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Design

How to Create an Ashes & Embers Dispersion Action in Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'll show you how to create an ashes and embers dispersion effect on any photo. At the end of the tutorial, you'll have an action which will automate the entire process with a single click.

I'll try to explain everything in much detail so that everyone can follow along, even if this is your first time with Photoshop.

The action we'll be creating is part of the Ashes n Embers Photoshop Action. If you'd like to buy it, you can head over to GraphicRiver and visit Ashes n Embers Photoshop Action.

Ashes-n-Embers promo image

The complete action has the following additional features: 

  • Four dispersion directions: Right, Left, Up and Down.
  • Ability to change the ember glow colour.
  • Original background is reconstructed and visible through the dispersed main subject.
  • Ten preset colour looks and additional colour adjustments.
  • Additional dispersion elements are also included.

Here, we'll only create the dispersion effect towards the right and apply the default colour look.

What You'll Need

The following resources are needed during the tutorial:

1. How to Set Up Your Document

Step 1

First, open the photo on which you want to work. To open your photo, go to File > Open..., choose your photo, and click Open. Now, before we get started, we need to check a few things:

  1. Your photo should be in RGB Color mode and 8 Bits/Channel. To check this, go to Image > Mode.
  2. Your photo should be the Background layer. If it is not, go to Layer > New > Background from Layer.
  3. Click the fly-out list of the Layers panel and click Panel Options.... Make sure Add "copy" to Copied Layers and Groups is checked.
Ashes n Embers Document Setup Pre-requisites

Step 2

The effect works best with images of size 3500–4000 px high. If your image is smaller, increase it by going to Image > Image Size. You can always reduce it to your original size after the effect has been applied.

Adjust image size to 3500-4000 px high

Step 3

We are going to create a dispersion effect in the right direction, so we need to expand the canvas on the right in order to have more space for the effect. Go to Image > Canvas Size, select Anchor on left and enter Width: 4500 Pixels.

Extend canvas width on the right
Image after extended the canvas on the right

2. How to Load the Brushes

Step 1

Go to Edit > Presets > Preset Manager... In the Preset Manager window, select Preset Type: Brushes and click Load...

Browse and select the Ashes n Embers Brushes.atn file that came with the downloadable attachment. Then, click Done.

Load the Ashes n Embers Brushes

Step 2

Press B on the keyboard to select the Brush Tool. Make sure both Opacity and Flow are set to 100%.

Set Opacity and Flow to 100

3. How to Make the Effect Area Layers

Step 1

Go to Layer > New > Layer... to add a new layer above the Background layer. Name the new layer subject.

Now, make a selection around your main subject. It can be done in various ways. For example, you can create a selection of your subject using the Pen Tool (P)Magic Wand Tool (W)Lasso Tool (L) or some other tool, and then just go to Edit > Fill... to fill the selection with any colour. Or you can choose the Brush Tool (B) and brush over your photo using a Hard Round brush.

Make a layer called subject and make a selection of the main subject layer

Step 2

Again, go to Layer > New > Layer... to add a new layer above the subject layer. Name the new layer area.

Now, select a Hard Round brush and with any colour brush over the area where you want to apply the effect.

Make a layer called area and select the area where you want to apply the effect

4. How to Start Recording the Action

Step 1

Now, let's start preparing the base for our action. We'll put it in a separate set for easier management. 

Go to Window > Actions or press F9 on the keyboard to open up the Actions panel. Then, click the Create new set icon, name the set Ashes n Embers, and click OK. We'll place the action inside this set.

Make a New Set called Ashes n Embers

Step 2

Click the Create new action icon and name it Ashes n Embers Action.

Click Record to start recording all the subsequent steps in Photoshop.

Make a New Action called Ashes n Embers Action

From this point onwards, everything you do will be recorded, so please be careful and keep an eye on the Actions panel. If you make a mistake, click the Stop playing/recording icon, and delete the unnecessary step from the Ashes n Embers action. Then click the Begin recording icon again to continue. The last thing you'd want is to have a messy action filled with unwanted steps.

5. How to Create the Background

Step 1

Select the Background layer, and hide the subject and area layers by toggling the eyeball icons off.

Then, press D on the keyboard to reset swatches.

Select the Background layer and hide the area and the subject layers

Step 2

Go to Layer > Duplicate Layer..., name it Base, and click OK. Press Control-G or Command-G to add it in a group. Then, go to Layer > Rename Group... and rename the group Ashes n Embers. We'll add all our further layers into this group to keep everything organised.

Make the Ashes n Embers group

Step 3

Select the Base layer, and go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.... Name it BG Base Color, enter the hex colour code #bebebe, and click OK.

Set the background color

Step 4

Select the subject layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels. Then select the Base layer and press Control-J or Command-J to copy the selection into a new layer.

