -39. Fill the layer mask with black and paint with white over the bottom of the scene to make the underwater look more natural (as you go deeper there is less light and color).
Create a new layer and change the blending mode to Overlay. Select the round soft brush and increase the size to 700-800px. Set the opacity to 5-10% and paint with black on the margins of the scene and white on the middle. By doing this we will subtly change the focus towards the center of the scene where all the action happens.
Create a Curves Adjustment Layer and drag the curve down to darken in order to darken the scene a little bit.
The surface of the water is a little too bright for my taste. Let’s change that by adding a Curves Adjustment Layer, dragging the curve down and filling the layer mask with black. Now paint with white over the waves to reveal the darkening effect there.
Create a Vibrance Adjustment Layer and lower the vibrance slider to -31.
By the way, all the adjustment layers are located in Layer > New Adjustment Layer > ….
Create a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer and increase the contrast to 39.
Press Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E to create a layer from all the visible layers. Apply a 10px Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) and change the blending mode of the layer to Soft light. Add a layer mask and paint the portion above water with black to reveal the effect only underwater.
Press Ctrl + Shift Alt + E again but this time apply a sharpen effect by going to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask.
Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and increase the saturation to 74. Fill the layer mask with black and paint with white over the bloody splash coming out of the beast mouth and a little bit over the boat and the pirate girl to boost their colors a little. You can also paint over the creature head to make it blue and intense.
Open the image “Nebula1”. Select all and copy paste in our scene. Place the layer as shown below.
Change the blending mode of the nebula layer to Color Dodge and lower the Opacity to 70%. In the layer mask hide all the bright areas and hard edges.
Open the image “Nebula2” and do the same operations as we did at step 59 and 60 but this time in the layer mask reveal only the portion above water.
Finally let’s add a vignette to our scene. Create a new layer and fill it with white. Go to Filter > Lens Correction and use the settings shown below to create a vignette. Change the blending mode of the layer to Multiply and if the effect is too strong add a layer mask and hide the places where dark clipping occurs.
Download the PSD
Tutorial by Johan Sandu