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Underwater photography is tricky, and requires expensive, complicated equipment. But thanks to Photoshop, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on underwater housing just to create a stunning underwater portrait. All you need is your standard DSLR camera, a little creativity and a few simple steps in Photoshop to create a compelling, surrealist image. For this tutorial, you’ll need a portrait of someone posed in a falling position, an image of an empty underwater scene and Photoshop.

Start by opening the underwater background image in Photoshop.

Click on the small half-white, half-black circle in the bottom right corner to create a new adjustment layer. Select Color Balance. Click on the small box with the arrow next to it, located at the bottom of the editing box, to clip to the bottom layer. Increase the Red slider to +100, the Green slider to about +15 and the Blue Yellow slider to about -35. Close out of the editing window when you like the tone of your background image.

Then switch to the falling portrait, and use the Lasso or Pen tool to cut out the model.

Once your model is selected, click Refine Edge at the top of the screen.

Click on the brush icon on the lefthand side of the editing box, and make sure Refine Radius Tool is selected. Brush around the edges of your model, with a particular focus on hair, fingers and flowing clothing.

At the bottom of the editing box, click on the Output To dropdown menu, select Layer Mask, then hit OK.

Select the move tool and drag and drop the cutout onto the tab of the underwater background layer.

Drag the working layer down to the icon that’s shaped like a piece of paper with the corner folded over to create a duplicate layer. Then hide the bottom layer by clicking on the eyeball icon next to the layer. Now your layers panel should look like this:

Right click on the working mask (the black and white box in the layers panel), and select Apply Layer Mask. Rename the layer to “Model.” Then right click again, and select Convert to Smart Object.

Hit Control + T and hold down Shift + Option to resize and position the model where you want them in the water.

Now we’re going to tweak the hue of the model to match the colors of the water. Create another adjustment layer and select Color Balance. Clip to the layer below. Decrease the Cyan slider to about -50, increase the Green slider to about +50 and increase the Blue slider to about +50. When you like the colors of the model, exit the editing box.

Create a new adjustment layer, and select Hue/Saturation. Clip to the layer below. Decrease the Lightness to about -25 so that the model looks less like they’re glowing and more like they blend into the water. Then close the editing box.

Create another adjustment layer and select Color Balance. Decrease the Cyan slider to about -10, decrease the Magenta slider to about -5 and increase the Blue slider to about +10. Make sure the edits are clipped to the bottom layer. Then exit the editing box.

Create another adjustment layer and select Levels. Change the midpoint to about .90, then exit out of the editing box.

Then create a new layer and call it Bubbles. Now we’re going to add bubbles around the model to give them more of a sense of falling and being underwater. Select your bubbles brush tool, and with either a white or light blue color selected as the foreground of the two small boxes in the bottom left corner of the tool panel, start adding bubbles around the model’s limbs and head. Use to [ and ] keys to change the size of the bubbles.

Create another adjustment layer and select Gradient Fill. Click on a Gradient Preset with blue, purple, yellow and orange tones. Then quit the editing box and decrease the Opacity to around 30 percent. This will make the hues of the water and the model more even, while giving the overall image a more surreal look.

Create another adjustment layer and select Photo Filter. Select a yellow tone and change the Density to about 35 percent.

Finally, create one last adjustment layer and select Levels. Pull up the highlights by pulling the right slider to the left. Adjust the middle slider to about .85

Now you can use these techniques to create any underwater portrait or to inspire your next surreal photoshoot.

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