How to Create an Underwater Abstract Art in Photoshop

How to Create an Underwater Abstract Art in Photoshop
How to Create an Underwater Abstract Art in Photoshop

Ever imagined how the underwater world could have a creative, abstract side to it? This tutorial will guide you step by step on how to bring colors and life to a simple piece of stock photo using photomanipulation techniques. You will learn how to turn pieces of photographs into your very own piece of art. The steps are simple and rather easy to follow, don't be surprised at the technical simplicity behind this seemingly intricate piece.

Preview of Final Results

Depth: Underwater Photomanipulation Photoshop Tutorial


Step 1 - Creating a new file

Before creating anything you should visualize a concept which will be the basis of the piece, sort of like jotting down the main points before writing a full length essay. We usually start with the bottommost layer, which is the background. The background used here can be found through the link above (thank you Bakanekonei).

And it's always the best to keep the resolution as high as possible. So don't bother changing the image size.

02 image size

Step 2 - Erasing unnecessary parts

The next thing we're going to do is to slightly alter the background, so that it fits our concept. What we want to is shift the focus onto one subject, that is the C4D piece we'll deal with later. But you'll realize that the fish swimming around and the glowing eyes of the lion seem to steal the attention away.

So what we do is erasing parts that will possibly steal the attention and keep the background simple.

For simplicity, I'll be using the default soft brush to do all the erasing in this tutorial.

03 brush

Like this.

Step 3 - Vector Mask

Try to use vector mask because you can undo easily in case you wrongly erase. Click on the button (cicrcled in red) below the layers to create a vector mask.

Then, use a black default soft brush to erase. To undo the erasing, just use a white soft brush and brush over the background. While doing this, make sure you're selecting the vector mask in the Layers panel, not the layer itself (which shows your image). The vector mask is the one on the right. But it's alright to do it the traditional way, which is what I do too.

04 vector mask

Step 4 - Duplicating and Adjusting Background

Now duplicate the layer (Ctrl+J) and place it below the main background. Move the duplicated layer around so that both layers blend together well and appear to be as one.

Repeat the step if necessary.


Step 5 – Contrast

Next we'll want to enhance the contrast of the background. You can use Curve or Levels to achieve similar result, but for the sake of perfection we'll do it manually.

Select a bright yellow shade, use a soft brush to brush it around the top right corner, and set the layer to Soft Light (picture shown at Normal for clarity). We want to accentuate that 'streak of light' shining from above.


Repeat the above with black soft brush, and set it to Soft Light Opacity-25%.

Step 6 - Brightening the background

Continue doing the same for several layers until you're satisfied. Use mostly soft light and low opacity for more layers instead of high opacity for fewer layers. Alternate between white and different shades of yellow. This requires a little patience, but nevertheless fun.

Step 7 - Darkening the background

Darken the surrounding by using a black soft brush with the same technique.

At the end of it you should have something more refined like this.

Step 8 - Main focus

I always add the main focus before everything else so that I can get a clear direction on the next steps. We'll use a C4D render for this tutorial. Head over to stinky666's DeviantArt or follow the links above to download packs of free abstract C4D renders. He's one of the few kind guys who uploads generously without asking for much in return. In fact, his renders are sufficient for most of my pieces.

Anyway, we'll use this.

17 c4d

We're going to need a smaller version of this, but instead of resizing. Erase the right half of it, resize, and place it on the seabed. Rotate slightly in clockwise direction. In case you have problem doing this, hit Ctrl+T for Free Transform. You can adjust the size by dragging on the corners. To rotate, move your cursor outside the image until you see a curved and doubleheaded arrow. Just move your mouse around and you'll see what I mean.

17 transform

Do the same thing again, but this time erase the left half. Place the second layer closer to the first to reduce the gap in between. Set both layers to Hard Light.

Step 9 - C4D Craze

The next step is my favourite part - spamming renders. Be careful not to overdo it, and try to use just a small part of the render instead of the whole piece. Little at a time, layer by layer.

I picked this awesome-looking render (by stinky666) to start off with.


Cool isn't it? But sadly we're just going to use a small part of it, the spheres. Scale, rotate, erase, and set it toHard Light. Just like this.