Go to Layer > Rename Layer..., rename it Base Subject, and drag it above the BG Base Color layer.

Select Pixels of the subject layer and copy the subject image from the Base layer into a new layer

Step 5

Now, select the area layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels. Then select the Base Subject layer and press Control-J or Command-J to copy the selection into a new layer.

Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it temp_trail.

Select Pixels of the area layer and copy the effect area from the Base Subject layer into a new layer

6. How to Create the Dispersion Guide Layers

Step 1

With the temp_trail layer selected, go to Filter > Blur >Motion Blur... and enter the values Angle: 0°, Distance: 20 Pixels.

Motion Blur with Angle 0 Distance 20 px

Step 2

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_trail copy layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 105%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Then go to Filter > Blur >Motion Blur... and enter these values Angle: 0°, Distance: 50 Pixels.

Transform 105 percent on right and Motion Blur with Angle 0 degree Distance 50 pixels

Step 3

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_trail copy 2 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 110%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Then, go to Filter > Blur >Motion Blur... and enter the values Angle: 0°, Distance: 130 Pixels.

Transform 110 percent on right and Motion Blur with Angle 0 degree Distance 130 pixels

Step 4

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_trail copy 3 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 120%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Then, go to Filter > Blur >Motion Blur... and enter the values Angle: 0°, Distance: 220 Pixels.

Transform 120 percent on right and Motion Blur with Angle 0 degree Distance 220 pixels

Step 5

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_trail copy 4 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 120%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Then, go to Filter > Blur >Motion Blur... and enter the values Angle: 0°, Distance: 280 Pixels.

Transform 120 percent on right and Motion Blur with Angle 0 degree Distance 280 pixels

Step 6

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_trail copy 5 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 120%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Then, go to Filter > Blur >Motion Blur... and enter the values Angle: 0°, Distance: 280 Pixels.

Transform 120 percent on right and Motion Blur with Angle 0 degree Distance 280 pixels

Step 7

Select the temp_trail layer, then hold Shift and select the temp_trail copy 5 layer. Press Control-G or Command-G to add the layers into a new group.

Go to Layer > Rename Group... and rename the group as dispersion_trail_guide.

Make the dispersion_trail_guide group

By now, your image should like this.

Image after making the Dispersion Guide layers

Step 8

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the group. Go to Layer > Rename Group... and rename the group as dispersion_patch_guide. Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the group.

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All to add a layer mask to the dispersion_patch_guide layer.

Press D on the keyboard to reset swatches, and go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

Then, go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold... and enter Threshold Level: 128.

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Hide the dispersion_trail_guide group by toggling the eyeball icon off.

Layer structure after making the dispersion_patch_guide layer

Now, your image should like this:

Image after making the dispersion_patch_guide layer

Then, hide the dispersion_patch_guide layer by toggling the eyeball icon off.

7. How to Create the Ashes

Step 1

Select the area layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels.

Then, select the Base Subject layer and press Control-J or Command-J to copy the selection into a new layer. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename the layer as temp_particles.

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur... and enter Radius: 3 Pixels.

Make the temp_particles layer and apply Motion Blur with Radius 3 px

Step 2

Right-click on the temp_particles layer and select Blending Options....

Then, select Color Overlay and select colour Black #000000, Blend Mode: Normal and Opacity: 90%. Click OK.

Apply Color Overlay

Step 3

Right-click on the temp_particles layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels.

Press M on the keyboard to select the Rectangular Marquee Tool. Then, right-click on the image and select Make Work Path.... Enter Tolerance: 1.0 pixels and click OK.

Make Work Path from active selection

Step 4

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All to add a black layer mask to the temp_particles layer and hide its contents.

Press B on the keyboard to select the Brush Tool. Expand the brush selector drop-down menu and select the br-ashes-particles-1 brush. Make sure both the Opacity and Flow are set to 100%.

Select ashes particles brush

Step 5

Press P on the keyboard to select the Pen Tool. Make sure the layer mask of the temp_particles layer is selected.

Then, right-click on the image and select Stroke Path.... Make sure Simulate Pressure is not checked. Click OK.

Again, right-click on the image with the Pen Tool and select Delete Path.

Stroke path with the selected brush

Step 6

Go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold..., enter Threshold Level: 50 and click OK.

Then, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Apply Threshold on the Layer Mask with Threshold level 50

Step 7

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 105%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform the image 105 percent on the right

Step 8

Press Control-J or Command-J twice to duplicate the temp_particles layer into two more copies.

Then, hold Shift and select the temp_particles layer. Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers.

