Create a realistic underwater scene in Photoshop

Recently, it is often asked how to create an underwater scene from your photo. Of course, this is a difficult task and the final result will look unimportant if you did something wrong.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a fantasy underwater abstraction with a girl. In this lesson we will look at a large number of techniques, including lighting techniques, color correction techniques, image alignment, and more. After studying this lesson, you can create your own realistic underwater scene.

So let’s get started!

Final result

Source materials:

Step 1

Create a new document, fill it with white. The ratio between the width / height of my working paper is ¾, but you can use your own document size at your discretion. Next, go Layer – New Fill Layer – Color (Layer-New Fill Layer -Solid Color):

Step 2

Let’s go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Curves (Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Curves) to darken the image:

Switch to the layer mask of the adjustment layer. Curves (Curves), then press the (B) key to activate the tool Brush (Brush Tool). Using a soft black brush with an opacity of about 20-25%, hide the correction curves in the upper right side of our scene (where we add the main light source). You can see the result of processing on the layer mask and the final result on the image in the screenshots below:

Step 3

To enhance the contrast, add a correction layer. Levels (Levels):

Switch to the layer mask of the adjustment layer. Levels (Levels), and with the help of a soft black brush, vary the opacity of the brush from 20 to 100%, hide the level correction, as shown in the screenshot below:

Step 4

We create an underwater environment. If you look closely at the underwater pictures, in most cases, especially in the natural environment, you will see noise in the image, trash, plankton, etc. … To recreate this effect, create a new layer on top of all layers, fill it with black color ( Shift + F5). Convert this layer to Smart object (Smart Object). Next, go Filter – Noise – Add Noise (Filter-Noise-Add Noise):

Next, go Filter – Blur – Blur by Gauss(Filter-Blur-Gaussian Blur), set a blur radius of 1.5 px:

Change the blending mode for the noise layer to Lightening (Screen), layer opacity 5%. The change may be barely noticeable if you look at the whole picture, so I brought the lower left side of the scene closer:

Step 5

To the noise layer, add an adjustment layer. Curves (Curves) as a clipping mask to darken the effect a bit:


Step 6

Duplicate the noise layer, increase the opacity of the duplicate layer to the maximum (Lightening, 100% (Screen mode 100%):

To duplicate a layer, add a layer mask through the bottom toolbar. Using a black brush, hide part of the effect on the upper right side of the scene:

Step 7

To enhance this effect, add an adjustment layer. Levels (Levels):

Result when approaching the picture:

Step 8

Create a new layer and using a soft white brush, paint over the area as shown in the screenshot below. Change the blending mode for this layer to Overlap (Overlay), 100%, and then using a layer mask, hide the extra areas:

Step 9

To further add detail to the effect of the underwater environment, I used a texture with stars. Select the first texture with a starry sky, placing it at the bottom of the composition. Change the blending mode for this layer with the texture of stars to Lightening (Screen), 20% layer opacity:

Step 10

Duplicate the star texture layer, increase the layer opacity to 60%. Shift the duplicate layer by placing it in the upper right part of the scene, and then using a layer mask, hide the effect, as shown in the screenshot below:

Apply a filter to this layer. Gaussian blur (Gaussian Blur):

Step 11

Open the stock image ‘Underwater scene’. Using tool Rectangular area (Rectangular Marquee Tool (M)), select the upper part of the image. Move the selected part of the image to our working document with the tool Move (Move Tool (V). Position a part of the ‘underwater scene’ image, as shown in the screenshot below:

Change the blending mode for the layer with part of the underwater scene to Soft light (Soft Light), 100%. Using a layer mask, hide the hard edges of the image to align with the background:

Step 12

Add adjustment layer Hue / Saturation (Hue / Saturation) to the layer with the added part of the underwater scene to match the color with the whole scene:

Step 13

Open stock image with model. Separate the model image from the background:

Step 14

In this step, we will draw the hair to the model (if you do not want to do this, then you can use the already prepared Hair brushes). I selected several color shades from the hair of the model (# 6e6259, # 7a6859, # 302725, # 908980, # c3bbb1), and then drew curls of hair, observing light and shade and direction of the original curls. Press the key (F5) to change the brush settings, select the option Pen pressure (Pen Pressure):

In the screenshots below you can see my process of adding curls (I unfolded the image of the model so that you could easily trace the whole process). Do not forget to vary the diameter of the brush when creating small or large curls:

Step 15

Combine the layer with the model and the layers with the curls of hair in one group. Position the image with the model in the center of the composition:

Add a layer mask to the model layer. Next, using a soft black brush about 30% opacity, paint over the shawl so that it becomes transparent:

Step 16

Next, we will retouch the model using some of the tools in Photoshop. First, create a new layer as a clipping mask for the model layer. Using tool Healing Brush (Healing Brush tool (J), hide tattoos on the legs, and also retouch individual areas of the face and hands of the model:

