Sometimes we all need a break from reality, and Photoshop is great for creating visual fantasies that tell a story. By combining breathtaking ocean vistas and landscapes with a few photo editing tricks and a big dose of imagination, you’ll be sailing to the edge of the world in no time.
This stock photo composite tutorial is a wonderful place to start if you are looking to master a wide variety of Photoshop basics. Best of all, each of these elements can be downloaded from our library of royalty-free photos.
Let’s dive in!
- Underwater Ocean Stock Image
- Ocean and Blue Sky Stock Image
- Mountain Castle Stock Image
- The Pitons in Saint Lucia Stock Image
- Forested Mountain Reflected in a Calm Lake Stock Image
- Mountains In a Quiet Bay Stock Image
- Stingray Stock Image
Create Your Background Layer
Before you can begin, you will need to create your canvas. For this image, we used a canvas that was 1600 x 844, with 300 dpi.
Step One: Download your Underwater Ocean image.
With the image selected and using your Move Tool, grab the corner of the photograph and resize it to fit. Then, grab the center of the image and pull the whole picture to the bottom edge of the canvas.
Step Two: Duplicate and flip the layer.
We also want to use this image as the “sky” surface to create a surreal, space-bending effect. To do this, we are going to duplicate the existing layer by selecting Layer > Duplicate Layer.
With this new copy layer selected, go to Edit > Transform> Flip Vertical. Move this new, upside-down image to the top edge, mirroring the photograph on the bottom.
Add the Ocean Surface
Step One: Add your ocean image.
Once again, we need to open our image, drag it into the main document, and resize it to fit using the Move Tool.
Step Two: Isolate the ocean surface.
There are many methods to isolate part of an image, but in this case I used a vector mask. To do this, you need to first make sure your color boxes show black in front of white. Then simply select the rectangular marquee tool and draw a rectangle encompassing the area you want to save.
With the marquee box active, click the “Add Vector Mask” button in the Layers Panel, and the rest of the image will disappear.
Now, using your move tool, stretch the remaining image to fit the entire width of the canvas.
The benefit of a vector mask is that no pixel data is actually destroyed, unlike the eraser tool or crop tool. If you want to make some of these pixels visible again, you can do so by selecting the vector mask in the Layers Panel, and using your brush tool with the white color selected to paint the hidden portions of the image back in.
Step Three: Adjust the color and lighting.
For each of the Adjustment Layer settings in the tutorial, feel free to play with the settings until you are happy with your image, or use our settings in the images as a guide.
First, we will add a Color Balance Adjustment Layer by selecting Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance. When we do this, there are three options that appear in the drop down within the dialogue box, and you will currently see “Midtones” selected. Adjust the midtones until you achieve your desired effect.
Next, select “Highlights” from that drop down menu. Adjust the highlights.
Finally, add a Curves Adjustment Layer (Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) to adjust the lights and darks within the image.
Blend the Ocean Layers
Step One: Adjust the hue and saturation of the bottom underwater layer.
Select the bottom underwater layer and apply a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer (Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation). Adjust the hue and saturation until you are happy with the results. We chose to make the color greener and lower the saturation to give it a murky feel.
Step Two: Soften the bottom edges of the ocean surface with a Layer Mask.
For this vector mask, you will not use a marquee tool to isolate the pixels. Instead, with the ocean surface layer selected, go ahead and click “Add Vector Mask” in the Layers Panel.
Next, select your brush tool and lower the opacity to 17%. Begin removing areas of the ocean surface image, following the patterns of the waves, until the two layers appear seamless.
Experiment with different levels of opacity, and remember, you can always click command (mac) or control (windows) + Z to take a step back, or reverse the black and white in the color box to stop hiding pixels and start revealing them.
Step Three: Apply a Color Balance Adjustment Layer to the top underwater layer.
Now we need to adjust the colors on the top underwater/sky layer. After selecting this layer in the layer panel, apply a Color Balance Adjustment Layer. I chose to keep this layer looking slightly different than the bottom, so I did not use the same adjustment layer settings.
Next, add a Curves Adjustment Layer and adjust as necessary.