You can try distorting it if you like (Filter > Distort > Wave/Twirl/etc), but I didn't for this case. Place it below the two main C4D renders and you'll have this.

Step 10 - Continue adding C4Ds

Repeat the previous step. This time I picked this render (by stinky666 as well).


I did it twice, using two layers. Erase unwanted parts and set both layers to Hard Light.

Combining with what we have so far:

Step 11 - The additional 'flavors'

Of course we're not going to just deal with C4Ds all day long. To make photomanipulation piece more interesting, you need different types of resources. Since we're underwater now, the most appropriate image would be bubbles/droplets. Download the water droplets stock by RaeyenIrael-Stock at DeviantArt using the link above.

26 droplets

Place this layer below all the C4Ds and set it to Screen 70%. You'll realize that with Screen, the water droplets stock is a little too bright against the dark background and seems out of place. Lighten, however, seems a little too sharp. If that's case, increase the contrast. I increased straightaway to 100.

Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.


Select the parts you want, erase the rest. Place them on both ends of the C4D. And you should have something like this.

Step 12 - Vintage texture

I don't know if this seems a little random to you, but I think it makes the piece look better. I used a vintage texture which can be downloaded for free at Lost & Taken (link above).


Place this layer below the C4Ds and set it to Overlay. You'll need to decrease the Brightness and increase the Contrast a few times until you achieve this result. The procedure is similar to the previous step.

28 contrast

Step 13 - Light Blurs

Again at Lost & Taken, download several images of Light Blurs. I used this.


Flip it vertically and rotate slightly in clockwise direction for the best flow. Then use a soft brush eraser to erase the edge a little so it doesn't seem like a cut&paste product. It's best to use a soft brush with huge radius because it's more natural and gentle. Set the layer to Lighten 50%.

The outcome:

Step 14 - Bubbles

Next we'll want to give the piece a 'sparkly' effect. There're several ways to do this, you can go for lighting stock photographs which you can find on the internet quite easily, use C4D effect renders, etc. For now we'll be using stinky666's Bubbles. In case you're wondering where to get those, here's the link. If you have a slow internet connection, you can download the Bubbles first.

The main guideline for this is to set the layer's blending mode to Screen or Linear Dodge. You can add as many as renders as you like until you like the result, however, for variety, we'll want to decrease the area taken from a single source, and increase the number of sources. It'll make the piece look more customized and less cut&paste-ish.

So I started off with this (007):


Choose the best location to place it. This step is rather difficult to be explained, basically you'll need a good artistic intuition. Place it close to the focal point in a way that will complement it instead of crowding. Erase a little if necessary.

Just like this:

Set it to Screen 100% and you'll have this.

Step 15 - Variety of Bubbles

Similar concept and technique, but now we'll be using this. (047)


The position.

Screen 100%

Step 16

Next, Bubbles 049 from stinky666's Bubbles Pack.


Screen 80%

Step 17

Bubbles 023.


Screen 100%

Step 18

Bubbles 041. Don't mind the repetition, patience is virtue.


Screen 100%

Step 19 - Last Bubbles!

Bubbles 001.


This time I'm going to adjust the colors a little. Go to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance and apply the following values.


Set it to Linear Dodge 100%.

Step 20 - Lighting

I realized that 'streak of light' wasn't bright and dramatic enough. It's probably not going to be eye-catching if we leave it that way. So grab a white soft brush with 0% hardness and brush it like this, then set it to Hard Light 30%.

Click on a new layer and repeat the step. This time Hard Light 35%.

Another new layer at Hard Light 20%. Don't be lazy to do everything in one layer, because as you add more layers, the lighting from each layer can overlap, thus giving a more desirable result.

So you should have something like this for now.

Step 21 - Light Textures

I wanted a more magical feeling to it, so the best thing to do would be adding light textures by Sanami276, because they reminded me of fairy dust. You can download the pack here if you don't have anything similar.

I picked a blue one.


Next place it slightly above the main C4D and erase about 1/3 of it. After all, too much of it is no good.

Then set it to Linear Dodge.

