In this tutorial we will create an awesome underwater photo manipulation. I’ll explain some of the more complex techniques I use in the first steps to make it easy for beginners but intermediate and advanced users can also learn a thing or two.
I like doing underwater scenes because there is something mysterious about the depths of the oceans where all kind of strange creatures live but also because I like putting menacing creatures and curious humans together in a scene.

Final Results

Tutorial Resources

Step 1

Open the file “Underwater”. This will be the base of our scene.

Step 2

Open the file “Cathedral”. Copy all by pressing Ctrl + A and Ctrl + C. Go back to our scene and paste with Ctrl + V. Transform this layer into a Smart Object by right clicking on it in the layer Palette and choosing Convert To Smart Object from the drop down menu. Press Ctrl + T to enter Free Transform and position the cathedral as shown below. Hold the Shift key while dragging the corners when in Free Transform to resize proportionally.
By converting a layer into Smart Object we can resize the layer without actual loss of pixel information. We can also apply various filters which we can edit at a later time.

Step 3

Don’t forget to properly name your layers – organization is key when working with lots of layers.
Change the blending mode of the Cathedral layer to Soft Light and lower the opacity to 43%. As you can see this makes the cathedral blend nicely with the scene.

Step 4

We will use layers masks a lot in this tutorial so a short explanation is in order.
First you can create layer masks by going to Layer > New Layer Mask > Reveal All.
Second – layer masks allow us to partially or completely hide a section of the layer without deleting the actual pixels of that layer – we are merely “masking” the layer. By painting with a black brush in a layer mask we will hide the painted area. If the brush is at various opacities (smaller than 100%) than we will partially hide that section and achieve a transparency effect that is very good for blending various objects in a scene. White color reveals a section of the layer – so for example if we fill the layer mask with black (Shift + F5) we will completely hide the layer. Painting with a white brush at various opacities will partially or completely reveal the painted section.
Third – make sure to click on the layer mask thumbnail (which is to the right of the layer thumbnail in the layer palette) before painting with black or white. Otherwise you’ll end up painting over the actual layer which is not something that you may want.
So in this step create a layer mask (you already know how, right?). Fill it with black and select the Brush Tool (B). Select the standard round soft brush and set the opacity to 50%. Paint in the layer mask over the center section of the cathedral to partially reveal it. As you go further from the center lower the opacity to 20-30% to fade it into the background.

Step 5

Create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + Alt + N) and with the standard round soft brush at 5% Opacity and 500px size paint over the upper section of our scene to darken it.

Step 6

We will use Adjustment Layers a lot in this tutorial so let’s get you familiar with them.

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