Apply Liquid Effects to Sports Photography
In this tutorial we'll enhance a sports photo with some cool liquid effects. Choosing your subject matter is the key to pulling off this type of effect – so what could better than an image of a surfer? The aim of this project is not to overwhelm the model, but rather compliment the flow and movement of the original photography. A big thank you goes to sports photographer Jordan Weeks for donating one of his excellent images for this tutorial. Let's get started!
You'll find some files in the "source" folder. You'll also need the following stock images to complete this tutorial.
- Texture one
- Texture two
- Texture three
- Abstract 3D renders
- Sunset by Nulus
- Splash one (medium version)
- Splash two (medium version)
- Splash three (medium version)
Open the "Surfer" image from the "source" folder. Please respect the usage restrictions, as this photo was kindly donated by a friend of mine and great sports photographer Jordan Weeks. This photo can only be used for the purpose of this tutorial. Thanks also goes to the model, Janni, who incidentally is a top sponsored surfer.
First, we need to extract the model from the background. Unfortunately, because of the complexity of the background, there is no quick way to achieve this. First, we'll tackle the hair; go to Select > Color Range. Set the Fuzziness slider to 46 and the Selection Preview to Grayscale. By default the Eyedropper tool is active, so click on the background close to the model's head, then use the plus Eyedropper to add to the selection – remember, at this stage we're only concentrating on the model's head.
It's important there's no active selections within the face, so set the Lasso (L) to Add to selection and draw a rough marquee as shown.
Choose any selection tool, and then click the Refine edge button in the Options Bar. Check Smart Radius/Radius: 48.5px, Feather: 0.3px, Shift Edge: -9%. Check Decontaminate Colors/Amount: 100%. Finally, the Output To should be set to New Layer with Mask, then click OK.
You'll now see a masked layer appear and the visibility of the original layer disabled. Target the new layer mask thumbnail and Lasso a rough selection around the model's head. Hit Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I to Inverse the selection. Now press D to set your Foreground/Background colors to their default black/white and press Cmd/Ctrl + Delete/Backspace to fill with black.
Now we'll move onto the rest of the figure. Set the Pen Tool (P) to Paths in the Options Bar, then zoom in and carefully plot a closed path around the figure and surfboard. Keep your path just inside the subject and overlap the neck, avoiding any hair. Don't forget to set the Pen to Subtract when you create the inner sub-path below her arm. Remember, you can fine-tune your path at any time by pressing Cmd/Ctrl to access the Direct Selection Tool (A) to adjust individual direction/anchor points as required. When you're done, double-click your path thumbnail to save it.
Cmd/Ctrl-click your path thumbnail to generate a selection, then press Shift + F6 to access the Feather window and enter 2px. Return to the Layers tab, target the top layer and press Cmd/Ctrl + J to float the selection to a new layer.
The base layer is no longer required, so delete it. Target the top layer and hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to Merge Down and click OK in the following window. Name the resulting layer "Surfer"
As our final image is being used in a non-editorial manner we need to remove the sponsorship logos. Use the Lasso (L) Tool to make a selection from an unmarked section of board close to the large logo and Feather by 5px. Copy this to a new layer, then move/rotate slightly so the stringer line matches. Deselect, then use a soft-edged Eraser (E) to blend the edges further if needed.
Repeat this workflow until all the logos are covered, then Merge all layers. At this point you may need to use a combination of the Patch/Healing brush tools (J) to blend any remaining flaws.
To add missing areas such as the board's nose and the top of the model's hair we need to extend the canvas slightly. To do this snap the Crop Tool (C) to the canvas, then drag out as indicated.
Copy a feathered selection to a new layer from the tip of the board and drag it over the missing area. Now use a small Eraser (E) brush at around 70% Hardness to remove the excess and Merge Down.
Repeat this process to build up the missing top part of the model's hair as shown.
That's the hard part done! Your figure should now be perfectly cut out and retouched. Set this file to one side because we won't be needing it until later in the project.
Create a new A4 landscape canvas in RGB Mode with the Background Contents set to White.
Download and open this texture. Rotate anti-clockwise and place as a new layer. Transform to cover your canvas, reduce the Opacity to 30% and label it "Texture 1".
Choose Levels from the drop-down Create new fill or adjustment layer icon at the foot of the Layers palette. In the following window click the double-circle icon to unclip it (to affect all layers) and set the white point Output slider to 169.
