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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photo Manipulation

How to Create a Surreal Dance Scene in the Rain in Affinity Photo

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

Today, we will be creating a surreal dance scene full of movement by implementing some simple but effective techniques for water and rain.

We will also be learning all about the Curves adjustment layer in Affinity Photo, one of my personal favorite adjustment layers due to how it can enhance both the lighting and tone of an image and bring everything together, creating one cohesive scene. 

What You'll Need

You will need the following resources in order to complete this project:

Find more great resources on Envato Elements!

1. How to Quickly Enhance a Photo's Lighting 

First, we will be intensifying the lighting of our main photo, Ballet Dancers Dancing Under Water, as the photo's lighting is already gorgeous and doesn't need a whole lot done to it!

Step 1

Create a 3007 x 3403 px canvas by going to New Document. 

Drag and drop the Ballet Dancers Dancing Under Water photo onto your new canvas. 

Step 2

To close the gap at the top of the canvas, create a rectangular selection, about 500 px tall, across the top of the main image using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M).

Go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste to make a copy of the upper part of our image. Drag the copy below the original image and use the Move Tool (V) to move the copy up a few pixels to close the gap.  

close gapclose gapclose gap

Step 3

To create a seamless transition between the original and the copy, feather out the edge of the original image using a large, soft, round Eraser Brush Tool (E).

feather edgefeather edgefeather edge

Step 4

Create a new Pixel Layer above the original image's layer. Set the new layer's mode to Overlay, located to the right of Opacity. 

Using a very large, soft, round Paint Brush (B), paint white light towards the top and bottom of the image.

Set the Opacity of the new layer to 45%.

add lightadd lightadd light

Step 5

Create a Curves adjustment layer, located in the bottom middle of the Layers panel in the Adjustments section. 

How Do You Use Curves?

Use the curves adjustment layer by clicking and dragging on the curve. Clicking will create a point, which you can drag in any direction to get different results. 

Creating a point and dragging on the left half of the curve will usually affect the shadows of an image, while dragging on the right side will affect the highlights of an image.


curves settingscurves settingscurves settings

Step 6

Click on the curves layer mask, located to the left of the layer's name, and invert it by holding Control-I. This will turn the layer mask black.

What's a Layer Mask?

A layer mask works by hiding, otherwise known as masking, anything painted black on the mask and showing anything that is painted white. Since inverting the mask turned the layer mask from white to black, the whole layer became hidden under the mask. This means we can use a white brush to paint back our curves layer wherever we want its effect to show. 

This is a great tool to use when you want to focus an adjustment layer's effect in one spot, or if you'd like to erase something without permanently erasing it. It's also called "non-destructive editing".

Step 7

So with a large, soft, round Paint Brush with a Flow of around 20%, paint white in the areas you see selected below.

What Is Flow? 

The flow rate setting can be found between Opacity and Hardness in the Paint Brush Tool's toolbar.  

Flow allows you to build up paint over and over again. The more you pass your brush over the same spot, the more paint will build in that spot. 

Bringing the flow of a brush down low is a great way to gradually add or remove paint, creating very smooth transitions. 

masks curvesmasks curvesmasks curves

Step 8

To finish off our main image, create a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and bring it above all current layers. 


  • Brightness: 24
  • Contrast: 11

Group all current layers together using the Group Layers button towards the bottom right of the Layers panel, and name the group "Background".

final layersfinal layersfinal layers

2. How to Add Fish to a Photo Composite 

Next up, we are going to add some betta Siamese fighting fish to accompany our dancers. 

Step 1

Place and shrink the fish so that it fits completely inside the canvas.

Using the Selection Brush Tool (W), select all of the black background around the fish's body.  

Hit Delete once you are happy with the selection. 

place fishplace fishplace fish

Step 2  

Duplicate the fish and set the layer mode to Screen. Bring the duplicate layer below the original layer. Bring the layer Opacity down to 75%.

Go back to the original fish and Erase the tail using a large, soft, round brush. 

screen fish tailscreen fish tailscreen fish tail

Step 3

Duplicate the fish copy, the one we set to screen, and then stretch and elongate the lower half of the fish so that it gives the effect of extending the tail.  

Do this by using a combination of the Move Tool and the Mesh Warp Tool (you can find this under View > Customize Tools, and then drag and drop the Mesh Warp Tool icon onto your toolbar).

elongate fish tailelongate fish tailelongate fish tail

Step 4

Create and nest a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer into your original fish image. 

