This tutorial will show you how to create awesome underwater scenery in Photoshop. Through this tutorial, we will cover the use of channels as well as cool filters such as chrome and radial blur. Make sure to download the PSD file at the bottom of the page for reference.
Step 1 - Base Color
Pick a Dark Blue (#002156) as your foreground and Black as your background. With the gradient tool, drag from top to bottom in your background layer creating a Blue to Black gradient.
Step 2a - Water Surface Channel
Click into the "Channels" palette and create a new channel. With Black and White as your foreground and background, go to Filter > Render > Difference Clouds then repeat it one more time or hit "Ctrl + F" to repeat the last filter. Press "Ctrl + T" to bring up the Transform tool, then click and drag the bottom/middle handle half way up the canvas, essentially squeezing the image to half its size. With a large and soft brush (300px, 0 hardness), paint away the hard line in the middle of the canvas.
Step 2b - Water Surface Channel 2
In the "Channels" palette, create another blank channel. Go to Filter > Render > Difference Clouds, then Filter > Sketch > Chrome (use any settings). Now just as we did in the previous step, squeeze the image half way up, then paint black over the hard edge that it leaves.
Step 3a - Create the Water Surface
Go back into the layers palette, create a new layer and name it "Water." Go back into the channels, and "Ctrl + Click" on the first channel you made (the one that looks cloudy).
*Note: If it gives you an error saying "No more than 50% of the pixels were selected," with that channel active, press "Ctrl + L" to bring up the Levels and adjust the slider to brighten it up. You want to make it bright enough so that Photoshop can load enough "non-transparent" pixels to justify a selection.*
With the selection loaded, go back to your "Water" layer and fill the selection with "White." Next, change the layer blending mode to "Overlay."
Step 3b - Create the Water Surface 2
Create a new layer and name it "Ripples." Now go back and do the same exact thing as we did in the previous step. "Ctrl + Click" the second channel you created (the one that looks like liquid chrome), and fill that selection with "White" in the "Ripples" layer. Change the blending mode to "Overlay" for this layer as well.
Step 3c - Finish the Water Surface
At this time, we want to once again, resize the "Water" and "Ripples" layers. Hit "Ctrl + T" on each layer and resize them with the "Water" layer being slightly taller than the "Ripples" layer. Now "Duplicate" (Layer > Duplicate Layer) the "Water" layer to enhance the effect.
Step 4a - Ground Reflection
Duplicate the "Water" layer once more and rename it to "Ground." Change its blending mode back to "Normal" to make this next part easier. With that layer still active, go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical. Press "v" to bring up the "Move" tool, and align the "Ground" layer with the bottom of the canvas.
Step 4b - Ground Reflection
Set the blending mode of the "Ground" layer back to "Overlay." Now "Duplicate" the "Ground" layer as many times as you need to until you start to see a healthy reflection of light at the bottom (I had 6 "Ground" layers total). For added measure, I duplicated the "Ripples" layer, flipped it it vertically and moved it down as well to show a little reflection from the ripples.
Step 5a - Setting Up for Plants
This part is a little complicated so follow closely. Pick the brush tool and change your foreground color to "Black." Open the "Brushes" palette (Window > Brushes) and pick these settings:
Brush Tip Shape
Shape Dynamics (Make Sure It's Checked)
Size Jitter: 0%
Size Jitter Control: Pen Pressure
Everything else set to 0 and Off
Step 5b - Creating Paths for Plants
Head into your "Paths" palette (Window > Paths) and create a new path. With the "Pen" tool, create wavy path, similar to a weed growing from the ocean floor.
Step 5c - Turning Paths into Plants
Create a new layer and name it "Plant Leaf." Select the brush tool and click on the new path layer you created in the "Paths" palette. At the bottom of the "Paths" palette, there's a button that looks like a white circle with a solid outline, that's the "Stroke Path" tool. With everything (Plant Leaf Layer, New Path Layer, Brush tool with settings) active, click on that button. You should have a nicely stroked path with falloff on both sides. It will look very subtle at first, but that's what we're going for anyway =)
Repeat this step multiple times using different brush sizes to create plant life along the ocean floor. After a couple of tries, you'll find it's a lot easier than it seems.
Step 6 - Creating Bubbles
Create a new layer and name it "Bubbles." Use the "Brush" tool with 1px - 4px diameters, and "White" as your foreground color to dot in some bubbles going from small to big as the bubbles rise to the top. Lower the opacity of the layer to around 20% or so to blend in the effect.
Step 7 - Adding the Light Source
Now this is where you get creative. Create a new layer above your background layer and name it "Light." Pick the "Brush" tool with a 500px diameter and 0% hardness. With "White" as your foreground color, position the center of the brush at the top/middle of the canvas and clicked once. You can make this as tame or as bright as you like. I also opted to erase a lot of the light that flooded into the middle to make room for the next step.
Step 8a - Adding the Light Rays
Create a new layer above the "Light" layer and name it "Rays." Go back to the channels palette and load the selection for the cloudy channel. Go back to your "Rays" layer and fill the selection with "White." Press "v" to bring up the "Move" tool and move the contents to the middle of the canvas.
Step 8b - Adding the Light Rays
Next go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur. Pick the "Zoom" setting at 100%. Position the center of the zoom approximately where your light source is coming from. Make sure "Best" is checked, and click "OK." Repeat the filter by hitting "Ctrl + F," then do it one more time (total of 3) to make sure the streaks look nice and yummy.
Step 8c - Adding the Light Rays
Use the eraser tool with a large and soft brush setting to erase away some of the rays. We don't want it to be too overwhelming. Try to get it so that you have rays hitting some of the hot spots on the ocean floor. I also squeezed the rays in a little by hitting "Ctrl + T" to bring up the "Transform" tool and bringing the sides in a little to concentrate the rays towards the center of my image. As always, use the eraser to erase any hard lines if you choose to do this.
Step 9 - colorizing
Click on your very top layer. Now, at the bottom of the "Layers" palette, there's a button that looks like a circle that's filled half black and half white, that's the "Adjustment Layer" button. Adjustment Layers globally effect all of the layers below it. What's cool about adjustment layers is that you can change their settings, even mask it off so you only effect certain parts of your canvas.
Create a new "Hue/Saturation" adjustment layer by clicking on that icon and picking "Hue/Saturation." (You can also go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer). Click on "Colorize," then adjust the sliders to get a nice desaturate blue tint. I used:
Click "OK," then lower the opacity of the adjustment layer down a little to let in some of the original blue. At this point, I also went and lowered the opacity of the "Light" layer just a tad.
Step 10 - Finishing Touches
For the finishing touches, I created another layer, and used simple shapes to create fish. Add some text, and anything else that your heart desires.