Download and open the next texture. Rotate anti-clockwise again and add as a new layer above the adjustment. Enlarge, reduce the Opacity to 38%, set the Blend Mode to Overlay and label it "Texture 2".
Download and open this texture. Rotate anti-clockwise and place as a new top layer. Enlarge, reduce the Opacity to 66%, set the Blend Mode to Multiply and label it "Texture 3".
Now add an unclipped Color Balance Adjustment Layer at the top of the stack and copy these settings to give the textures an overall aqua tone.
Place an empty layer at the top and name it "Textures merged". Go to Image > Apply Image, check the Blending is set to Normal in the following window and click OK. This command creates a composite from all the underlying layers. Change this layer to Multiply to darken the image.
Add a mask to the "Textures merged" layer. Set the Gradient Tool (G) to Radial and drag a black to transparent gradient indicated by the length and direction of the arrow.
To darken the edges further clip (to affect the target layer only) a Levels adjustment and set the Input midtone slider to 0.63.
Add a new layer, then set your Foreground color to # a5c6c9 and add another Radial Gradient, this time with the Foreground to Transparent preset. To reduce the effect, change the Blend Mode to Soft Light. Name this layer "Grad".
Add "13.jpg" from these watercolor textures. Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal, resize and position as shown. Now double-click the layer thumbnail to access the Blending Options window and Opt/Alt click, drag (to split) the top right Blend If slider to 39 to render the white areas invisible. Name this layer "Watercolor 1".
Duplicate "Watercolor 1", Flip Horizontal and rename it "Watercolor 2". Change the Blend Mode to Multiply, reset the Blend If setting to to 0, then clip a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and copy these settings.
Import "23.jpg" from the same watercolors and resize/position top right. Name this layer "Watercolor 4" and change the Blend Mode to Linear Burn. Mask the top-right with a black to transparent Radial Gradient, then clip a Color Balance adjustment and apply the following settings.
Add a final watercolor layer ("30.jpg"). Resize, then rotate 90 degrees anti-clockwise and position as shown. Change the Blend Mode to Multiply and drop the Opacity to 62%. Now split the top right Blend If slider to 208.
Download these abstract 3D renders, then add "6.png" as a new top layer. Resize, Flip Horizontal and position centrally at the bottom. Change the Blend Mode to Overlay, then mask as required. Name this layer "3D 1".
Place "5.png" as another layer and resize/position centrally, set the Blend Mode to Overlay as well, then name the layer "3D 2". Hit Cmd/Ctrl + U to access the Hue/Saturation window, activate the Colorize option and copy these settings directly to the layer. Repeat the same Hue/Saturation modification to "3D 1".
Open "Sky_blur.jpg" from the "source" folder and Shift-drag it's layer icon onto your working file to create a new layer. Change the Blend Mode to Soft Light for a subtle effect and label it "Sky".
Now we'll draw some shapes which to add some interest to the background; launch Illustrator and create a new A4 portrait document. Go to Illustrator > Preferences > Guides & Grid and enter 10 mm in the Gridline and 2 in the Subdivision fields. Now select Show Grid and Snap to Grid from the View menu.
Note: If you want to skip this stage, jump to Step 36 and open "Lines.pdf" from the "source" folder.
Grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and snap a circle (Fill: none / Stroke: 1 pt) to your grid.
Grab the Scissor Tool (S) and cut the two middle points, then delete the top half of the circle. Now select the Pen Tool (P) and click on the left point to extend upwards.
Use the same technique to build up more shapes. You can also save time by duplicating, flipping, resizing and rotating groups of paths.
Draw a circle (Fill: none / Stroke: 1 pt), then draw a path longer than the circle's circumference above it. Select the line, then hold Opt/Alt + Shift and drag it below the circle to duplicate it.
Select both lines, then double-click the Blend Tool (W), in the next window select Specified Steps from the Spacing drop-down menu and enter 35 (you may need to use a different amount, depending on the size of your circle). Now click both lines to apply the blend.
Note: Blends remains live until they're Expanded - to edit, simply select the object and double-click the Blend Tool in the toolbar.
Also, here's a comprehensive guide to Illustrator's Blend Tool.
When you're done, select the object and choose Expand from the Object menu, then Group all the horizontal lines. Select both objects and click the Horizontal and Vertical Align Centre buttons in the Align tab. Now select the lines and Shift-rotate 45 degrees. Finally, select both objects and click the Divide button in the Pathfinder tab.
