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Photoshop: Creating an Underwater World
Iain Anderson on Thu, July 31st 0 comments
Feeling the need to dunk something expensive in water without really submerging it? Here's the tutorial for you: we'll be showing you how to fake it using Adobe Photoshop.

Feeling the need to dunk something expensive in water without really submerging it? Here's the tutorial for you: we'll be showing you how to fake it.

Find a shot of water

You'll need a shot of some water'"or some other liquid. Ideally, some kind of turbulence on the surface is ideal, and you should be able to see into the water. I'm using a shot of one of the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park.

The original shot

The original shot.

Add the object to submerge

What would you like to sink? Maybe a watch, maybe a sign, maybe a marine animal? Whatever it is, if it's not vector-based, it should have a very clean cutout. Assuming you've used a layer mask, you can drag the layer from the Layers panel straight into your new document. If it's more complex than a single layer, use File > Place instead.

Just hanging there, looking bad

Just hanging there, looking bad.

Turn it into a Smart Object

Now that you've got your new layer ready for compositing, we need to turn it into a Smart Object. Right-click, then choose Convert to Smart Object. You can now rotate, scale, warp and add filters non-destructively. If you need to edit the pixels, double-click it, edit the original file, then Save it. The composite where it's embedded will update automatically.

Now's also the time to scale and rotate your object. If you wish, you can also add a new mask to the smart object.

Smart Objects allows non-destructive scaling, rotation and filtering.

Smart Objects allows non-destructive scaling, rotation and filtering.

Apply the Frosted Glass filter

We need to apply a filter to distort the image, and luckily there are a few that fit the bill. Choose Filter > Filter Gallery, then open the Distort folder and find the Glass filter. To the right, start with Distortion 4, Smoothness 5, Texture Frosted and Scaling 65%. You may well have to tweak these settings to suit your image, but you'll want the look to roughly approximate the ripples on the water surface. Press OK when done to apply the effect.

Filtered, not yet colored

Filtered, not yet colored.

Match the color

Now we'll match the color to the water. You could use an adjustment layer, but instead we'll try something else. Create a new layer above your object, then select the brush tool. Option-click on the background to select a color from the background element, then paint over your object. Choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask to restrict visibility to your object only, then reduce the opacity of this layer to approximately 50%. If the color is wrong, you can try again, or perhaps use the Clone Stamp to clone the background if you need some variability. Blend modes like Multiply could also help, depending on the image.

All clipped and colored up

All clipped and colored up. 

Optional: Paint the mask on areas not submerged

Should your object be only partially submerged, you can use the a layer mask to restrict the effect. With the uppermost color layer selected, choose Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All, then paint black over the areas you'd like to keep above the water.

After unsubmerging

After unsubmerging.

Copy the mask to the adjustment layer

Finally, we need to protect the non-submerged part of the object from the Smart Filter as well. Command-click on the color layer's layer mask to load it as a selection. Select the smart filters mask, choose Select > Inverse, then paint the selection with black.

Your masks should look the same

Your masks should look the same. 

Final Adjustments

The last thing to do is to add a new, blank layer mask to the main object, then paint with a large, very soft brush, with black paint at 20% opacity, near the bottom of the object. Since that's meant to be further away from us, it should be slightly more hidden.

The finished result

The finished result.

That's about it. You can change the filter settings if they're not quite right, adjust masks if you decide to re-submerge your object, or add as many more objects as you like. Enjoy!

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