1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation

How to Create a Mermaid in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Summer is [almost] over, but the vacation photos can keep the memory of it alive. But you don't need to limit yourself to only looking at these photos—you can use some of them to create a beautiful photo manipulation!

In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a mermaid in Adobe Photoshop using only two stock photos. You'll learn how to modify, adjust, and merge them to create a consistent, realistic image of something unreal. I will show you tricks you can use in other photo manipulations as well!

Tutorial Assets

In order to complete this tutorial, you'll need the following resources:

1. Prepare the Assets

Step 1

Because we'll want to add a long tail in place of the legs, the composition of the photo will change. That's why we need to crop it for a more balanced look. Use the Crop Tool (C) to create a proper frame.

how to crop a stock photo

Step 2

The bigger the photo, the more details we'll be able to fit into it. Go to Image > Image Size to make the resolution reasonably high.

change size in photoshop

Step 3

Now we need to isolate the other assets. Open the Fish photo in Photoshop and use the Pen Tool (P) to select it. If you don't know how to use this tool, you can learn it quickly from these materials:

fish stock photo

Step 4

Turn the path into a selection with Control-Enter, and then Select > Inverse to remove the background.

how to use pen tool

Step 5

Use the Pen Tool (P) again to slice the fish into separate elements we may need. Keep them all on separate layers.

how to cut a stock photo

Step 6

Use the Patch Tool (J) to make the body more uniform.

how to fix a stock photo

Step 7

We're going to use the body for a tail, but it's quite short. Let's make it longer: use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and the Move Tool (V) to divide the body into three pieces with some space in between. Keep them on the same layer.

how to make fish body longer

Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) again to select the area between the two pieces.

how to use content aware fill for multiple selections

Go to Edit > Fill and select Content-Aware. Press OK.

how to create scales where theres none

Do the same with the other area.

how to modify a stock photo for your needs

You can also use the Patch Tool to clean up the body, but it doesn't really need to be perfect.

how to clean a photo with the patch tool

Step 8

Duplicate (Control-J) the body, and drag the copy right over the original.

how to duplicate layers in photoshop

Step 9

Use a Layer Mask to blend the layers into each other. You can learn more about it from Quick Tip: Layer Mask vs. the Eraser Tool in Adobe Photoshop. If you don't want to learn that, you can always use the Eraser Tool (E) instead. Layer Mask is simply more versatile and it lets you "un-erase" already erased parts.

how to blend layers in adobe photoshop

Step 10

Select both layers and Merge them (Control-E). Use the Patch Tool (J) if necessary.

how to use the pacth tool

Step 11

Repeat the previous steps as many times as necessary to create a big "texture" of scales. Copy it.

how to create scales pattern photoshop

2. Put All the Elements in Their Places

Step 1

Paste the fish body into the main file. Lower its Opacity to see what's behind it. Then go to Edit > Free Transform (Control-T) and resize/rotate the texture to cover the legs.

how to add an element to a picture

Step 2

Without pressing Enter, change the mode to Warp. Drag the handles around to adjust the shape to the perspective of the lower body.

how to use the free transform tool

Step 3

Use a Layer Mask (or the Eraser Tool) to clean up the shape.

how to use a layer mask

Step 4

You can paint on individual scales to create a more natural transition.

how to paint scales from photo

Step 5

Before we add the rest of the tail, we need to find out where to put it. The background photo dictates some kind of perspective, and we need to follow it to create a convincing scene. You can sketch the tail on a new layer, but it's not necessary—you can simply "see" it with your imagination.

how to draw a fish tail in perspective

Step 6

Paste the scales once again and use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to create a rectangular selection. Copy and paste it.

how to cut a part of a texture

Step 7

Duplicate (Control-J) the rectangle. Hide the original for later and modify the copy with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to "stick" the rectangle to the tail in perspective. Hold Control to drag the corners separately.

hopw to position a texture

Step 8

When you're done, duplicate the original once again to create another part.

how to create a texture out of small parts

Repeat the process along the tail.

how to create a bending in texture

You can paste a bigger area of scales once you reach a flatter part.

how to cover a fish tail with scales

Step 9

Use a Layer Mask to clean the borders between the layers. Then Merge them all and use a Layer Mask again to give it the shape of a tail.

how to use layer mask for cleaning

Step 10

Add some scales to the side of the tail as well. Merge it with the rest of the tail...

how to complete the tail

... then use a Layer Mask to create a border between the tail and water.

how to use layer mask instead of eraser

Step 11

Paste the caudal fin into the file. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to position the fin.