Place, resize and duplicate the circle to complete your line work. You can now disable the Snap to Grid option and reposition paths as required. At this point I decided to make the line weights thinner - I used a combination of 0.7 and 0.8 pt.
Note: To do this quickly, select a single line, then go to Select > Same > Stroke Weight.
Select All, change the Stroke to white and Copy to the Clipboard. Return to your Photoshop project and Paste, check Smart Object and click OK in the following window. Change the Blend Mode to Soft Light and reduce the Opacity to 70%. Rotate 180 degrees / position bottom left and name it "Lines 1". Duplicate this layer, rename it "Lines 2" and rotate 90 degrees anti-clockwise and position to the left of the canvas. Now mask to blend any hard edges as required.
You can also create some complex wavy shapes using Illustrator's Blend Tool. First, draw a curved upper path (Fill: zero, 1 pt black Stroke) using the Pen Tool, then draw a lower path and blend, adjusting the step count to suit. Create as many different wavy blends as you wish, then change all their Strokes to white and Copy the first one to the Clipboard.
Note: If you want to skip the creation process, I've supplied two files ("Waveylines_1.pdf" and "Waveylines_2.pdf") in the "source" folder.
Paste as a Smart Object, then rotate / position to the left. Change the Blend Mode to Soft Light, adjust the Opacity to around 70%, then mask any hard edges. Repeat this process for the remaining shapes and label them accordingly.
To keep things layers organized, highlight your top layer thumbnail, then hold Shift and highlight "Texture 1" thumbnail (this highlights all the in-between layers too), then choose New Group from Layers from the top-right fly-out menu in the Layers tab. Name the folder "BACKGROUND" in the following window and click OK.
We'll be incorporating additional background elements later, but for now let's import our model. Drag across your isolated figure layer above the "BACKGROUND" folder, then to eliminate any edge halo, choose Layer > Matting > Defringe and enter 1px.
Now apply two adjustments directly to this layer; first, hit press Cmd/Ctrl + L for Levels and copy the settings on the left. Now press Cmd/Ctrl + B for Color Balance and use the settings on the right.
Next, we'll use the Polar Coordinates Filter to create some shiny spheres. I've explained this technique in some of my previous tutorials, but for those of you who missed it, here it is again. First, find a suitable source image – a nice sunset, such as this is a good starting point. Grab the Crop Tool (C), hold down Shift and drag a square top right, then double-click to accept the crop command.
Choose Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates, then select the Polar to Rectangular option. This much under-used filter converts a selection from its rectangular to polar coordinates, and vice versa, according to the selected option.
Go to Image > Canvas Size and uncheck the Relative option. Set the Height to 200% using the drop-down menu and anchor the image placement to top middle.
Double-click the layer to release its transparency. Duplicate it, rotate by 180 degrees and flip horizontally. Now hold Shift and drag to the bottom, leaving a pixel or so of transparency at the base.
Merge the upper layer and hit Opt/Alt + Cmd/Ctrl + F to access the last filter. Now choose the Rectangular to Polar option, which creates an oval shape.
To transform this into a circle, select Image > Image Size, uncheck Constrain Proportions and check Resample Image, then change the Height value to match the Width. Next, we'll magnify the sphere; choose Filter > Distort > Pinch: -77%. This negative value shifts pixels out from the center.
Add white central highlight using a large, soft-edged brush. To make the color and tone blend with the rest of the image apply a Hue/Saturation (Cmd/Ctrl + U) and Levels (Cmd/Ctrl + L) directly to the sphere as shown and Save.
Add as a new layer below the "Surfer", then resize and Flip Horizontal.
Press Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + X to access Liquify, then distort the sphere to create an abstract shape.
Use the Transform's Warp function to distort the shape further. Now position to the left of the model, change the Blend Mode to Screen. Add a mask, then use a soft-edged brush to blend selective areas and name it "Distorted 1".
Now apply a Levels and Hue/Saturation adjustments directly to the layer using these settings.
Repeat steps 49-51 and add more liquid shapes around the model. Feel free to mask areas, as well as using Levels and Hue/Saturation adjustments as required. Name these layers accordingly, then place them within a folder called "SPHERES 1".
Add some non-distorted spheres on separate layers above the "Surfer" as shown.