Intermediate Image and Layer structure during Ash creation

Step 9

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the temp_particles copy 2 layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 3 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 110%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Go to Filter > Distort > Wave... and enter the following values:

  • Number of Generators: 5
  • Wavelength: Min: 10 Max: 750
  • Amplitude: Min:1 Max:15
  • Scale: Horiz: 100% Vert: 100%
  • Type: Triangle
  • Undefined Areas: Repeat Edge Pixels
Transform 110 percent on the Right and apply Wave Filter

Step 10

Again, press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the temp_particles copy 3 layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 4 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 110%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Go to Filter > Distort > Wave... and enter the following values:

  • Number of Generators: 5
  • Wavelength: Min: 10 Max: 750
  • Amplitude: Min:1 Max:15
  • Scale: Horiz: 100% Vert: 100%
  • Type: Sine
  • Undefined Areas: Repeat Edge Pixels

Press Control-F or Command-F to reapply the filter.

Transform 110 percent on the Right and apply Wave Filter

Step 11

Select the temp-particles copy 3 layer press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 5 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, enter Width: 115%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Go to Filter > Distort > Wave... and enter the following values:

  • Number of Generators: 5
  • Wavelength: Min: 10 Max: 750
  • Amplitude: Min: 1 Max: 15
  • Scale: Horiz: 100% Vert: 100%
  • Type: Triangle
  • Undefined Areas: Repeat Edge Pixels

Press Control-F or Command-F to reapply the filter.

Transform 115 percent on the Right and apply Wave Filter

Step 12

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the temp_particles copy 5 layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 6 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 110%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Go to Filter > Distort > Wave... and enter the following values:

  • Number of Generators: 5
  • Wavelength: Min: 10 Max: 600
  • Amplitude: Min: 1 Max: 15
  • Scale: Horiz: 100% Vert: 100%
  • Type: Triangle
  • Undefined Areas: Repeat Edge Pixels

Then, press Control-F or Command-F twice to reapply the filter twice.

Transform 110 percent on the Right and apply Wave Filter

Step 13

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the temp_particles copy 6 layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 7 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 115%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Go to Filter > Distort > Wave... and enter the following values:

  • Number of Generators: 5
  • Wavelength: Min: 10 Max: 730
  • Amplitude: Min: 1 Max: 15
  • Scale: Horiz: 100% Vert: 100%
  • Type: Triangle
  • Undefined Areas: Repeat Edge Pixels

Then, press Control-F or Command-F twice to reapply the filter twice.

Transform 115 percent on the Right and apply Wave Filter

Step 14

Select the temp_particles copy 3 layer, and press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 8 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 105%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform 105 percent on the Right

Press Control-F or Command-F to reapply the previous filter.

Step 15

Select the temp_particles copy 4 layer, and press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 9 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 115%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Press Control-F or Command-F to reapply the previous filter.

Transform 115 percent on the Right

Step 16

Select the temp_particles copy 3 layer, and press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 10 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 105%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Go to Filter > Distort > Wave... and enter the following values:

  • Number of Generators: 5
  • Wavelength: Min: 10 Max: 730
  • Amplitude: Min: 1 Max: 15
  • Scale: Horiz: 100% Vert: 100%
  • Type: Sine
  • Undefined Areas: Repeat Edge Pixels

Then, press Control-F or Command-F twice to reapply the filter twice.

Transform 105 percent on the Right and apply Wave Filter

By now, your image and layers structure should be as shown below.

Intermediate Image and Layer structure during Ash creation

Step 17

Select the temp_particles copy 8 layer, hold Shift and select the temp_particles copy 2 layer. Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layers. Then, press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers into the temp_particles copy 14 layer.

Go to Filter > Distort > Wave... and enter the following values:

  • Number of Generators: 5
  • Wavelength: Min: 10 Max: 730
  • Amplitude: Min: 1 Max: 15
  • Scale: Horiz: 100% Vert: 100%
  • Type: Triangle
  • Undefined Areas: Repeat Edge Pixels

Then, press Control-F or Command-F twice to reapply the filter twice.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, enter Width: 105%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Then, again press Control-F or Command-F to reapply the previous filter.

Apply Wave Filter and Transform 105 percent on the Right

Step 18

Select the temp_particles copy 7 layer and press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the temp_particles copy 11 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 115%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Go to Filter > Distort > Wave... and enter the following values:

  • Number of Generators: 5
  • Wavelength: Min: 10 Max: 730
  • Amplitude: Min: 1 Max: 15
  • Scale: Horiz: 100% Vert: 100%
  • Type: Sine
  • Undefined Areas: Repeat Edge Pixels

Then, press Control-F or Command-F eight times to reapply the filter eight times.

Set the Opacity of the temp_particles copy 11 layer to 30%.

