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Create an Eerie Underwater Composition in Photoshop

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Read Time: 10 min

Sometimes certain scenes are too expensive, dangerous, or even impossible to photograph. This is when people often turn to Photoshop. In only a little bit of time, you can create a very realistic looking image. Today we will be learning how to create an eerie underwater scene. So, get your scuba gear on and let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

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

View This Tutorial as a Screencast

This tutorial can also be viewed as a screencast.

Step 1

We are going to first open up the background ocean image, as this will dictate how large our canvas is going to be. You can do this by either dragging and dropping the image icon onto your Photoshop icon, or go to File > Open.


Step 2

Once the background is opened in Photoshop, go to: Image > Image Size. In the popup box, we are only going to modify the Width. Set the width to: 630px.


Step 3

Before you can modify the background image, you are going to need to unlock it. We can do this by double clicking on the layer in the layer panel and by clicking "OK" on the "New Layer" popup.


Step 4

Once the background is unlocked, you can go ahead and drag it down, just until the bright rocks on the bottom are no longer visible. This will allow us to add more water to the top portion of the image. Grab your marquee selection tool and select the bottom portion of the image up to below the waves in the water, and then click the "mask" button in your layers panel.


Step 5

Select the top portion of the water and click "Cmd/Ctrl + J" on your keyboard to duplicate the selection to a new layer. Move the layer up just slightly and scale it upwards just so it covers about half of the transparent portion of the canvas.

Click "Cmd/Ctrl + J" one more time, to duplicate that layer. Take this layer, and move it upwards until it reaches the top of the canvas. Don't worry about the water looking a little stretched. That won’t be noticeable once we are finished.


Step 6

Now that we have the background filled in, we have to work on the bottom edges of the new layers that we created in the last step. We can do this very simply by using layer masks once again. We do this by clicking on the layer in the layers panel and then click the "mask" button. A new thumbnail image of a white box will appear next to the layer thumbnail.

You will now need to select a midsize brush with a hardness of 0%. We are going to use this brush to gently paint the bottom portion of the selected layer. By doing this, it will make the layer blend in. You will have to repeat this step for both of the water layers.


Step 7

Import the Shark image. You can do this by going to File > Place and navigating to the shark image. Or you can just simply drag and drop the image from your folder directly onto your Photoshop document. Once it is imported, scale the shark to size, and then place it on the right side of the image about halfway up the image.


Step 8

Now it's time to remove the background from the shark image. We are going to do this exactly like we did in step 6, with the mask tool. Click on the shark layer and then click the "mask" button in your layer's panel. With a small brush slowly erase around the entire shark, removing the background. The closer you get to the shark, the better the final image will look.


Step 9

You can leave the shark as-is, but I prefer to give the shark more of a gray look. We are going to accomplish this by creating 2 duplicates of the shark and modifying them slightly. First step is to select your current shark layer and changing the Blending Mode to "overlay". You can do this by clicking the box with the word "Normal". This box is located at the top of your layers panel.

Duplicate that current layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J), change the Blending Mode to "Hard Light". We are going to want to "Desaturate" this layer. You can do this simply by clicking "Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U", or you can do it the hard way by going to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. This will turn the image black and white. Duplicate the desaturated layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and change the layer mode back to "Normal", but this time change the "Opacity" to 60%.


Step 10

Now it's time to give the background a dark eerie look. Create a new layer above the water background layers and fill it with black. Then grab a very large eraser brush (about 1000 px) and erase the top left portion of the black background. Lower the opacity of this layer to about 65%. Create one more layer and fill it with black. Using the same size eraser brush, erase the top right portion of the layer. This time lower the opacity to 80%.


Step 11

We now have 8 layers in our layers palette and it is looking a little sloppy. We can quickly organize it by selecting the 3 shark layers and clicking "Cmd/Ctrl + G". This will create a new folder with those layers in it. Lets do the same for the 5 background layers (2 black layers and 3 background image layers).


Step 12

At this point, our scene is looking pretty empty. Lets fix this by duplicating the shark and giving him 2 friends. Select the "Shark" folder and drag it down to the "New layer" icon on the bottom of the layers palette. Go ahead and add one just above the current shark and then another on the left side of the canvas. Mess with the opacity and scaling of the shark to give the sharks more "depth".


Step 13

Now that the sharks are all placed, we need to give them a couple of friends, turtles. Go ahead and load the turtle image into Photoshop, exactly like you did with the shark image. At the moment, the turtle is swimming towards the left. We are going to flip the image horizontal so the turtle is swimming towards the right. We can rotate the image horizontal by going to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.