Place additional spheres to build up the complexity of the composition, reduce some to around 44-75% Opacity, then Liquify a few of the smaller ones. Now try changing some to either Screen or Lighten Blending Modes.
To keep things tidy, place all these upper spheres into a group folder called "SPHERES 2".
Load the "Fluid_Shapes.csh" from the "source" folder. Set the Custom Shape Tool (U) to Shape layers, check the Unconstrained option and change the Color fill to # 000506 in the Options Bar. Access the drop-down menu and you'll see the new shapes added at the bottom of your current library.
Now add your first Shape layer above the "BACKGROUND" folder. To start off, we're aiming for a subtle effect, so change the Blend Mode to Overlay. Now add further shapes as new layers in Multiply, Screen and Soft Light modes. Try different shades of turquoise (# 19a19f and # 2cb797), then reduce their opacities suit and mask as required.
Tip: To change a shape's color, simply double-click its layer thumbnail.
Build up the image with more shapes. Try other shades of the same color scheme such as # 1beff1, # 288f6c and # 1bf0f2. When you're done place all these layers onto a folder called "SHAPE LAYERS".
In the next couple of steps we'll create some custom water splash brushes. Open the first splash, then choose Edit > Define Brush Preset and label it as shown. Keep the file open as you'll be needing it for step 61.
Repeat this for the second splash. For the third splash you'll need to remove the bottom water. This is best done using a soft-edged white brush on a new layer and then flattening. Save this as another brush preset and keep it open as well.
You should now see three new brush icons appear at the bottom of your brush list. To create image-based brushes, Photoshop automatically converts the image to grey, black becomes opaque, white transparent and the grey areas semitransparent.
Revisit the first water splash and hit Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + U to Desaturate. Now press Cmd/Ctrl + I to Invert the image to negative. Repeat this for the two remaining water splashes.
Add the first water splash as a new layer above the "Surfer" and label it "Splash 1". Change the Blend Mode to Screen to render the black invisible.
Access Transform's Warp command and bend it follow the contours of the model's arm. You may need to apply a slight Levels adjustment to make the water more visible, also reduce the layer's Opacity to around 75% for a subtle effect. Now add a mask and use a soft-edged brush to blend as shown.
Duplicate "Splash 1" and rename it "Splash 2". Transform, rotate, then position over the right leg. Adjust the Opacity as required, then drag the mask into the trash icon at the foot of the palette and hit Delete in the following window. Now reapply the Warp command.
Use the same workflow to add the remaining water splash images. Duplicate and modify as many splashes as it takes until you're happy. Now apply your custom brushes to the masks of the larger splashes.
Place a black-filled layer below "Splash 1", then disable the visibility of the "SPHERES 2" folder.
Add a new layer above all your splashes, then apply the Apply Image command as you did in step 19. Now increase the contrast of this layer with as Levels adjustment as shown.
Press Cmd/Ctrl + A to Select All and copy to the Clipboard. Create a new canvas accepting the Clipboard Preset, paste and flatten. Save this file as "Displacement.psd" to a memorable location.
Back in your project file, delete the top applied image and the black-fill layer and enable the visibility of the "SPHERES 2" folder. Duplicate the "Surfer" layer and rename it "Surfer splash 1".
Go to Filter > Distort > Displace, set both scale fields to 60, check Stretch To Fit and Repeat Edge pixels, click OK then navigate to your "Displacement.psd". When the filter is done, move the layer content back to its original placement.
Mask this layer using a selection of hard and soft brushes as well as some of your custom brushes as shown.
Target the original "Surfer" layer and hide areas using the same masking techniques.
Duplicate the "Surfer" layer again, delete the mask and place it above "Surfer splash 1" Change the Blend Mode to Soft Light and rename it "Surfer splash 2". Now press Opt/Alt + Cmd/Ctrl + F to access the last filter, use these settings with the same "Displacement.psd", then reposition the layer content.
Add a mask, then apply a series of black to transparent Linear Gradients (G) to mask the right-hand side as shown.
Place the "Surfer" and all the "Splash" layers within a new folder called "SURFER/SPLASHES". At this point feel free to add/modify more splash layers.
With the image basically complete, you may wish to have a play with some Blending Modes; I changed the "Surfer splash 2" layer to Luminosity and lowered the Opacity to 77%. I also added some additional small spheres around the model.
Conclusion and Scope
I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. Once you've mastered these techniques, why not create your own liquid-inspired composition?