Transform 115 percent on the Right and apply Wave Filter

Your image and layers structure should now look like this:

Intermediate Image and Layer structure during Ash creation

Step 19

Select the temp_particles copy 9 layer, hold Shift, and select the temp_particles copy 2 layer.

Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it as Ash Volume.

Ash Volume layer

Step 20

Select the Base Subject layer. Go to Layer > New > Layer... and name the new layer as Ash Large.

Then, select the dispersion_patch_guide layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels.

Go to Select > Modify > Smooth..., enter Sample Radius: 80 pixels, and click OK.

Select Pixels of the dispersion_patch_guide layer and Smooth the selection with Radius 80 pixels

Step 21

Select the Ash Large layer. Press on the keyboard to select the Rectangular Marquee Tool. Then right-click on the image and select Make Work Path....

Enter Tolerance: 1.0 pixels and click OK.

Make Work Path from active selection for the Ash Large layer

Step 22

Press D on the keyboard to reset swatches.

Press B on the keyboard to select the Brush Tool. Expand the brush selector drop-down menu and select the br-ashes-particles-2 brush. Make sure both the Opacity and Flow are set to 100%.

Select the Ash Particles brush for the Ash Large layer

Step 23

Press P on the keyboard to select the Pen ToolMake sure the Foreground Color is Black.

Then, right-click on the image and select Stroke Path.... Make sure Simulate Pressure is not checked. Click OK.

Again right-click on the image with the Pen Tool and select Delete Path.

Stroke Path with the selected brush

Step 24

Select the dispersion_trail_guide group. Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the group. Make the group visible by toggling the eyeball icon on. Then press Control-E or Command-E to merge the duplicated group.

Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it as Ash.

Press D to reset swatches. Right-click on the thumbnail of the Ash layer and select Select Pixels. Press Alt-Delete or Option-Delete to fill the selection with the Foreground Color, which is Black.

Press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection. Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

Drag the Ash layer above the Ash Volume layer. Be careful not to drag it into the disperson_trail_guide group.

Intermediate Image and Layer structure during Ash creation

Step 25

Select the Ash Large layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels.

Then, select the Ash layer and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Now, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Effect after creating the Ash layer

Step 26

Select the Ash Volume layer and set the Opacity to 40%.

Select the Ash Large layer and press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it.

Select the dispersion_trail_guide group. Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it. Make it visible by toggling the eyeball icon on. Then, press Control-E or Command-E to merge the group.

Right click on the thumbnail of the dispersion_trail_guide copy layer and select Select Pixels. Select the Ash Large copy layer and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Again, select the dispersion_trail_guide copy layer and press Delete on the keyboard to delete it.

Select the layer thumbnail of the Ash Large copy layer to select the RGB channel. Then, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Unlink.

Unlink the Layer Mask of the Ash Large copy layer

Step 27

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the Ash Large copy layer. Make sure the layer mask is unlinked and not selected. Otherwise, it will get transformed.

Enter Angle: 15° and click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform with Angle 15 degrees

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the Ash Large copy layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to transform the Ash Large copy 2 layer.

Enter Angle: -30° and click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform with Angle -30 degrees

Step 28

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the Ash Large copy 2 layer.

Now, with the Ash Large copy 3 layer selected, hold Shift and select the Ash Large copy layer.

Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers.

Image and layer structure after creating the Ash Large copy 3 layer

Step 29

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the Ash Large copy 3 layer.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the Ash Large copy 4 layer.

Keep Reference point location at Center, enter Width: 150%, Height: 150%, and click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform with both Width and Height 150 percent

Now, press Control-J or Command-J four times to make four copies of the Ash Large copy 4 layer.

With the Ash Large copy 8 layer selected, hold Shift and select the Ash Large copy 4 layer.

Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers.

Now, right-click on the layer thumbnail of the Ash Large copy 8 layer and select Select Pixels.

Go to Select > Modify > Contract..., enter Contract By: 3 pixels and click OK.

Contract selection by 3 pixels

Then, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Image and Layer structure after creating the Ash Large copy 8 layer

Step 30

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All to add a white layer mask to the Ash Large copy 8 layer.

With the layer mask selected, press on the keyboard to reset swatches.

Go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold..., enter Threshold Level: 160 and click OK. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 10 Pixels and click OK.

Press Control-I or Command-I to invert the mask colour.

Add Threshold Level of 160 and Gaussian Blur of Radius 10 pixels

Step 31

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layer.

Select the layer mask thumbnail of the Ash Large copy 9 layer and press Control-I or Command-I to invert the mask colour.

Then, select the layer thumbnail to select the RGB channel. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 6 Pixels and click OK.

Image and Layer structure after creating the Ash Large copy 9 layer

Step 32

With the Ash Large copy 9 layer selected, hold Shift and select the Ash Large copy 8 layer. Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the two layers.

Set the Opacity to 45%.