Step 17

Create a new layer, then select the tool Stamp (Clone Tool (S). With this tool, hide small parts on the hands as well as on the model’s knee:

Step 18

In this step, we will apply the tool Finger (Smudge Tool) to soften the skin of the model. Create a new layer, select the tool. Finger (Smudge Tool), set the value Intensity (Strength) approximately 30-35%. The treatment area includes the face, arms and legs:

Step 19

Create a new layer. Using a soft brush, brush color # a58b81, opacity (opacity) and pressure (flow) approximately 30-38%, paint over the face, arm and waist of the model in order to lighten and soften the skin in these areas:

Step 20

Create a new layer. Using a brush, brush color # 977f76, using the same opacity and pressure values, paint over some areas on the model’s arm and waist to improve skin color and blur veins in these areas:

Step 21

Create a new layer, change the mode to Overlap (Overlay), 100%, fill 50% gray (50% gray):

Choose a tool Clarifier / Dimmer (Dodge and Burn), install Range (Range) on Mid tones (Midtones) value Exposure (Exposure) approximately 20-25%. Strengthen the details on the face, model’s waist, and also slightly intensify light and shade In the screenshots below you can see where I applied this tool during blending mode. Normal (Normal), as well as the result when Overlap (Overlay):

You may notice that the model began to look more complete.

Step 22

Further, we are waiting for more interesting steps. In my opinion, hair models look ordinary, and I decided to make them more attractive. Red / orange hair color will stand out on the blue / blue background. To save the picture, I used the tool Lasso (Lasso Tool), to select only the hair area, then we go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Channel Mixing (Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Channel Mixer (remember to convert this layer to a clipping mask for the model layer):

Step 23

Hold the (Ctrl) key + click on the layer mask of the adjustment layer Channel Mixing (Channel Mixer) to load selected hair area. Next, go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Hue / Saturation (Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Hue / Saturation):

Step 24

Using the same technique, add an adjustment layer. Color Balance (Color Balance) to brighten hair:

Step 25

Next, add a adjustment layer to the model layer. Colour (Color Fill). Reduce the opacity of this adjustment layer to 10%:

Switch to the layer mask of the adjustment layer. Colour (Color Fill) and using a black brush, hide the effect of the correction layer on the hair, as well as on certain parts of the model’s body:

Step 26

Next, add an adjustment layer. Photo Filter (Photo Filter) to add some blues / blues to the model image:

Switch to the layer mask of the adjustment layer. Photo Filter (Photo Filter) and with the help of a black brush, hide the effect of the correction layer on the hair, as well as on the model’s body:


Step 27

Next, add an adjustment layer. Curves (Curves), to slightly enhance the contrast of the image of the model:

On the layer mask of the adjustment layer Curves (Curves), hide the correction curves on certain parts of the model’s body, as well as on shawls:

Step 28

I used Levels (Levels) to lighten the upper body of the model, as well as to hide the effect of levels in the lower body of the model, and also reduce the brightness on certain parts of the model’s body and hair (hide the effect of the levels on the layer mask of the adjustment layer Levels (Levels):

Step 29

Create a new layer with the same settings as in Step 21. Using the tool Clarifier / Dimmer (Dodge and Burn), strengthen light and shade on hair, and also on model shawls:

Step 30

Open stock image with a tree. Separate the tree from the background:

Step 31

Using tool Lasso (Lasso Tool), select the part of the branch. Next, move the selected part of the branch to our working paper, placing it at the bottom of our composition:

Copy more fragments of branches. Place them in the foreground:

Remember to convert all layers with branches to Smart object (Smart Object).

Step 32

To add depth of field to the entire scene, apply a filter Gaussian blur (Gaussian Blur), blur radius 4 px to separate branches:

To the layer with blur according to Gauss, add a layer mask and on the layer mask, hide the blur effect on the tips of the branches:

Step 33

Apply filter Gaussian blur (Gaussian Blur), blur radius 1 px, to the other two branches:

Step 34

Cut a portion of the twigs. Copy / paste into our working paper. Place the sprig in the raised hand of the model:

Using a layer mask, create the feeling that the model is holding a sprig in your hand:

Step 35

Via Curves (Curves), lighten the twig:

Step 36

Select all the layers with branches, and then press the keys (Ctrl + G) to group them into one group. Change the blending mode for this layer with the group from the mode Skip (Pass Through (group default mode) to mode Normal (Normal), 100%. I named layers with branches from ‘1’ to ‘10’. I decided to darken the first 6 layers with branches a little. Being on the layer ‘6’, we go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Curves (Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Curves):

On the layer mask of the adjustment layer Curves (Curves), hide the curve correction at the tips of the branches to reduce the shadowing effect:

Step 37

Being on the topmost layer with branches inside the group, let’s go Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Hue / Saturation (Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Hue / Saturation):