Step 12

Go to Filter > Liquify and use the Forward Warp Tool (W) to adjust the base of the fin to the width of the tail.

how to use liquify tool

Use a Layer Mask if necessary to blend the fin better.

how to use layer mask for blending

Step 13

Go into Quick Mask Mode (Q) and paint over a part of the bra to select it. Go out of the mode (Q) and go to Select > Inverse.

how to use quick mask mode for selection

Step 14

Go to Edit > Fill and select Content-Aware.

how to use content aware fill

Adjust the result manually using the Patch Tool (J).

how to fix area with the patch tool

Use this trick on the bra until it becomes invisible. The effect doesn't need to be perfect, unless you want to leave the breasts uncovered.

how to remove bra in photoshop

Step 15

Let's create a "corset" out of scales to avoid unnecessary nudity. Use the Free Transform Tool and a Layer Mask to achieve such an effect on the side.

how to create a corset
how to blend a corset

Step 16

The scales on the breasts should be rounded, so we need to work on the texture a little bit. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) and hold Shift to select a circle. Invert the selection and cut the redundant part.

how to distort scale texture

Step 17

Hold Control and click the thumbnail of the layer to keep it selected. Go to Filter > Distort > Spherize and use 100% for the Amount.

how to use spherize filter
spherize filter used

Step 18

Duplicate (Control-J) the circle, and use the tricks you're already familiar with to adjust both copies to the breasts.

how to change circle with free transfomr tool
how to blend with a layer mask
how to make blending more detailed
raw photo manipulation

3. Make the Scene More Appealing

Step 1

Paste the scales and modify their shape to fix the perspective of the tail. Use a Layer Mask to clean up the shape.

how to create tail underwater

Step 2

Double-click the layer to open the Layer Style window. Play with the lower Blend If slider to cover the tail with reflections. Hold Alt to split the marker for a more natural effect. You can learn more about this tool from Quick Tip: the Magic of Photoshop's Blend If.

how to use blend if underwater

Use a Layer Mask as well to make the submerged part less visible.

how to create a simple water refleciton

Step 3

Paste a fin from our fish and add it to the sides.

how to add fins to a siren
how to place one fin on the side
how to place the other fin

Step 4

Add the other fins and attach them under the shoulder blades, as if they were a kind of wing.

how to add additional fins
how to change shape of fins
how to erase the fins

Step 5

Use a Layer Mask to make the fins partially transparent and therefore thin in look.

how to make fins transparent in photoshop

4. Blend the Elements

Step 1

Select the upper tail layer and open Window > Adjustments. Select Hue/Saturation.

how to add an adjustment in photoshop

Clip the adjustment to the layer below (Control-Alt-G). Then play with the sliders to create a darker version of the layer—just how it would look in the shadow.

how to clip an adjustment

Step 2

The adjustment layer has its own Layer Mask attached. Use it to blend the effect and to keep it in the shadow. Follow the lighting on the body to achieve proper results.

how to adjust adjustment with a layer mask

Step 3

You can duplicate the adjustment layer as many times as you want, getting a darker shade each time.

how to shade using adjustments

Step 4

Shade all the elements.

how to shade photo manipulation

Step 5

This is a good time to decide whether you want to change colors. It can be done easily with another Hue/Saturation layer. Check Colorize for better results.

how to colorize photo

You can also add a few Colorize layers for each part, and then blend the colors using a Layer Mask.

how to change colors in photo

Step 6

Let's add the highlights now. Add another Hue/Saturation adjustment and make it brighter/more bluish.

how to add highlights in photo

Use a Layer Mask to keep this area in the light.

how to add highlights with adjustments

You can add an even brighter version of this adjustment on top to make the edge lighter.

