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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation

How to Create a Surreal Water Photo Manipulation in Adobe Photoshop

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Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a surreal creative photo manipulation featuring a giant fish trying to swallow the moon. 

First, we'll build the base scene of the sea and add the fish. After that, we'll add the moon, paint the bubbles, and create the water's splashes. We'll use several adjustment layers to complete the final effect.

But if you want to save some time in your next water image composition, you can try water effect Photoshop add-ons like the one below. 

This PSD action will help you create an amazing and surreal water photo manipulation in a few clicks!This PSD action will help you create an amazing and surreal water photo manipulation in a few clicks!This PSD action will help you create an amazing and surreal water photo manipulation in a few clicks!
This PSD action will help you create an amazing and surreal water photo manipulation in a few clicks!

Scroll down after the Photoshop water manipulation tutorial to find the best resources from Envato Elements and some top resources like this tutorial on how to create a water effect in Photoshop:

What You'll Learn in This Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial

  • How to build the base scene
  • How to make the water's surface
  • How to retouch the fish
  • How to add the moon
  • How to add the bubbles
  • How to create the water's splashes
  • How to make the final adjustments

What You'll Need

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

1. How to Build the Base Scene

Step 1

Create a new 2000 x 1289 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:

new filenew filenew file

The background color should be #1a2635.

Step 2

Open the sky image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the sky only, and drag it into the main canvas using the Move Tool (V). Place it in the upper half.

add skyadd skyadd sky

Step 3

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance and change the Midtones values to make the sky blue.

sky color balancesky color balancesky color balance

Step 4

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the sky.

sky curves sky curves sky curves

Step 5

On the sky layer, click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Activate the Brush Tool (B) and select a soft round one with black color. Lower the brush's Opacity to 10-15% to reduce the cloud's texture on the upper section of the sky.

sky curves maskingsky curves maskingsky curves masking

Step 6

Create a Color Fill layer and fill it with the color #20374c. On this layer mask, use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to select the upper half of the canvas. Turn the foreground white and press Delete to reveal the lower part of the water.

water color fill water color fill water color fill
water masking water masking water masking

Step 7

Make a Curves adjustment layer above the Color Fill layer to darken the water and set it as a Clipping Mask. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush with Opacity of about 20-25% to reduce the dark effect on the top of the water part, as we're aiming to add some light above these areas.

water curves water curves water curves

2. How to Make the Water's Surface

Step 1

Next in this water picture composition: the surface. Open the sea image and select the sea part. Place it in the middle section of the main canvas, above the water. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to transform the sea part a bit.

add sea surfaceadd sea surfaceadd sea surface

Add a mask to this layer, use a soft black brush to remove the hard edges of the background, and use a medium-hard black brush to paint on the lower part of the surface.

surface maskingsurface maskingsurface masking

Step 2

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and alter the Master settings.

surface hue saturationsurface hue saturationsurface hue saturation

Step 3

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the surface. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush with Opacity of about 10-15% to reduce the effect on both sides of the water.

surface curves 1surface curves 1surface curves 1

Step 4

Make another Curves adjustment layer with the same purpose. Paint on the background of the surface to reveal some lightness there.

surface curves 2surface curves 2surface curves 2
surface curves 2 maskingsurface curves 2 maskingsurface curves 2 masking

Step 5

Create a new layer on top of the other layers and use a small brush with the color #d5deee to paint the contour of the lower part of the water's surface.

surface contoursurface contoursurface contour

3. How to Retouch the Fish

Step 1

Isolate the fish and add it to the main canvas. Use Control-T to turn its head up and the tail down.

add fishadd fishadd fish

Add a mask to this layer and use a medium-hard black brush to remove the part of the fish that covers the lower part of the water's surface.

fish maskingfish maskingfish masking

Step 2

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the fish.

fish hue saturationfish hue saturationfish hue saturation

Step 3

Add a Color Fill layer and pick the color #0861a4. Use this layer to erase the higher part of the fish which is out of the water. This step is to make the lower part of the fish blend better with the water.

fish color fillfish color fillfish color fill
fish color fill masking fish color fill masking fish color fill masking

Step 4

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick the color #167fb6. On this layer mask, paint on the top and bottom of the fish's head to reduce the color's effect there.