What Is Nesting?

To nest a layer inside another layer, drag and drop the layer you want to nest over the layer you want that layer to be nested in.  

This will make it so that the adjustment layer will only affect the layer it is nested inside. This can also be used for painting inside a specific subject and is not specific to adjustment layers. 


  • Contrast: 73%
contrast fishcontrast fishcontrast fish

Step 5

Create and nest a Color Balance adjustment layer into the fish layer as well, placing it above the Brightness/Contrast layer. 


  • Red: -55%
  • Green: 43%
  • Blue: 100%
color fishcolor fishcolor fish

Step 6

Create and nest a Curves adjustment layer into the fish layer, placing it above the Color Balance layer. 


curves settingscurves settingscurves settings
curve fishcurve fishcurve fish

Step 7

To finish up our fish, add an Inner Glow layer effect to the original fish layer. 

You can find Layer Effects in the bottom middle of the Layers panel. 


  • Blend Mode: Soft Light
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Radius: 24px
  • Intensity: 50%
  • Color: White

Group all the fish layers together and name the group "Fish - Big". 

add inner glowadd inner glowadd inner glow

Step 8

Add a second fish using the same method as before to create a smaller fish, only this time using our second fish image, Betta Siamese fighting fish 2.

You can even copy, paste and nest the same adjustment layers from the first fish to the second fish to save some time! 

Name the group of this fish "Fish - Small"

add second fishadd second fishadd second fish

Step 9

To finish up our fish, create a new Pixel Layer below our two fish groups and set the layer mode to Soft Light. 

Using a soft, round Paint Brush set to a 10% Flow, paint subtle lines of white around the fish, flowing from the fish's tail.

Change the brush size as needed. 

paint outer glowpaint outer glowpaint outer glow

3. How to Create Splashing Water 

Next, we will be adding large splashes of water coming from our dancers' bodies. 

Step 1

Drag and drop both Water splash with puzzle effect and Water splash with puzzle effect 2 onto the canvas. 

Set both of their layer modes to Screen. 

place splashes place splashes place splashes

Step 2

Select parts of the water using the Freehand Selection Tool (L).

Go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste to paste the selection splash on its own layer.

Change its layer mode back to Screen. 

cut out splash cut out splash cut out splash

Step 3 

Place the splash over a part of the model's body or on the fish where it looks best. In this case, it's the arm of the dancing man. 

place splash on arm place splash on arm place splash on arm

Step 4

Do this several more times using the same technique as above. 

Select a part of the water from one of our two stock photos, copy and paste it onto its own layer, set the splash to Screen, and then place it in an area where you think it looks best. 

You can use a combination of the Move Tool, Mesh Warp Tool, and Erase Brush Tool to stretch and manipulate the splash to better fit the area you want to place it—similar to how we stretched the fish's tail. 

place other splashes place other splashes place other splashes

Step 5

To add some depth, take one of the splashes and enlarge it using the Move Tool. Place the enlarged splash in the bottom-left hand corner of the screen.

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and add a 3 px Blur to the large splash. 

place large splashplace large splashplace large splash

Once you have all of the splashes placed and arranged how you'd like them, group all of them into a group named "Splash".

Step 6

Create a new Pixel Layer below the "Splash" group, and set the layer mode to Lighten. 

Using a hard, round Paint Brush, paint a light blue color #1973e0 behind all of your larger water splashes to make them more opaque. 

Change the size of the brush as needed. 

Bring the layer's Opacity down to 28%. 

final layersfinal layersfinal layers

4. How to Create Rain 

Now, we will be moving on to the rain. This effect can be applied to any image, and it can be done following the same process in Photoshop as well! 

Step 1

Create a new Pixel Layer above all current layers. Fill the layer up with black using the Flood Fill Tool (G).

Set the layer to Lighten. This will hide the black! 

Step 2

Add a high amount of noise to the layer by going to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.


  • Intensity: 100%
  • Gaussian
  • Monochromatic Checked
add noise add noise add noise

Step 3

Using the Move Tool, enlarge the noise layer significantly. Mine ended up being 15230 x 10540 px as it needs to be very large! 

Add a motion blur to the enlarged noise by going to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. 


  • Radius: 77 px
  • Rotation: 135  

This will hide the noise! 

