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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation
Design

How to Create a Photo Manipulation of a Cat and Flying Fish With Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a photo manipulation featuring a cat watching flying fish. 

First, we'll build the base scene using a sky and wall images. After that, we'll add the cat, fish, and trees, and we'll blend them together using adjustment layers, masking, and brushes. Later, we'll paint some dreamy light and complete the tutorial with several adjustment layers.

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:

1. How to Build the Base Scene

Step 1

Create a new 2000 x 1700 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:

new file

Step 2

Open the sky image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the sky area only, and drag it into the white canvas using the Move Tool (V).

add sky

Step 3

To soften the sky, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 8 px:

sky gaussian blur

Step 4

Duplicate the sky layer and move it up and to the right. The aim is to move the light area of the sky to the higher position on the left.

sky duplicated

Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Use a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to erase the right side of the canvas as we only need the left of the duplicated one.

duplicated sky masking

Step 5

Select the two sky layers and press Control-G to make a group for them. Change this group's mode to Normal 100% and create a Color Balance adjustment layer within this group (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance):

sky color balance

Step 6

Make a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness a bit. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to paint on the lower of the left side and make the top right become darker to fit the main light source.

sky curves

Step 7

Open the wall image. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to grab the wall only and place it in the bottom half of the main canvas.

add wall

Step 8

Make a new layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Activate the Clone Tool (S) to remove some unwanted details on the wall:

wall cloning

Step 9

Create a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the wall. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush with a lowered opacity (20-25%) to paint on the bottom area of the wall so it won't be too bright.

wall curves

Step 10

Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray:

Dodge new layer

Activate the Dodge Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 10-15% to paint more light on the left of the wall's surface as it's nearer the light than the right. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

Dodging result

Step 11

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones and Highlights settings. Use a soft black brush to reduce the effect on the hidden area of the wall and leave the warm light reflected mostly on the surface.

wall color balance midtones
wall color balance highlights

Step 12

Use a Photo Filter adjustment layer to give more warm light to the wall. Pick the color #a4640a:

wall photo filter

Step 13

To make the shadow of the top plate on the wall, use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to grab a selection below the plate and then fill it with the color #171516.

wall shadow selection

Lower the opacity of this layer to 60% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 4 px to soften the shadow.

wall shadow gaussian blur

Use a layer mask to lighten the shadow's opacity on the bottom area.

wall shadow masking

2. How to Retouch the Cat

Step 1

Cut out the cat from the background and place him on the right-hand side of the wall's surface.

add cat

Step 2

To make the shadow of the cat on the wall, create a new layer under the cat one. Hold Control and click the cat thumbnail layer to load his selection. Fill this selection with the color #171516.

load cat selection

Flip it vertically (Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical) and use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to make it longer and narrower.

cat shadow transforming

Lower the Opacity of this layer to 70% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 5 px to this layer.

cat shadow gaussian blur

Add a mask to this layer and erase the unwanted shadow parts on the lower wall area and the tail (we'll be making the tail shadow on a separate layer).

cat shadow masking

Step 3

Create a new layer and load the cat selection as we did in the previous step. Hit Control-I to invert the selection.

cat selection invert

Use the Lasso Tool to move around the cat body until only the tail is unselected.

cat tail unselected

Press Control-I again, and we have the tail's selection now. Make the shadow for the tail on the wall as we did with the body.

cat tail shadow

Step 4

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the color of the collar. Alter the Cyans values:

cat hue saturation

Step 5

Create a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the cat. Paint on the shadow areas and the top head so they won't be affected or less affected by this adjustment layer.

cat curves
cat curves masking

Step 6

Make a new layer, and use a soft white brush to paint on the cat contour and the strong shadow area of the cat to brighten these details. Change this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%. Vary the brush opacity depending on the brightness of the different details to get a better result.

brighten cat

Step 7

Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to continue refining the light and shadow on the cat.

cat DB

Step 8

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones and Highlights values:

cat color balance midtones
cat color balance highlights

Step 9

Create a new layer, and don't set it as Clipping Mask. Use a small medium-hard brush with a light yellow color (#fef5dc) to paint some whiskers for the cat.