fish photo filterfish photo filterfish photo filter

Step 5

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the fish. Use this layer to decrease the dark effect on some areas of the fish: the head, mouth, and fins.

fish curves 1fish curves 1fish curves 1

Step 6

Use another Curves adjustment layer with the same purpose, especially for the lower body of the fish. The selected areas show where to paint on the layer mask.

fish curves 2fish curves 2fish curves 2

Step 7

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

fish DB new layerfish DB new layerfish DB new layer

Activate the Dodge and Burn Tool (O) with Midtones Range and Exposure about 15-30%. Paint highlight/shadow on the fish's head, fins, and the details on its body. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode.

fish DB resultsfish DB resultsfish DB results

Step 8

Make a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #d5deee to strengthen the highlight on the fish's head. Alter this layer mode to Overlay 100%.

fish highlightfish highlightfish highlight

4. How to Add the Moon

Step 1

Cut out the moon and add it above the fish's mouth. Use Control-T to resize it to be smaller than the mouth. Add a mask to this layer and use a hard black brush to erase the part of the moon outside the mouth of the fish.

add moonadd moonadd moon

Step 2

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to turn the moon's color to blue.

moon color balancemoon color balancemoon color balance

Step 3

Create a Curves adjustment layer to brighten and decrease the contrast of the moon. Use a soft black brush with Opacity of about 30% to reduce the brightness on the right side of the moon.

moon curvesmoon curvesmoon curves

Step 4

Add a new layer on top of the other layers and use a soft brush with the color #acafb1 to paint some glowing light for the moon. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.

moon glowing lightmoon glowing lightmoon glowing light

5. How to Add the Bubbles

Step 1

Make a new layer on top of the other layers and turn the brush to the bubbles one. Change the foreground to #d7e7e7 and select the brush you like (I've chosen the one numbered 93). Press F5 to alter the settings for this brush.

bubbles settings 1bubbles settings 1bubbles settings 1
bubbles settings 2bubbles settings 2bubbles settings 2
bubbles settings 3bubbles settings 3bubbles settings 3

Use this brush to paint tiny bubbles around the lower part of the fish, below the surface. Hold [ and ] to change the size of the brush while painting.

paint bubblespaint bubblespaint bubbles

Step 2

Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to reduce the bubbles' visibility, making them blend better with the dark water.

bubbles maskingbubbles maskingbubbles masking

Step 3

Create a new layer and paint bigger bubbles, reducing their visibility with the same techniques.

paint bigger bubblespaint bigger bubblespaint bigger bubbles

Step 4

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 4 px. This step is to increase the depth of the water.

big bubbles gaussian blurbig bubbles gaussian blurbig bubbles gaussian blur

6. How to Create the Water's Splashes

Step 1

Drag the splash 1 image to find the angle you want. You can see the screenshot below to know which one I've chosen. Place the splash below the water's surface.

add splash 1add splash 1add splash 1

Duplicate this layer to make the splash clearer, and then duplicate it again and move it higher, as shown below:

splash 1 duplicationsplash 1 duplicationsplash 1 duplication

Step 2

Add a mask to each of these layers to erase the unwanted details and make the splash effect appear very subtle, as shown below:

splashes 1 maskingsplashes 1 maskingsplashes 1 masking

Step 3

Select all of these splash layers and hit Control-G to make a group for them. Change this group mode to Normal 100% and use a Color Balance adjustment layer to give the splash's color more blue.

splashes 1 color balancesplashes 1 color balancesplashes 1 color balance

Step 4

Open the splash 2 image and use the Lasso Tool (L) to select the splash to add it to the fish's area. Duplicate this layer and flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal).

add splashes 2add splashes 2add splashes 2

Change the mode of these layers to Screen 70% and use layer masks to erase most of the hard edges. We'll use several adjustment layers to remove the remaining ones later.

splashes 2 maskingsplashes 2 maskingsplashes 2 masking

Step 5

Make a group for these layers with Screen mode 100%. Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the effect.

splashes 2 hue saturationsplashes 2 hue saturationsplashes 2 hue saturation

Step 6

Use two Levels adjustment layers to delete the unwanted edges of the splashes.

splashes 2 levels 1splashes 2 levels 1splashes 2 levels 1
splashes 2 levels 2splashes 2 levels 2splashes 2 levels 2