Step 14

We need to now remove the background from the turtle image. We do this the exact same way as we did with the shark. Create a layer mask and then just paint around the turtle. This time, we want to leave a little bit of the coral that is under the turtle. You also want to mask a small amount of the background on the edges of coral. This way there are no hard edges.


Step 15

As you can see, the turtle stands out pretty badly. We need to do pretty much exactly like we did with the shark. Set the turtle layer's blending mode to "Overlay" and set the opacity to 60%. Duplicate the turtle layer by clicking Cmd/Ctrl + J. Then set that layer to "Hard Light" with an opacity of 100%. As you can see, the turtle is standing out still, we need desaturate that layer. You can do this by clicking "Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + U", or going to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.


Step 16

One final step for the "Hard Light" layer, is to slightly mask the bottom portion of it. We can do this by clicking on the "mask" thumbnail on the layer. Then with a black brush with the size of about 300px and a hardness of 0%, gently paint the bottom half of the turtle and coral. This will help make the turtle and coral blend in with the background Now, take both of those layers and put them into their own folder called "Turtle / Coral". You can do this by selecting both layers and clicking "Cmd/Ctrl + G".


Step 17

The turtle feels a bit out-numbered because there are so many sharks, so lets give him a friend. You can make a copy of the turtle, just like we did with the shark, by dragging it to the "new layer" button at the bottom of the layers pallet.

The problem with just cloning the turtle is that it has the little bit of coral at the bottom of the image, so we are going to have to remove that. Rather than redoing all of the previous steps, we are going to just add a layer mask to the folder. You can do this by clicking the folder, and just like with a layer, you click the "mask" button at the bottom of the layers pallet. With the mask created, paint away the rest of the coral with a small brush. Now, you can place the turtle at the upper left corner of the canvas. I recommend scaling, rotating and lowering the opacity to give it some depth.


Step 18

There is one more image for us to work with. This will just be repeating the exact same steps as the turtle. Go ahead and load up the Coral image and place it on the lower right corner of the canvas. Mask out the background, just like we did with the other images. With this image, all we have to do is change the layer Blending Mode to "Overlay" with an Opacity of 40%.


Step 19

Now that we are done with the images, we can begin adding a little detail. We are going to add bubbles to the water, to give some character to the fish. First, we will have to load the bubble brushes. You do this by right clicking the canvas. In the brush selection pop-up, click the arrow on the top right, go down to "Preset Manager." In the "Preset Manager" window, make sure your Preset Type is on "Brushes", then click on the "Load" button and load the brush file.


Step 20

Your brushes are now loaded, but painting 1 bubble at a time would take way too much time. We can save time by simply modifying the brush. Click "F5" to open your brush menu, or go to Window > Brush. Select the bubble brush with the number "690." In this window we are going to do the following: Size: 6px - Spacing: 210%. On the left, click "Shape Dynamics." Size Jitter: 30% - Minimum Diameter: 10% - Angle Jitter: 10% - Roundness Jitter: 20% - Minimum Roundness: 25%. On the left, click "Scattering." Scatter: 1000% - Count: 1 - Count Jitter: 18%. You don't have to worry about any other settings.


Step 21

Now that your brush is set, create a new layer and make sure your brush color is white. Then paint the bubbles. I like to give 1 to 2 rows of bubbles (vertical rows) by each mouth and gills. You can also add a few in the background. Pretty much anywhere you feel bubbles should be placed. Feel free to play with the brush size. Once your bubbles are brushed, lower the bubble layer's Opacity to about 20% to 30%.


Step 22

We need to go back to a "default" paintbrush. You can do this by right clicking the canvas and in the brush selection menu, just select one of the round brushes at the top. Set the size to about: 35px and make sure the hardness is 0%. Create a new layer and make sure your brush color is white. Now, we are going to paint "rays" coming from the top right of the canvas.


Step 23

We need to now make the sunrays blend in quite a bit better. First step is to add noise to them. You can do this by going to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Make the amount 16%. Then add Gaussian Blur. Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Make the Radius 22.0 pixels. Lower the layer Opacity to about: 20%. If you feel that the light rays are a little too "heavy", you can create a layer mask, and gently mask out certain portions of the rays. For example: the bottom edges, and parts that intersect with the fish.


Final Image

Congratulations, you have successfully created an eerie underwater scene.

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