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the Ash Large copy 9 layer.

Select the Ash Large copy 9 layer and press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 120%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Again press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform. Keep Reference point location at Center, enter Width: 120% and Height: 120%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform 120 percent on the Right then transform again with both Width and Height 120 percent

Step 33

Select the Ash Large copy 10 layer and set the Opacity to 40%.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform. Keep Reference point location at Center, and enter Width: 105% and Height: 105%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Again press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 95%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform with both Width and Height 105 percent then again transform 95 percent on the Right

Step 34

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All to add a layer mask to the Ash Large copy 10 layer.

With the layer mask selected, go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Then, go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold..., enter Threshold Level: 128, and click OK.

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 10 Pixels, and click OK.

Add Threshold Level of 128 and Gaussian Blur of Radius 10 pixels

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Now your image and layers structure should look like below.

Image and Layer structure after creating the Ash Large copy 10 layer

Step 35

Go to Layer > New > Layer..., name the new layer as Ash Fine Close and click OK.

Select the temp_trail copy layer (inside the dispersion_trail_guide group), right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels.

Select the Ash Fine Close layer and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.

Creating the Ash Fine Close layer

Step 36

Select the temp_trail layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels. Then, select the layer thumbnail of the Ash Fine Close layer.

Press M on the keyboard to select the Rectangular Marquee Tool.

Then, right-click on the image and select Make Work Path.... Enter Tolerance: 1.0 pixels and click OK.

Make Work Path on the active selection

Step 37

Press B on the keyboard to select the Brush Tool. Expand the brush selector drop-down menu and select the br-ashes-particles-1 brush. Make sure both the Opacity and Flow are set to 100%.

Press P on the keyboard to select the Pen Tool.

Then, right-click on the image and select Stroke Path.... Make sure Simulate Pressure is not checked. Click OK.

Perform the Stroke Path method twice more to intensify the particles. Then, right-click on the image with the Pen Tool and select Delete Path. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Stroke path with the selected brush

Step 38

Select the Ash layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels.

Select the Ash Fine Close layer and press Delete on the keyboard. Then, press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection.

Now, select the Ash Large copy 3 layer and right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels.

Select the Ash Fine Close layer and press Delete on the keyboard. Then, press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection.

Image after finishing creating Ashes

8. How to Create the Embers

Step 1

Select the Ash layer and press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it as embers_1.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the embers_1 layer.

Enter Angle: 10° and click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform with Angle 10 degrees

Step 2

Select the Ash layer and right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels.

Then, select the embers_1 layer and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Right-click on the embers_1 layer and select Blending Options....

Then, select Color Overlay, change the colour, and enter the hex colour code #ff6c00, Blend Mode: Normal and Opacity: 100%. Click OK.

Set the Color Overlay of the embers_1 layer with color ff6c00

Step 3

Press Control-J or Command-J three times to make three duplicates on the embers_1 layer.

Now, with the embers_1 copy 3 layer selected, hold Shift on the keyboard and select the embers_1 layer.

Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers.

Image and Layer structure till embers_1 copy 3 layer

Step 4

Select the Ash Volume layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels.

Then, select the embers_1 copy 3 layer and go Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Press Control-J or Command-J three times to make three duplicates on the embers_1 copy 3 layer.

With the embers_1 copy 6 layer selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 10 Pixels and click OK.

Gaussian Blur with Radius 10 pixels

Step 5

With the embers_1 copy 6 layer selected, hold Shift on the keyboard and select the embers_1 copy 3 layer.

Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers.

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the embers_1 copy 6 layer.

Image and Layer structure till embers_1 copy 7 layer

Step 6

Select the embers_1 copy 6 layer. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 10 Pixels and click OK.

Gaussian Blur with Radius 10 pixels

Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation..., enter Hue: -15 and click OK.

Add Hue -15

Step 7

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All to create a layer mask to the embers_1 copy 6 layer.

With the layer mask selected, go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold..., enter Threshold Level: 128, and click OK. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 10 Pixels, and click OK. Set Blending Mode to Color Dodge.

Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename the layer as Embers Underglow.

Select the embers_1 copy 7 layer and set the Blending Mode to Linear Dodge (Add). Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename the layer as Embers Particles Sub.

Embers Particles Sub layer

Step 8

Select the Ash Volume layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels.

Select the Ash Large layer and press Control-J or Command-J to copy the selection into a new layer.

Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename the layer as embers_2.

Drag and move the layer above the Embers Particles Sub layer. Be careful not to drag it inside the disperson_trail_guide group.

embers_2 layer

Step 9

Go to Filter > Distort > Ripple.... Enter the values Amount: 999% and Size: Medium, and click OK.

Apply Ripple with Amount 999 percent and Size Medium

Step 10

Select the Ash Large layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels.

