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We all have our heads in the clouds from time to time, and with the help of Photoshop, we can bring our day dreams to life. For this tutorial, you’ll need a straight-on headshot, an image of water, a cutout of a dolphin and a cutout of a ship.

Start by opening your portrait in Photoshop. Crop the portrait until it’s a tight shot from the shoulders up. Make sure the Delete Cropped Pixels box is checked at the top of the screen. Use the Crop tool to expand the top of the image so that there’s plenty of space for the effect.

Click on the Quick Selection Tool on the lefthand toolbar, and make a selection of your subject. Once your subject is completely selected, click Refine Edge at the top of the screen.

Increase the Smoothness, Feather and Contrast, then click OK. The edges of your selection should look smooth and neat.

Then right click on your selection and click Layer Via Cut. This will separate your selection from the background in a new layer.

 

Your layers panel should look like this. Now you can delete your Background layer and work solely with the selection layer.

Create a new blank layer by clicking on the small icon that looks like a piece of paper with a corner folded, located under the layers panel. Then, click on the paint bucket tool. With any color selected, click on the document to fill it with a color. Your subject will be hidden until you drag the new layer underneath the selection layer.

Now your subject should be against a solid color background.

Right click the blue box in the layers panel and select Blending Options. An editing box will pop up. Click on Gradient Overlay in the lefthand menu. Change the Style to Radial. Make sure the Reverse box is checked. Adjust the scale until your subject has a subtle halo around their head.

Then click on the Gradient box. A Gradient Editor box will pop up. Click on the small square in the bottom left corner of the large gradient. Select a bluish gray tone. Then click on the square in the bottom right corner of the gradient. Select a yellowish white tone. Then click OK.

Now your subject should look like they have a subtle yellow halo around their head.

Next, go to File>Place Embedded and select your water image. Drag the new water layer above the subject layer, so that the water is on top of your subject. Decrease the opacity to about 50 percent so that you can still see the subject’s head in the background. Click Command + T and hold down Option + Shift to resize the image. Match the width of the image to the width of the subject’s head. Once your water image is properly sized, hide the layer by clicking the eyeball icon in the layers panel.

Select the circular marquee tool and draw a circle that cuts through the middle of your subject’s head. Right click on the circle and select Transform Selection to resize it. This circle is going to be the water pool, so make sure it’s not too small and that it’s the same width as your subject’s head.

Go to Select>Inverse so that everything other than the circle is now selected. Use the eraser tool to erase the top of your subject’s head. Then go to Select>Inverse to flip back the selection.

Reactivate the water layer and click on the small rectangle with the circle inside of it at the bottom right corner of the screen to create a layer mask. Increase the opacity back to 100 percent. Click on the chain icon between the two boxes within the current layer to unlink them. Now you can use the selection tool to move around the water image until you like the placement within the subject’s head.

The edges of the water pool will probably look too sharp and may not blend believably with the subject’s head. To make the edges a little softer, go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and increase the radius somewhere between 1 and 3. Then click OK.

Now we’re going to add our water creatures. Go to File>Place Embedded and select your dolphin cutout. Hit Command + T and hold down Shift + Option to resize the dolphin until it fits inside of the water pool. Use the eraser tool to erase the bottom of the dolphin to create the illusion that it’s coming out of the water.

Go to File>Place Embedded, and this time, select your ship cutout. Resize the boat and place it in the water pool next to the dolphin. Use the eraser tool again to blend the bottom of the boat into the water. Right click on the boat and select Perspective. Drag one of the bottom corners of the box to change the angle of the boat.

Create a new blank layer, and select a brush that looks like a water splash. Make sure the brush is white, and start adding splashes around the dolphin and the ship to create more texture and detail.

Create another blank layer and select a brush shape that looks like a cloud. Click the icon that looks like a folder with paint brushes in it, located at the top of the screen. Increase the spacing and jitter to randomize the spacing of the clouds. Once you like the organization of the clouds, click on the small square icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush Panel to save the brush as a preset.

Make sure the brush is set to white and start painting clouds behind the ship. Make sure the cloud layer is below the ship layer in the layers panel so that the clouds go behind the ship rather than on top of it.

Create another blank layer and select a round, soft brush. Change the color to a yellowish orange tone and make one circle behind the ship. Change the blending mode to soft light to make the effect more subtle. It should look like the sun is setting behind your water scene.

Use Levels or Curves to make any final adjustments to the exposure of the image. Take these techniques and create any scene you want – all in your head.

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