Step 4

To bring back the noise, create and nest a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer inside the noise layer.


  • Brightness: 79%
  • Contrast: 100%

As you will see this doesn't do much, however, what we are going to do is duplicate that Brightness/Contrast layer two more times! 

lighten noise lighten noise lighten noise

Step 5

Above all three Brightness/Contrast layers, add a Color Balance adjustment layer. 


  • Red: -100%
  • Blue: 100%
color noise  color noise  color noise

Step 6

Rasterize the noise layer by hovering over the layer, and  Right Click > Rasterize

What Is Rasterize? 

Rasterizing a layer will crop any excess layer that is not on the canvas, and it will also merge all the nested layers together. It turns everything into a flat pixel layer. 

Smooth out the noise by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. 


  • Radius: 3
Blur noise Blur noise Blur noise

Step 7

Duplicate the noise layer and set the duplicate noise layer to Screen. Enlarge the duplicated layer significantly. 

Add more blur to the now larger raindrops with Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. 


  • Radius: 5
enlarge noise enlarge noise enlarge noise

Step 8

Add a Layer Mask to the larger raindrops and mask out portions of the rain using a large, soft, round Paint Brush in the color black. 

Group all your rain layers into a group and call it "Rain".

final layers final layers final layers

5. How to Add Bokeh to an Image

Next up, we are going to add some bokeh to the upper part of our composite. 

Step 1

Place your Bokeh background onto the canvas. 

Set the layer mode to Screen and the Opacity to 93%. 

Add a slight blur to the bokeh using Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. 

place bokehplace bokehplace bokeh

Step 2

Add a Layer Mask to the bokeh.

Using a soft, round Paint Brush, paint black on the layer mask to mask away the harsh edges of the bokeh stock image. 

mask bokeh mask bokeh mask bokeh

Step 3

Create and nest a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer into the bokeh.


  • Brightness: -150
  • Contrast: 100
darken bokeh darken bokeh darken bokeh

Step 4

Create and nest a Recolor adjustment layer into the bokeh above the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. 


  • Hue: -199
  • Saturation: 65%
color bokeh color bokeh color bokeh

Step 5

Copy and paste a second bokeh image and repeat the step above, only this time enlarge the bokeh significantly.

Use a large, soft, round Erase Brush to erase some of the bokeh from on top of the dancers. 

Group all your bokeh layers together in a group named "Bokeh". 

final layers final layers final layers

6. How to Add Atmosphere 

Next, we will be adding some all-over atmosphere to help brighten our image. 

Step 1

Create a new Pixel Layer above all current layers and set it to Screen. 

Using a large, soft, round Paint Brush, paint red #ca0000 around the fish and bokeh area, almost as if it's coming from the left dancer's hand. 

Again, paint with a low Flow to help build up the color gradually. 

add red glow add red glow add red glow

Step 2

Create a new layer above your red glow layer and set it to Soft Light. 

Using a very large, soft, round Paint Brush, paint white in the upper-right hand corner and black in the lower-left hand corner. 

Below is my layer set to normal at 100% opacity just so that you can see exactly where I painted white and black. 

black and white gradient black and white gradient black and white gradient

Step 3

Create another new layer above your gradient layer and set the Opacity to 23%

Using the same very large, soft, round Paint Brush, paint more white in the upper-right-hand corner of the image. 

final layers final layers final layers

7. How to Create an Intense Blue Color Grade 

Finally, to finish everything up and tie our scene together, we are going to apply a vibrant blue color grade using just three adjustment layers!

Step 1

Create a Color Balance layer above all other layers. 


  • Red: -50
  • Blue: 50
add color add color add color

Step 2

Create a Curves adjustment layer above the Color Balance layer. 


curves curves curves
curves results curves results curves results

Step 3

Create a second Curves layer above your previous Curves layer. 


curves setting curves setting curves setting
curves setting curves setting curves setting
curves setting curves setting curves setting

Group all the adjustment layers you just created into a group and name it "CC" or "Color Correct".

final result final result final result

We've Done It!

It's always best to have a toolset full of versatile techniques that can be applied to an array of different images and situations, like this rain effect or the color grading we learned today, as opposed to a bunch of silly one-off gimmicks or effects! 

As always, keep experimenting with different techniques, and don't forget to post your version below, along with any questions, comments, or critiques!

Conclusion Conclusion Conclusion

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