Select the embers_2 layer. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Right-click on the embers_2 layer and select Blending Options....

Then, select Color Overlay, change the colour, and enter the hex colour code #ff5a00, Blend Mode: Normal and Opacity: 100%. Click OK.

Apply Color Overlay to the embers_2 layer with color ff5a00

Step 11

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the embers_2 layer. With the embers_2 copy layer selected, hold Shift and select the embers_2 layer. Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layer.

Again press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the embers_2 copy layer. Set the Blending Mode of the embers_2 copy 2 layer to Linear Dodge (Add).

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the embers_2 copy 2 layer. Set the Blending Mode of the embers_2 copy 3 layer to Color Dodge.

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the embers_2 copy 3 layer. Set the Blending Mode of the embers_2 copy 4 layer to Linear Dodge (Add).

Image and Layer structure till embers_2 copy 4 layer

Step 12

With the embers_2 copy 4 layer selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 15 Pixels, and click OK.

With the embers_2 copy 4 layer selected, hold Shift and select the embers_2 copy layer.

Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers and set the Blending Mode of the merged layer to Linear Dodge (Add).

Image and Layer structure till embers_2 copy 4 layer

Step 13

Right-click on the embers_2 copy 4 layer and select Select Pixels. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Then, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layer.

Now, with the embers_2 copy 5 layer selected, hold Shift and select the embers_2 copy 4 layer. Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the layers.

Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation..., enter the value Hue: -20, and click OK.

Add Hue -20

Set the Blending Mode of the embers_2 copy 5 layer to Linear Dodge (Add).

Image and Layer structure till embers_2 copy 5 layer

Step 14

Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename the embers_2 copy 5 layer as Embers Particles Main.

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the layer. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 12 Pixels and click OK.

Apply Gaussian Blur with Radius 12 pixels

Step 15

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All to create a layer mask to the Embers Particles Main copy layer.

With the layer mask selected, go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold..., enter Threshold Level: 128, and click OK. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur..., enter Radius: 10 Pixels, and click OK.

Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename the layer as Embers Overglow.

Image and Layer structure till Embers Overglow layer

9. How to Create the Smoke

Step 1

Select the temp_trail copy 2 layer (inside the dispersion_trail_guide group). Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels.

Select the temp_trail copy 4 layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Add Transparency Mask.

Select the Base Subject layer. Go to Layer > New > Layer..., name the new layer as Smoke Spread 1, and click OK.

Press M on the keyboard to select the Rectangular Marquee Tool. Right-click on the image and select Make Work Path....

Enter Tolerance: 1 pixels and click OK.

Make Work Path with Tolerance 1 pixels

Step 2

Press B on the keyboard to select the Brush Tool. Expand the brush selector drop-down menu and select the br-ashes-smoke brush. Make sure both the Opacity and Flow are set to 100%.

Select the br-ashes-smoke brush

Step 3

Press D on the keyboard to reset swatches. Press P on the keyboard to select the Pen Tool. Then, right-click on the image and select Stroke Path.... Make sure Simulate Pressure is not checked. Click OK.

Again right-click on the image and select Delete Path. Set the Opacity to 20%.

Stroke path

Step 4

Right-click on the layer thumbnail of the Smoke Spread 1 layer and select Select Pixels. Go to Select > Modify > Feather, enter Feather Radius: 20 pixels, and click OK.

Feather selection with Radius 20 pixels

Step 5

Go to Layer > New > Layer..., name the new layer as Smoke Spread 2, and click OK.

Press M on the keyboard to select the Rectangular Marquee Tool. Right-click on the image and select Make Work Path....

Enter Tolerance: 1 pixels and click OK. Press P on the keyboard to select the Pen Tool. Then, right-click on the image and select Stroke Path.... Make sure Simulate Pressure is not checked. Click OK.

Again right-click on the image and select Delete Path. Set the Opacity to 20%.

Smoke Spread 2 layer

Step 6

Right-click on the layer thumbnail of the Smoke Spread 2 layer and select Select Pixels.

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Then, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform the Smoke Spread 2 layer. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 120%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform 120 percent on the right

Step 7

Go to Layer > New > Layer..., name the new layer as Smoke Trail 1, and click OK. Select the temp_trail layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels.

Press D on the keyboard to reset swatches. Select the Smoke Trail 1 layer and press Alt-Delete or Option-Delete to fill the selection with the Foreground Color which is Black.

Press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection.

Smoke Trail 1 layer

Step 8

Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.... Enter Angle: 0°, Distance: 25 Pixels, and click OK.

Apply Motion Blur with Angle 0 degree Distance 25 pixels

Step 9

Go to Layer > New > Layer..., name the new layer as Smoke Trail 2, and click OK. Select the temp_trail copy layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels.