Step Four: Soften the top edges of the ocean surface within the Layer Mask.
Returning to the ocean surface layer, select the layer mask. Make sure black is your foreground color, and select your brush tool. On a low opacity, blend the horizon line softly with the top ocean layer by painting in an undulating S-shape.
It’s worth noting that if you select the layer, but not the layer mask itself, you will only be painting on the image, not hiding pixels in the layer mask.
Add the Cityscape
Step One: Isolate the city and wall.
Once your cityscape image is open and resized, you need to isolate the city and the wall from the background using your preferred method. We again used a vector mask and paint brush to carefully “erase” all the extra information from the image.
Step Two: Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.
Apply a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and a Color Balance Adjustment Layer to make the cityscape fit better with our ocean scene.
Bring In the Underwater Mountain
Step One: Get your Pitons in Saint Lucia image in place.
Open, place and resize your image as always.
Next, we need to flip the image vertically to make it appear to be “upside down.” Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical.
Step Two: Isolate the mountain.
Use a Vector Mask or other method to isolate the mountain and hide the background.
Step Three: Stretch the image to fit under the city.
Using the Move Tool, “stretch” the Mountain to fit under the cityscape.
Step Four: Bring water in front of the mountain.
This is where the magic happens. Add a vector mask to the mountain layer if you have not already done so, and using a black brush on 25% opacity, hide the mountain under the ocean. I used multiple strokes, concentrating close to the ocean “surface.”
Step Five: Adjust the color and lighting.
Apply Curves and Color Balance Adjustment Layers.
On the Color Balance Adjustment Layer, adjust both the midtones and the shadows until the image colors blend with the rest of the waterscape.
Add the Reflective Mountain scene
Step One: Bring in your Mountain Reflected in a Calm Lake image and resize it to fit the screen.
This image is great in that most of the work is already done for you. Once the image is in the canvas and resized, isolate the image using your preferred method.
Step Two: Repeat steps 4 & 5 above.
Step Three: Apply a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.
In addition to the Color Balance and Curves Adjustment Layers, this image called for a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer, so we decreased the saturation to get a less vibrant effect.
Add the Foreground Rock
Step One: Bring in your Mountains Sheltering a Quiet Bay image and resize it to fit the screen.
Isolate the image using your preferred method.
Step Two: Flip the image horizontally and place to the left of the image.
Go to Edit > Transform > Flip horizontal.
Step Three: Apply Curves and Color Balance Adjustment Layers.
Step Four: Lower the opacity of the image.
There are a few ways to lower the opacity of a layer, including lowering the opacity directly in the Layers Panel. Because I wanted more control over individual elements, I applied a Vector Mask, and used my black paint brush on a low opacity to hide some of the pixel data.
Time for a Whimsical Underwater Friend
Step One: Bring in your Stingray image and resize it to fit the screen.
Isolate the image using your preferred method.
Step Two: Adjust the color and lighting.
Apply Curves and Color Balance Adjustment Layers.
Step Three: Adjust the size and position as desired.
Use your move tool to change the size, dimensions, and location of the stingray on the canvas.
Step Four: Apply a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.
This guy didn’t look quite right to me, so at this stage I added a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to help him blend into the scene.
Tying It All Together
Step One: Add shadows.
Without shadows, everything is just floating on a 2-dimensional canvas. Luckily, adding realistic shadows is super easy, (and no, I don’t mean the “Drop Shadow” tool).
Just select your brush tool and set the mode to “Color Burn.” Then, going through each layer one by one, color in shadows where they would naturally appear. Remember to keep your light source consistent, and play with the opacity level on your brush (I used a level ranging from 5%-20%). I added shadows to the water surface, the ocean floor, and each element within the scene.
If you aren’t a fan of the water being used as the sky, it’s super easy to make it look like a normal sky scene. Simply grab that layer, and adjust the scale so that the sand is hidden outside the frame.
And voila! You now have the know-how and skills to create whatever underwater fantasy your heart desires.
Feeling inspired? Make your own seascape with these and other stock photos from our library. We would love to see what you come up with!
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