Step 7

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to give the effect's color a bit of blue to fit the rest of the scene.

splashes 2 color balancesplashes 2 color balancesplashes 2 color balance

Step 8

Open the splash 3 image and use the Lasso Tool to select a part to add to the fish's area. Change this layer mode to Screen 100% and use a layer mask to erase the hard edges around it.

add splash 3add splash 3add splash 3

Step 9

Select different parts of the splash 3 image to add around the fish. Alter these layers' mode to Screen 100% and mask off the unwanted edges.

add more splashes 3add more splashes 3add more splashes 3
splashes 3 maskingsplashes 3 maskingsplashes 3 masking

Step 10

Use a Levels adjustment layer to remove all of the remaining edges.

splashes 3 levelssplashes 3 levelssplashes 3 levels

Step 11

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the color of the effect to blue.

splashes 3 color balancesplashes 3 color balancesplashes 3 color balance

7. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

Go back to the sea's surface. Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill it with 50% gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to paint more highlight/shadow for the water's surface below the moon's area where it gets light from the moon.

surface DBsurface DBsurface DB

Step 2

Make a Curves adjustment layer to darken the edges, especially the bottom of the water. Paint on the upper section so it won't be darkened by this adjustment layer.

whole scene curves 1whole scene curves 1whole scene curves 1

Step 3

Create two Photo Filter adjustment layers and pick the colors #00d9ec and #5f86f5.

whole scene photo filter 1whole scene photo filter 1whole scene photo filter 1
whole scene photo filter 2whole scene photo filter 2whole scene photo filter 2

Step 4

Add a Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the moon and fish areas. Use a soft black to erase the rest to keep its darkness and contrast.

whole scene curves 2whole scene curves 2whole scene curves 2

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope that you've enjoyed the Photoshop water manipulation tutorial and learned something new for your own projects. Enjoy Photoshopping!

final resultfinal resultfinal result

5 Top Water Effect Photoshop Add-Ons From Envato Elements 

Now you know how to create a water effect in Photoshop and how to make a surreal and creative photo manipulation. 

If you're looking for more resources for your next water images and designs, check out these water effect Photoshop add-ons from Envato Elements. With your subscription, you can download unlimited Photoshop add-ons, water pictures, graphic templates, and more!

1. Water Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)

Water Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)Water Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)Water Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)

If you want to make the ultimate Photoshop water manipulation, check out this action. The kit includes three different water actions containing a unique set of splash graphics. Each splash set contains ten high-resolution splashes, making it a great way to create unique water pictures.

2. Water Storm Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)

Water Storm Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)Water Storm Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)Water Storm Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)

This set is a must if you want to learn how to create a water effect in Photoshop. It includes one action and a set of brushes to add a realistic water effect. Make cool water photo compositions by adding splashes and drops!

3. Underwater Effect Photoshop Action (ATN)

Underwater Effect Photoshop Action (ATN)Underwater Effect Photoshop Action (ATN)Underwater Effect Photoshop Action (ATN)

Water-inspired photo manipulation art isn't complete without an underwater element. This underwater effect PSD action will make it easy for you. You just need to brush the area over your object and play the action. The set includes ten color correction filters to make awesome water images with underwater effects.

4. Liquify Photoshop Action (ATN)

Liquify Photoshop Action (ATN)Liquify Photoshop Action (ATN)Liquify Photoshop Action (ATN)

This water effect Photoshop action is a dramatic add-on to make creative photo manipulations. You can easily turn your subjects into water without using complicated photo manipulation techniques.

5. Water Drops Photo Effect (PSD)

Water Drops Photo Effect (PSD)Water Drops Photo Effect (PSD)Water Drops Photo Effect (PSD)

Maybe your next water photo design will need realistic drops. Try this water effect Photoshop add-on for that. You'll get a high-quality and high-resolution set of effects. Give them a try for your next photo manipulation Photoshop project! 

Discover More Awesome Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorials and Resources

Interested in more photo manipulation and water effect Photoshop tutorials? We've got you covered. Check out this cool video from the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel and the resources below:

Editorial Note: This post has been updated with contributions from Maria Villanueva. Maria is the Associate Editor of the Tuts+ Design channel.

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