cat whiskers

3. How to Add the Fish

Step 1

Cut out the fish 1 image from the background and place it above the cat. Duplicate this layer and make the fish a bit bigger. Move it to the right corner of the canvas.

add fishes 1

Step 2

Isolate all the rest of the fish and place them together from left to right. You can duplicate the fish and resize them, but remember not to make some of them too big or too small than the others. I've placed fish 7 to fit the direction of the cat's gaze. Here is my result, but feel free to make your own arrangement.

add more fishes

Step 3

You can see the fish have quite a similar color scheme. I'll go through the common process of retouching and making them fit together so you won't see the steps repeatedly and get bored. I've aimed to make some of the fish more orange, and the rest more magenta/pinkish.

First, use a cloning layer (set it as Clipping Mask) for each of the duplicated fish layers to make them appear different from the original. You can clone the eye, fin, and other details on the fishes' bodies.

fishes cloning

Step 4

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the greenish/yellowish of the fish. Here are the settings I've used for fish 1, and you can apply them to all the other fish. Depending on how saturated the fish are,  you can alter the settings a bit until you feel okay.

fishes 1 hue saturation

Here is the result of the fish after adding a Hue/Saturation adjustment with similar settings.

fishes hue saturation results

Step 5

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the color of the fish. Here are the values I've applied to the selected fish that I want to be more orange than the others. Increase the Blue of the Midtones and Yellow of the Highlights.

fishes color balance 1 midtones
fishes color balance 1 highlights

And here are the settings for the rest of the fish (increase the Cyan value). Remember to alter the settings to be suitable for specific ones.

fishes color balance 2 midtones
fishes color balance 2 highlights

Step 6

Create a group for the fish. All of the fish are too dark, so use a Curves adjustment layer to increase their lightness and contrast.

fishes curves

Use a soft black brush to reduce the brightness on the front of the fishes' bodies (the parts towards the right) and the shadow areas.

fishes curves masking result

Step 7

Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to refine the light and shadow of the fish. The fish that are nearer the left or darker than the others need to have more light added.

fishes DB

Step 8

Create a new layer and use a soft white brush, 2 px, to make a highlight inside the eye of fish 7. It's to emphasize the look of this fish and create more of a connection to the cat.

fish 7 eye highlight

4. How to Add the Trees

Step 1

Move tree 1 to the bottom left of the canvas and apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to this layer.

add tree 1

Step 2

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and alter the Hue value of the Master:

tree 1 hue saturation

Step 3

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer and work on the Midtones settings:

tree 1 color balance

Step 4

Create another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Yellows values:

tree 1 hue saturation 2

Step 5

Make a Curves adjustment layer to increase the lightness and add a bluish tone to the tree.

tree 1 curves

Step 6

Add tree 2 to the bottom right of the wall and apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to it.

add tree 2

Step 7

Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and alter the Master settings:

tree 2 hue saturation

Step 8

Continue changing the tree's color with a Color Balance adjustment layer.

tree 2 color balance

Step 9

Brighten the tree using a Curves adjustment layer.

tree 2 curves

5. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

To create a dreamy light for the scene, make a new layer on top of the layers. Use a soft light brush (#e9cfbd) to paint over the canvas, and then change the mode of this layer to Screen 20%.

paint light
light screen mode 20

Step 2

Use a layer mask to erase the lower and the upper part of the scene to make the dreamy effect visible mostly around the middle left and the fish.

light masking

Step 3

Make a Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors #48517d and #b68760. Alter this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.

whole scene gradient map

Step 4

Create a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights settings:

whole scene color balance midtones
whole scene color balance highlights

Step 5

Use a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the final effect. Use a soft black brush to reduce the blue on the bottom of the wall as I've found it too saturated.

whole scene vibrance

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope that you've enjoyed the tutorial and learned something new for your own project. Feel free to share your results or leave comments in the box below. Enjoy Photoshopping!

final result
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