Step 38

Add another adjustment layer. Curves (Curves) on top of all layers within a group with branches, to further darken all branches:

Hide the correction on the layer mask as usual:

Step 39

Create a new layer on top of all layers (on top of the layer with the group with branches). Using a soft black brush with an opacity of 30%, draw a shadow from the branch on the model’s hand:

Step 40

Cut the rose. Move the rose to our working paper. Place a rose on the left tip of the branch, as shown in the screenshot below:

I used an adjustment layer Color Balance (Color Balance) to turn pink color to orange-red:

Step 41

To the rose layer, add an adjustment layer. Curves (Curves):

Switch to the layer mask of the adjustment layer. Curves (Curves), then hide the correction curves on the image of the upper part of the rose so that the upper part is lighter than the lower part (because more light falls on it):

Step 42

Next, add a adjustment layer to the rose layer. Colour (Color Fill). Reduce the opacity of this adjustment layer to 20% to combine the rose with the aqueous medium:

Step 43

Open the stock image with rose petals, separate them from the background. Select different petals, place them around the image of the model, larger petals position in the foreground. To the rose petals, apply a filter Gaussian blur (Gaussian Blur), blur radius 8 px for large petals, 4 px for medium petals and 0.5 px for the remaining petals:

Step 44

Group rose petals in one group. Inside the created group, add an adjustment layer. Curves (Curves) to lighten one petal, because In my opinion, it is a little dark:

Step 45

Add a new adjustment layer Curves (Curves) on top of all layers with rose petals to darken them:

Work on the layer mask of the adjustment layer Curves (Curves), creating chiaroscuro on some petals:

Step 46

Inside the group with petals, add an adjustment layer Color Balance (Color Balance):

Step 47

Right-click on the layer with the group ки petals ’, in the window that appears, select the option Duplicate group (Duplicate Group). Next, right-click on the duplicate layer and in the window that appears, select the option Combine the group(Merge Group). So, we got the image of the petals on a separate layer, this will help us in the next steps (turn off the visibility of this layer).

Step 48

Load an active selection of rose petals, then add an adjustment layer. Colour (Color Fill) (just like we did with hair):

Reduce the opacity of the adjustment layer. Colour (Color Fill) up to 20%:

On a layer mask using a soft black brush, hide the effect on the petals at the bottom of the scene:

Step 49

Create a new layer on top of all layers, change the foreground color to white. Select the Bubble brush to your taste, set the brush size to 5 px, set the following settings for the brush, which are shown in the screenshots below (press the key (F5) to activate the brush settings menu):

Draw bubbles near the knees, around the legs of the model, near the shoulders, arms, hair, shawls, and then reduce the opacity of the bubble layer to 60%. Vary the opacity of the brush to get a more natural result:

Step 50

Increase the size of the brush Bubbles to 7 px, continue to draw bubbles around the areas that were mentioned in the previous step (do not forget to create a new layer for this purpose). Bubbles draw in an arbitrary manner. I retained the layer opacity at 100% to make the bubbles more distinct.

Step 51

Create a new layer. Select the Rays of Light brush. Choose your favorite brush, draw the rays of light in the upper right corner of the picture:

Change the blending mode for the layer with the rays of light to Overlap (Overlay), 100%, and also blur the right side on the layer mask:

Let’s go Filter – Blur – Motion Blur (Filter-Blur-Motion Blur):

Step 52

Select another brush Rays of light (I chose the brush number 1478). Add rays to the top right of the scene. I used a filter Motion blur (Motion blur) with the same settings, but this time, changed the blending mode for this layer to Soft light (Soft Light), 100%:

Step 53

Create a new layer. Choose a soft brush, brush color # 82b6b3. Paint over the top of the light to add color to the lighting effect. Change the blending mode for this layer to Chromaticity(Color), 100%:

Step 54

Add two new adjustment layers Color Balance (Color Balance) on top of all layers:

On the layer mask of the first adjustment layer, hide the correction effect on the model image, as shown in the screenshot below:

On the layer mask of the second adjustment layer, hide the correction effect, as shown in the screenshot below:

Step 55

Add a new adjustment layer Photo Filter (Photo Filter) to slightly change the color of the whole picture:

Reduce the opacity of the effect on the right side of the picture:

Step 56

Add a new adjustment layer Gradient Map (Gradient Map):

Reduce the opacity of the adjustment layer. Gradient Map (Gradient Map) up to 20%. On the layer mask, hide the correction effect, as shown in the screenshot below:

Step 57

I used an adjustment layer Hue / Saturation (Hue / Saturation) to enhance the shades of blue in the picture:

Step 58

Add a new adjustment layer Curves (Curves) to enhance the contrast of the whole picture:

The result of processing on the layer mask of the adjustment layer Curves (Curves):

Step 59

To complete the color correction, I added an adjustment layer. Vibration (Vibrance):

Congratulations! We have completed the lesson!

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial.

Final result

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