Step 22 - Another Light Texture

From the same pack, pick another one that has this orange color.


Erase a few bits here and there, and rotate slightly to get the best angle.

Set it to Screen.

You'll realize that in this tuorial, I change the blending mode after transforming and rotating. I do this so that it'll be easier to understand and see the changes I've made. However, in real practice, it's much easier to set the blending mode first, then proceed with erasing.

Step 23 - Textures

Using Sanami276's resources again, pick one that has tiny particles everywhere like this one does to add to the surrounding of the streak of light.


But we want shiny tiny particles, so invert the colors by hitting Ctrl+I or Image > Adjustments > Invert.

Erase some parts, and choose the best position.

And Screen 60%.

Now do the same for the other side.

And Screen 80%.

Step 24 - Glitter Brush

Well, I'm still not happy with it. So this time we're going to do it manually. Take out the default soft brush and apply the following settings.


Brush it in this direction.

After a few trials you should something beautiful like this:

Step 25 - Effect

If you've been to Lost & Taken's Light Blurs download page (link above), you might have noticed this stock.


We're going to use this stock to add in some mild effect and lighting. Rotate the image for the best angle, and you might want to warp it a little so that it fits perfectly. Press Ctrl+T for Free Transform, then right click and selectWarp. Use your mouse and drag freely until you're happy with it.

Set it to Screen 40%

Step 26 - Scribble

Next, use a 1~3px Hard Brush with default settings and change your foreground color to White. I used 1px here. Brush freely with your mouse to fill up the spaces which seem to be rather blank. I positioned my mouse at 45 degrees and just brushed back and forth. Make sure that you brush each stroke fairly quickly to avoid squiggly lines. Then, set the layer to Normal 70%.

Step 27 - Pattern

Moving on, we'll be using a very basic and widely used yet useful pattern. Open a new file with the following settings.

73 new

Select Pencil Tool with 1px and black color, then draw a line like this.


That's all! Save this as a pattern by Edit > Define Pattern...


Back to our piece, select the Elliptical Marquee Tool and create the following shapes. Hold Shift while you're creating the shapes. Shift serves to maintain a symmetrical ellipse and to hold the previous selections.


Without deleting the selections, click on Paint Bucket Tool and select Pattern instead of Foreground Color.


Then fill in the selections with the previously created pattern. Press Ctrl+I to invert from black to white. You should have something like this.

Step 28 - Lighting

To complete the piece, we need to lighten up some parts for better contrast. First use a white soft brush with relatively small size and brush on a few dots like this, and set the layer to Soft Light 40%.

Repeat the step, but this time using #fc5e73 and with several different sizes. Set this layer this Overlay 80%.

#fcbfd4, Overlay 50%.

#fce1e1, Overlay 40%.

#ebfaa2, Overlay 80%.

#fbf261, Overlay 65%.

#fff99c, Hard Light 60%.

#9fff72, Hard Light 80%.

So now you should have something better like this.

Step 29 - Gradient Map

We're almost done but don't stop here. What's left is some final color adjustment. Insert a gradient map and set it to Soft Light 30%. I used pre-made gradient maps downloaded from DeviantArt. Use colors ranging from #280042 to #654260 to #846962.


Another gradient map with #671d19, #a44c40 and #ce865a. Set the gradient map to Soft Light 10%.



Step 30 - Color Balance

Insert Color Balance with the following settings.


Step 31 - Text

Add in some text if you want, and you're done!

Final Results

Authors Comment

profileThank you for reading and I hope you had fun with Photoshop! Overall it shouldn't be difficult to follow, just remember to experiment with your own settings and not adhere strictly to any tutorial.
- Pauline Sho
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6 comments on “How to Create an Underwater Abstract Art in Photoshop”

  1. Elle, Glad you got value from the post. I think it's great too. And, I think people often unstmedeirate the curiosity and adventurous spirit in these age groups!

  2. Thank you for the tutorial. It turned into my first photoshop project; took me a few hours and some frustration, especially at the beginning, but I feel I understand it much better now :) your directions were also very clear!

  3. I really can't find the C4D craze from stinky666, can you maybe share the picture or a link to the picture?

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