Select the Smoke Trail 2 layer and press Alt-Delete or Option-Delete to fill the selection with the Foreground Color which is Black.

Press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection. Go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.... Enter Angle: 0°, Distance: 70 Pixels, and click OK.

Apply Motion Blur with Angle 0 degree Distance 70 pixels

Step 10

Set the Opacity of the Smoke Trail 2 layer to 10%.

Select the Ash Large copy 3 layer, right-click on the layer thumbnail, and select Select Pixels. Select the Smoke Trail 1 layer and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection. Then, go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.

Set the Opacity of the Smoke Trail 1 layer to 10%.

Smoke Trail 1 layer

10. How to Create the Base Subject Dispersion

Step 1

Select the Base Subject layer. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All.

Select the Ash Volume layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels. Go to Select > Modify > Contract.... Enter Contract By: 2 pixels and click OK.

Contract selection by 2 pixels

Step 2

Select the Layer Mask of the Base Subject layer. Press D on the keyboard to reset swatches.

Press Control-Delete or Command-Delete three times to fill three times with the Background Color which is Black

Press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection.

Hiding parts of the Base Subject layer by masking

Step 3

Select the Ash layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels. Go to Select > Modify > Contract.... Enter Contract By: 2 pixels and click OK.

Select the Layer Mask of the Base Subject layer. Press Control-Delete or Command-Delete twice to fill twice with the Background Color which is Black.

Press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection.

Hiding parts of the Base Subject layer by masking

Step 4

Select the Ash Large copy 3 layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels. Go to Select > Modify > Contract.... Enter Contract By: 2 pixels and click OK.

Select the Layer Mask of the Base Subject layer. Press Control-Delete or Command-Delete twice to fill twice with the Background Color which is Black.

Press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection.

Hiding parts of the Base Subject layer by masking

11. How to Make the Tonal Adjustment Layers

Step 1

Select the Smoke Spread 1 layer. Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate it. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it as temp_area. Then, set the Opacity to 100%.

Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels. Press D on the keyboard to reset swatches.

Press Control-Delete or Command-Delete four times to fill the selection with the Background Color which is White.

Press Control-D or Command-D to deselect the current selection. Drag and move the temp_area layer above the Embers Overglow layer.

temp_area layer

Step 2

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur... and enter Radius: 50 Pixels. Click OK.

Apply Gaussian Blur with Radius 50 pixels

Press Control-T or Command-T to Free Transform. Keep Reference point location at Left, and enter Width: 110%. Click the Tick button on the top toolbar or press Enter or Return to confirm.

Transform 110 percent on the right

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the current layer.

Then, go to Layer > Merge Down.

Step 3

Repeat Step 2 three times to expand and intensify the effect.

The final effect should look like below.

temp_area layer

Then, hide the temp_area layer by toggling the eyeball icon off.

Step 4

Select the Base Subject layer.

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White..., name the layer as Subject BW, and click OK.

Go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask to add the Subject BW layer as a clipping mask to the Base Subject layer.

Subject BW layer

Step 5

Select the Embers Overglow layer. Press D on the keyboard to reset swatches.

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map..., name it as Toning 1 and click OK. Double-click on the layer thumbnail to open Gradient Map Properties. Then, click on the gradient preview to open the Gradient Editor window.

Select the Left Color Stop and change the color to Black #000000. Then, select the Right Color Stop and change the color to White #ffffff.

Click OK to accept changes.

Adjusting Gradient Map of the Toning 1 layer

Step 6

Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Delete to delete the layer mask of the Toning 1 layer.

Then, select the temp_area layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels. Select the Toning 1 layer. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.

Change the Blending Mode of the Toning 1 layer to Luminosity.

Toning 1 layer

Step 7

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the Toning 1 layer. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it as Toning 2. Set the Opacity of the Toning 2 layer to 60%.

Toning 2 layer

Step 8

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves..., name it as Toning 3, and click OK.

Select the Red channel and enter the following values. Then, select the RGB channel and enter the following values.

Adjusting Curves of the Toning 3 layer
Toning 3 layer

12. How to Make Additional Adjustments

Step 1

Select the temp_area layer. Right-click on the layer thumbnail and select Select Pixels. Select the Ash Large copy 9 layer. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection.

Add layer mask to the Ash Large copy 9 layer

Step 2

Select the BG Base Color layer.

Go to Layer > New > Layer..., name the new layer as vignette_temp, and click OK. Press Control-Delete or Command-Delete to fill the layer with the Background Color.

Then, reduce the Fill to 0%.

Set Fill of the vignette_temp layer to 0 percent

Step 3

Right-click on the vignette_temp layer and select Blending Options....

