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How to Create a Surreal Underwater Scene With 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 create a surreal underwater scene featuring a cat sitting in a shoe. You'll learn how to create an underwater scene using several stock images, as well as how to put an adorable kitty in a shoe and make her first adventure! During this tutorial you'll also learn how to work with group, create lighting, apply bubble brushes in an underwater environment, enhance the depth of field, and more.

Find more inspiration! Check out our amazing Water-Inspired Graphics on Envato Market.

Tutorial Assets

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

1. How to Create the Underwater Scene

Step 1

Create a new 1500 x 1263 px document in Photoshop with the settings below:

new filenew filenew file

Step 2

Open the underwater image. Use the Move Tool (V) to drag it into the white canvas, and place it in the bottom half:

adding underwateradding underwateradding underwater

Step 3

Use an adjustment layer and set as Clipping Mask to reduce the saturation of the underwater scene. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation and decrease the Saturation value to - 79:

underwater hue saturationunderwater hue saturationunderwater hue saturation

Step 4

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones settings to give some vibrance to the underwater scene.

underwater color balanceunderwater color balanceunderwater color balance

Step 5

Use a color fill layer to reduce the underwater visibility and add some depth to it. Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color and pick a medium-dark cyan color (I chose #2e595c). Lower the Opacity of this layer to 50%.

underwater fill layerunderwater fill layerunderwater fill layer

Step 6

Create a Curves adjustment layer to darken the underwater scene. We're aiming to make the main light come from the upper left. So on this layer mask, use a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to erase the top left to make this part brighter than the rest. Also increase the depth of the underwater part.

underwater curvesunderwater curvesunderwater curves

2. How to Add the Sea Surface

Step 1

Open the sea image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the middle part of the sea:

select the sea partselect the sea partselect the sea part

Place this sea part in the middle of our main document, above the underwater part:

adding seaadding seaadding sea

Step 2

Add a mask to this layer, and use a soft black brush to soften the hard edges and blend the sea surface with the underwater part and the horizon, following the movement of the waves.

sea maskingsea maskingsea masking

Step 3

Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to make the color of the sea's surface match the underwater part:

sea hue saturationsea hue saturationsea hue saturation

Step 4

Make a Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness.

sea curves sea curves sea curves

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase some areas on the lower and right side, as it should be less bright than the left:

sea curves masking sea curves masking sea curves masking

3. How to Add the Sky

Step 1

Open the sky image. Select the upper sky part using the Rectangular Marquee Tool:

select skyselect skyselect sky

Drag this selected sky into our working document and place it in the upper half. Flip it horizontally by choosing Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Remember to set this layer under the underwater one.

adding skyadding skyadding sky

Step 2

Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to match the sky color with the sea:

sky color balancesky color balancesky color balance

4. How to Add the Shoe

Step 1

Open the shoe image and extract it from the background using the Magic Wand Tool (W):

extract shoeextract shoeextract shoe

Step 2

Place the shoe in the middle section of the scene and flip it horizontally:

adding shoeadding shoeadding shoe

Add a mask to this layer and use a medium-soft black brush to make the lower part of the shoe appear under the sea surface.

shoe maskingshoe maskingshoe masking

Step 3

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) and bring the Saturation value down to -88:

shoe hue saturationshoe hue saturationshoe hue saturation

Step 4

Create a Photo Filter adjustment layer and pick a medium-dark cyan color (#607a85) to match the shoe color with the background:

shoe photo filtershoe photo filtershoe photo filter

Step 5

Add a Curves adjustment layer and reduce the lightness.

shoe curves 1shoe curves 1shoe curves 1

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the upper part of the shoe which is above the sea surface:

shoe curves 1 maskingshoe curves 1 maskingshoe curves 1 masking

Step 6

Make another Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness.

shoe curves 2shoe curves 2shoe curves 2

On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the lower part and the shade areas.

shoe curves 2 maskingshoe curves 2 maskingshoe curves 2 masking

Step 7

To make the lower part of the shoe blend better with the water, create a color fill layer and choose a dark cyan color (#2d4b54). Lower the Opacity of this layer to 50%.

shoe fill layer shoe fill layer shoe fill layer

Use a soft black brush on the mask of this layer to remove the effect on the upper part of the shoe.

shoe fill layer maskingshoe fill layer maskingshoe fill layer masking

Step 8

Create a new layer (set as Clipping Mask), change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray:

dodge tool new layerdodge tool new layerdodge tool new layer

Select the Dodge Tool (O) with Midtones Range and Exposure about 10% to bring more light to the front of the shoe which is toward the light. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the result with Overlay mode:

dodge tool normal modedodge tool normal modedodge tool normal mode
dodge tool overlay modedodge tool overlay modedodge tool overlay mode

Step 9

Make a new layer and use a soft brush with the color #9ed5da to paint the light under the lowest of the shoe to blend this part better with the underwater part. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%:

shoe bottom light shoe bottom light shoe bottom light

5. How to Add the Cat

Step 1

Open the cat image. First use your familiar method to remove the background:

extract catextract catextract cat

Step 2

Make a new layer between the extracted one and the background, and fill it with the color #80604e. Select the mask of the extracted cat layer, and use a hard brush with the size from 3–6 px to trim the fur and remove the remaining dark edges:

cat fur masking cat fur masking cat fur masking

Step 3

Create a new layer and use a hard brush with the color #eff3f6 to paint the missing fur along the cat's head and body.

