Nik Ainley shows you how to make a splash, blending two very different images to create this amazing underwater effect, complete with a dissolving figure of a man.
Perhaps because of the overtones of freshness and vitality, water-based effects are always in demand. In this tutorial, Nik Ainley provides step-by-step guidance on how to make a stunning, dynamic effect that recreates the look of a figure dissolving in water, with some clever use of Photoshop and some found images.
Although the finished image appears hi-tech, it is just a very clever photomontage constructed from just two images, using relatively simple Photoshop techniques – the secret is in knowing which tool to use when, and putting the time into making sure it’s precisely executed.
This is a great technique for pieces where you want the clothes, not the face, to take centre-stage – for example, it makes an eye-catching fashion shoot. Of course, the beauty of photomontage is that anything is possible – it all depends on your found images and how far your imagination will roam.
Software: Adobe Photoshop Time to complete: Three hours
All files for this tutorial can be downloaded here.
First, we need to prepare our main figure for manipulation: open
breakdancer.jpg from the project files in Photoshop. We want to get rid of the background, hands and feet, as we won’t need any of these. This is a straightforward extraction job: trace around the area you want to keep with the Pen tool and use this to create a mask.
I have decided to get rid of the green of the jacket, as I found it distracting. I used a Hue/Saturation command (
Cmd/Ctrl + U), selecting to edit the greens and dragging the saturation down. I decided to do the same to the oranges.
Now we need to get rid of the hand. Remove the thumb overlapping the sleeve with the Clone Stamp tool, then drag a patch from the sleeve over the thumb. Do the same where the top edge of the sleeve will be, to create the inside of the sleeve.
The inside of the sleeve can be recreated by copying fabric from somewhere else on the jacket and then heavily darkening it (
Cmd/Ctrl + M, and pull the curve downwards).
Flipping it upsidedown to make it appear concave rather than convex completes the illusion. Since we will be covering it up later it doesn’t need to be perfect.
To remove the face and torso, add a new layer above and use a soft brush to add black to it. This can fade off at the bottom to give the illusion of going inwards.
At the top we want the black to have a hard edge where the hood is. To do this, use a layer mask to remove areas that overlap the hood at all.
After a few tweaks here and there, we are ready to start adding water. Start with the main body. Now, I’m going to use several different photos of water at different points, but the same principles apply for bringing them into our picture.
We need the water to have some transparency and also need to be able to extract its shape. Open the image
To extract the water from the background, we’re going to use a custom alpha channel generated from the photo itself.
We need to find the colour channel with the most contrast between the areas that we want to be opaque and those we want to be transparent. Here, it’s clearly the red channel. Make a copy of this to a new channel.
Using a Curves adjustment (
Cmd/ Ctrl + M), use the ‘Set Black Point’ dropper and select an area on your image you want to be totally transparent.
If there’s no white in your image, then use the ‘Set White Point’ dropper on the lightest shade present. You should now have an image with much higher contrast.
Now we have our alpha channel for the water, we need to make it into a selection. Hold down
Cmd/Ctrl and click on the channel’s thumbnail in the Channels palette. It should now appear as a selection.
Make sure the RGB channel is active and copy the selected pixels (
Cmd/Ctrl + C) and paste them into your main document.
This is looking alright, if a little crude. To get it into the right shape we need to use the Transform tool to pull the water about a bit. The Warp Transform function is especially good for this.
Use a layer mask to get rid of any bits that overlap areas you don’t want them to, as well as any hard edges.
Repeat the same process using as many different photos of water splashes as you can find: place them around and mask where appropriate. You should get used to the idea of converting an image’s pixels into a selection and using that to build a new shape.
The advantage of this method is that we get far more precise control over blending than we would by using a Blending Mode.
you have all your water in place we need to think about the background. Pure black is rather dull, but we don’t want some violent colour clashing with our main figure.
Create a new layer above the background and start using a soft brush to add some dark blue. Flatten your image again, and run a light Unsharp Mask to finish it off (settings 30, 0.6, 0).
This is OK, but not overly interesting. Textures are a quick way to add interest to the background. Paste a weathered texture above the background and set the blending mode to Soft Light.
Desaturate it if it messes the colours up. That’s looking better, although a little flat.
Open a bubbly texture and massively darken it using a curves adjustment (
Cmd/Ctrl + M) so that only the lightest parts (what should be the bubbles’ edges) remain.
Paste this into your document above the first texture and set the blending mode to Linear Dodge. Drop the opacity of the layer if the bubbles appear too intense.
This should basically be it. The next adjustment is to draw focus to the centre by blurring the edges a little. Flatten your image and duplicate your layer.
Now blur the image (a Gaussian blur set to 30 pixels should do the job). Add a ‘hide all’ layer mask to this layer, and using a gradient that changes from white to transparent, drag from the outside in to blur specific areas of the edges.
Nik Ainley is a UK based designer who combines Photoshop skills with a background in physics to create highly stylized compositions. Since finishing his physics degree, he has moved on to become a full-time graphic designer, and has completed commissions for a number of design magazines, including a cover for Digital Arts, as well as album covers, clothing, posters and personal projects.