Stop just enhancing reality and start subverting it with our guide to surreal digital effects in Photoshop. Part one: special effects with skies.

Skies are often seen as a backdrop to the main subject, but with a little inspiration they can make an excellent focus of attention. We’re going to turn one of the most common phrases of the television weather forecaster, ‘isolated showers’, into a reality.

Step 1:

Finding the right kind of clouds is the first problem in this kind of project. It may be necessary to use clouds from several images, or even duplicate one cloud as we are going to do here. Well-defined fluffy clouds work best. Typical cotton wool balls appear much more tangible and help the effect. Make a selection with a small feather of an area of cloud you wish to use and drag it into the working file of the ocean.

Step 2:

Duplicate and arrange the clouds to give an even spread. The example shows four different layers. Don’t worry too much about neatness and clean edges for the moment, as there will be a certain amount of editing to do. Take a picture of your hands wringing out a cloth and cut them out in Photoshop.

Step 3:

Select the hands and arms and drag them into the main file. Arrange the layer order so that the hands are in the middle of the two cloud layers. This will allow for lots of overlapping to help the realism.

Step 4:

Add Layer Masks to each layer, and start painting on the masks with black to reveal the hands, then continue to blend any clouds together that require it. Use soft brushes at low Opacity, changing to a harder edge when working around the hands.

Step 5:

The arms are going to appear through a higher level of cloud. Drag a new selection into the file, and position the layer immediately above the Background layer, adding a Layer Mask to hide the areas for the arms.

Step 6:

Drag an image of a wave into the file, then add a Layer Mask and paint in black, until just part of the wave is visible.