cat fur paintingcat fur paintingcat fur painting

Step 4

Hide the background and the fill layers, and press Control-Shift-Alt-E to merge all transparent layers into a new one. Move the merged cat into the underwater document using the Move Tool. Place her onto the shoe and flip her horizontally:

adding catadding catadding cat

Add a mask to this layer and remove the lower part of her hands to make her look as if she's inside the shoe:

cat masking cat masking cat masking

Step 5

Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to desaturate the cat a bit:

cat hue saturationcat hue saturationcat hue saturation

Step 6

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones settings:

cat color balancecat color balancecat color balance

Step 7

Add a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the top of the ears and the right side along the head and body.

cat curvescat curvescat curves

Step 8

Create a new layer, change the mode to Overlay, and fill with 50% gray. Use the Dodge Tool to bring more light to the upper side of the ears, head and hands, and the Burn Tool for shading and reducing the highlight on the neck.

cat dodge and burncat dodge and burncat dodge and burn

Step 9

To make the cat shadow on the shoe, create a new layer under the cat one. Use a soft black brush with the Opacity about 20–25% to paint on the part under her hands:

cat shadowcat shadowcat shadow

6. How to Add the Birds

Step 1

Open the birds 1 image. Isolate the birds from the background using the Magic Wand Tool.

isolate birds 1isolate birds 1isolate birds 1

Select some birds to add to the sky, behind the cat, remembering to vary their size to create depth of field:

adding small birdsadding small birdsadding small birds

Step 2

Add two birds to the farther background, making them smaller than the existing ones. On each of these layers, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 2 px:

smaller birds gaussian blursmaller birds gaussian blursmaller birds gaussian blur

Step 3

Add a bigger bird to the right corner of the scene, above the underwater surface. Apply a Gaussian Blur of 4 px to it:

add a bigger birdadd a bigger birdadd a bigger bird

Step 4

Select all the bird layers and press Control-G to make a group for them. Change the mode of this group from Pass Through (default group mode) to Normal 100%. Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Saturation value to -64:

birds 1 hue saturationbirds 1 hue saturationbirds 1 hue saturation

Step 5

Add a Curves adjustment layer and increase the lightness.

birds 1 curvesbirds 1 curvesbirds 1 curves

Use the layer mask to reduce the lightness on some birds, especially on the right side and the lower part of them.

birds 1 curves maskingbirds 1 curves maskingbirds 1 curves masking

Step 6

Open the bird 2 image, and isolate the bird using the Magic Wand Tool. Add it to the top left of the scene, making it bigger than the existing ones (as it's closest to the viewer) and making sure it fits the direction of the cat's gaze:

add bird 2add bird 2add bird 2

Step 7

Apply a Gaussian Blur to this bird and increase the Radius to 8 px to enhance the depth of field:

bird 2 gaussian blurbird 2 gaussian blurbird 2 gaussian blur

Step 8

Use a Color Balance adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to add some red/yellow to the bird:

bird 2 color balancebird 2 color balancebird 2 color balance

7. How to Add the Bubbles

Change the brush kind to the bubble ones and the color to #c2cfd5. Select a brush you like and press F5 to change the settings of this brush:

bubble brush settings 1bubble brush settings 1bubble brush settings 1
bubble brush settings 2bubble brush settings 2bubble brush settings 2
bubble brush settings 3bubble brush settings 3bubble brush settings 3

Paint some random bubbles along the bottom of the shoe, remembering to lower the brush opacity and size so as not to make the bubbles too visible or obvious.

paint bubblespaint bubblespaint bubbles

8. How to Apply the Final Adjustments

Step 1

Create a Gradient Map adjustment layer on top of the layers and pick the color #1b243f and #f8b884. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.

whole scene gradient map whole scene gradient map whole scene gradient map

Step 2

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

whole scene color balancewhole scene color balancewhole scene color balance
color balance resultcolor balance resultcolor balance result

Step 3

Make a Photo Filter adjustment layer and choose the color #c5ae5d:

whole scene photo filter whole scene photo filter whole scene photo filter

Step 4

Time to add light to the scene. Create a new layer, and use a soft brush with the color #1f0b01 to paint on the left side:

painting light 1 normal modepainting light 1 normal modepainting light 1 normal mode

Change the mode to Linear Dodge 100% and use a layer mask to reduce the light effect on the biggest bird and the cat side, on the shoe, and under the water surface where they are less illuminated.

light 1 linear dodge modelight 1 linear dodge modelight 1 linear dodge mode

Step 5

Make a new layer and change the brush color to #efa67e. Paint on the left corner to make a highlight. Set this layer mode to Overlay 100%:

light 2 overlay modelight 2 overlay modelight 2 overlay mode

Step 6

Add a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the upper left. On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the lower left and the right side to maintain the shade there:

whole scene curveswhole scene curveswhole scene curves

Step 7

Use a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the whole effect:

whole scene vibrancewhole scene vibrancewhole scene vibrance

Congratulations, You're Done!

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and learned some new techniques. Feel free to leave your feedback and comments in the box below—I'd love to see them! Enjoy Photoshopping!

Surreal Underwater Photo Manipulation Photoshop TutorialSurreal Underwater Photo Manipulation Photoshop TutorialSurreal Underwater Photo Manipulation Photoshop Tutorial

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