Select Stroke and enter the following values:

  • Size: 80 px
  • Position: Center
  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Fill Type: Color
  • Color: Black #000000

Then, click OK to confirm.

Apply Stroke to the vignette_temp layer

Step 4

Press Control-J or Command-J to duplicate the vignette_temp layer.

With the vignette_temp copy layer selected, hold Shift and select the vignette_temp layer.

Press Control-E or Command-E to merge the two layers.

vignette_temp copy layer

Step 5

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.... Enter Radius: 100 Pixels and click OK.

Apply Gaussian Blur with Radius 100 pixels

Press Control-F or Command-F three times to reapply the filter three times. Go to Layer > Rename Layer..., and rename it as Vignette.

Set the Blending Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 75%.

Vignette layer

13. How to Tidy Up Your Groups

In the next steps, we'll organise the layers into logical groups and colour code them for ease of use.

Step 1

Select the temp_area layer. Press Delete on the keyboard to delete it.

Select the dispersion_trail_guide group. Press Delete on the keyboard to delete it.

Select the dispersion_patch_guide layer. Press Delete on the keyboard to delete it.

Deleting guide and temporary layers

Step 2

Select the Toning 3 layer, hold Shift and select the Toning 1 layer.

Press Control-G or Command-G to group the layers. Go to Layer > Rename Group... and rename it as Toning.

Right-click on the Toning group and select Slot Color: Yellow.

Toning group with Yellow slot colour

Step 3

Select the Embers Overglow layer, hold Shift, and select the Embers Underglow layer.

Press Control-G or Command-G to group the layers. Go to Layer > Rename Group... and rename it as Embers.

Right-click on the Embers group and select Slot Color: Red.

Embers group with Red slot colour

Step 4

Select the Ash Large layer. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it Ash Large Spread.

Select the Ash Large copy 3 layer. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it Ash Large Volume.

Select the Ash Large copy 9 layer. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it Ash Very Large.

Select the Ash Large copy 10 layer. Go to Layer > Rename Layer... and rename it Ash Large Sparse.

Then, select the Ash layer, hold Shift and select the Ash Large Spread layer. Press Control-G or Command-G to group the layers. Go to Layer > Rename Group... and rename it Ashes.

Right-click on the Ashes group and select Slot Color: Gray.

Ash group with Gray slot colour

Step 5

Select the Smoke Trail 2 layer, hold Shift, and select the Smoke Spread 1 layer.

Press Control-G or Command-G to group the layers. Go to Layer > Rename Group..., and rename it Smoke.

Right-click on the Smoke group and select Slot Color: Violet.

Smoke group with Violet slot colour

Step 6

Select the Subject BW layer, hold Shift, and select the Base Subject layer.

Press Control-G or Command-G to group the layers. Go to Layer > Rename Group..., and rename it Base Image.

Right-click on the Base Image group and select Slot Color: Blue.

Base Image group with Blue slot colour

Step 7

Select the Vignette layer, hold Shift and select the Base layer.

Press Control-G or Command-G to group the layers. Go to Layer > Rename Group... and rename it BG.

Right-click on the BG group and select Slot Color: Green.

Vignette group with Green slot colour

14. Finish Recording the Action

Stop recording by clicking the Stop playing/recording button.

Stop recording the action

Awesome, You've Done It!

Here is your final result!

Great job! You've finished creating the Ashes n Embers Photoshop Action.

Ashes n Embers final result close-up

You can now apply the effect onto any other image. Open the image, select Ashes n Embers Action, and click Play from the Actions panel.

Things to remember before playing the action:

  • Make sure that you have installed the Brush.
  • Make sure that the Brush Opacity and Flow are set to 100%, like step 2 - How to Load the Brush.
  • Make sure you have created the subject layer, made a selection of your main subject and filled it with any colour, just like Step 1 of 3 - How to Make the Effect Area Layers.
  • Make sure you have created the area layer, made a selection of the area where you want to apply the effect and filled it with any colour, just like Step 2 of 3 - How to Make the Effect Area Layers.
  • Make sure the height of the image is set between 3500-4000 pixels, like Step 2 of 1 - How to Set Up Your Document.
Ashes n Embers final result

We have reached the end of the tutorial. Here you've learned how to add an ashes and embers style dispersion effect on any photo and also automate it in a one-click Photoshop action.

We started out with a stock image, and while recording the action, we added Ashes, Embers and Smoke dispersion elements to it using a Brush and a Path. Then we made a dispersion of the main image and created the final adjustments.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and found it helpful. Feel free to leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.

This action we just created is part of Ashes n Embers Photoshop Action. If you'd like to buy the complete action with additional features, you can head over to GraphicRiver and visit Ashes n Embers Photoshop Action.

Ashes-n-Embers Promo Image
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