how to make fish brighter
how to shade and lighten a photo

Step 7

You can use the same method to shade parts of the body. Just be careful with selecting them, because they're all part of the background!

how to shade model in photro manipulation

5. Adjust the Elements to the Environment

Step 1

Copy the ripples from the background using the Lasso Tool (L)...

how to copy water

... and paste them over both submerged parts of the tail.

how to place water

Step 2

Use a Layer Mask to blend them into the rest of water.

how to add ripples in photo manipulation

Step 3

Let's add some highlights to make the scales look metallic. Add a New Layer over the tail, clip it (Control-Alt-G) and use a soft brush to paint a long stroke.

how to add additional highlights

Step 4

Change the Blend Mode to Overlay.

how to use blend modes for highlights

Step 5

Double-click the layer and play with its Blend If settings to give the highlights to the brightest parts.

how to use blend if for highlights

Step 6

Add this effect to all the scaly parts. You can also use a Layer Mask to make the highlights more natural. To make the metallic effect even stronger, you can darken the shadows more.

how to sue layer mask for highlights

Step 7

Reflected color is another important factor that makes elements look as if they're really next to each other. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment to give a skin color to some of the scales. Then limit the area with a Layer Mask.

how to add reflected color to phot manipulation
photo with reflected color added

Step 8

Hold Control and click the thumbnail of the lower tail layer to make a selection out of it. Use this selection to copy a part of the background.

how to add additional reflection to a tail

Paste it over the tail.

how to copy water

Step 9

Use Filter > Liquify to disturb the water.

how to distort water reflection

Step 10

Use a Layer Mask to blend it into the tail. The reflection should be the strongest at the edges.

how to blend reflection into object

Step 11

We have a lot of layers now, so go ahead and merge (Control-E) the ones that already make a group together (for example, a layer with all its clipped adjustments).

Go into the Quick Mask Mode (Q) and use a soft brush to select the edges of an element.

how to use quick mask in photoshop

Step 12

Make and invert the selection, and then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Make the edges as blurred as the body.

how to sue gaussian blur

Step 13

Do the same with all the pasted elements.

how to use gaussian blur in photo manipulation

Step 14

The lower tail is slightly farther from us, so it shouldn't be so much in focus. Go to Filter > Blur > Tilt-Shift and play with its settings to make it fit the blurry background.

how to use tilt shift for blurring
tilt shift filter applied

6. Add Finishing Touch

Step 1

Copy the upper tail and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical. Place it under its original layer. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to adjust it to perspective. Blend it with a Layer Mask.

how to add reflection in water
how to adjust reflection with layer mask

Step 2

Use the Lasso Tool (L) to select an area between the lower tail and water. The actual shape is not important. Duplicate the selection.

how to select with the lasso tool

Step 3

Use the Liquify filter to create ripples.

how to create ripples with liquify filter

Blend it with a Layer mask.

how to blend ripples

Step 4

You can shade the skin by adding two adjustments to the background layer. To make it more realistic, you can add Filter > Noise > Add Noise to both of them.

how to shade skin without airbrushing effect

Step 5

We're almost done now. Take a good look at your artwork and use all the methods you have learned to apply any necessary fixes. When you're sure you don't want to change anything else, save it as a new file, right-click the layers, and select Flatten Image.

how to create a realistic photomanipulation

Step 6

Use the Crop Tool (C) to get more space on the left and on top. Make it slightly excessive.

how to crop photo manipulation

Step 7

Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the empty area on the left. Use Content-Aware Fill on it, and then do the same with the top. Once it's filled, use the Patch Tool (J) to make the seams less obvious.

how to make a photo bigger

Step 8

Crop the picture once again to create the final frame.

how to crop a final frame

Step 9

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise to make the image more uniform.

how to add noise to a final image

Step 10

Go to Image > Image Size to convert the artwork to the final size. The smaller it is, the stronger the illusion.

how to change image size

Step 11

You can add Color Balance adjustment to quickly change the atmosphere of the image. You can also add Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen the artwork to unify all the elements and make the scale pattern clearer.

how to sharpen an image

Good Job!

Did you like this tutorial? Take a look at other great resources on our site:

how to create a realistic mermaid siren photo manipulation in photoshop
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