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Members Area Tutorial: Create the Surreal Photo Manipulation ‘Twisting Water’

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to make a surreal photo manipulation with a twisting water effect. This tutorial covers the techniques of combining images, retouching, extracting, using mask and transform tools, working with lighting and more.

Final Image

As always, this is the final image that we’ll be creating:

Step 1

Open sea stock. Use Crop Tool ( C) to remove away one of top part :

I want to reduce saturation of this sea so I use a Hue/Saturation layer. Go to Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Hue/Saturation:

Step 2

Open sky 1 stock. Use Retangular Marquee Tool (M) to make a selection for sky part and set feather for it as 1:

Use Move Tool (V) to drag it into our document, resize and place it as shown below:

To change color of this sky, I use a Color Balance layer with Clipping Mask for sky. Go to Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Color Balance:

Step 3

Open sky 2 stock. Drag it into our canvas, resize and transform it ( use combine key Cmd/Ctrl+T), place it on the top right of image:

Add layer mask for this sky and use soft black brush to remove rough edges:

On sky 2 stock, make a selection for cloud part beside the bright hole and move it into our image:

Use layer mask and brush to clear the parts as the image below shows:

Name these layers as “sky 1″ and “sky 2″.

Step 4

To edit the layers created in step 3 together, I group them. On sky 2 layer, press Cmd/Ctrl+G to make group for it. Use Move Tool to drag sky 1 layer into this group.

Change the mode of this group from Pass Through ( default group mode) to Normal 100%:

To make colors of sky 1 and sky 2 fit the rest of sky, I use an adjustment layer. On sky 2 layer, choose Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Curves:

Because the mode of this group changed to Normal so this Curves layer only affects the layer inside this group ( sky ones). Name this group as “sky hole”.

Step 5

To make the sky and sea to be integrated better, make a new layer on the top. I use soft brush with color #686f6c and paint on the area where the sea ans sky meet. I use a lower opacity brush for the middle part and the right. Change the mode to Multipy 100%:

Step 6

I want to add some depth for this picture so I use Blur Tool on a new layer. I set Strength about 18% ans size 150 px and remember to check Sample All Layers on property bar. Paint on the horizon until you feel it looks good:

Step 7

Make a new layer and position it on the top. Set foreground color to white and use lightning brush, number 594 ( or any you like) to paint under the sky hole:

Add layer mask for it and use brush with opacity and flow about 50% to blur the bottom to make it blend better with sky:

Step 8

Create a new layer and use Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to make a selection as shown below:

Go to Edit-Fill and fill with white:

Click Filter-Blur-Motion Blur:

Change the mode to Soft light 100%:

Step 9

Open stock with water falling from a tap. Isolate the water part only and move into our canvas, transform ( Cmd/Ctrl+T) and place it horizontally:

Choose Edit-Transform-Warp then tweak it until it looks like a half circle:

Transform it and place in onto sky hole:

Add layer mask to clear the parts as shown:

Duplicate this layer and as usual, remove unwanted parts with brush:

Name these layers as “water 1″ and “water 2″.

Step 10

Move falling water into our document again. Now resize and position it with transform tool ( Cmd/Ctrl+T):

Use Warp Tool to tweak it :

Scale it down a bit and add layer mask to remove or blur rough edges of this water:

Name this layer “water 3″.

Step 11

Open water splash image. Extract water part and place it int our main project. Transform and tweak it as we did in previous steps:

Lower opacity to 30% and add layer mask to remove and blur any unecessary parts:

Call it “water 4″.

Step 12

Make group for 4 water layers as we did in step 4 ( remember to change the mode from Pass Through to Normal 100%). Call this group as “water”:

Add two adjustment layers for water layers to make color fit background. First I use a Levels layer to brighten water, then a Color Balance to add a light cyan for it. On water 4 layer, choose Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Levels:

Color Balance:

Step 13

The twisting water does not look very good. Since this step we will add more elements to it. Come back to background layer, and use Retangular Marquee Tool to make a selection on sea part and set feather as 15. Press Cmd/Ctrl+C to copy it:

Make a new layer on the top ( above water group). Hit Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste copied part into this new layer:

Use transform tool ( Cmd/Ctrl+T) and Warp Tool to distort it:

Add layer mask to clear the parts below and lower opacity to 30%:

Name it as “wave 1″.

Step 14

Duplicate this layer and move it up. Use Warp Tool to make it fit the water position and remember to remove any unwanted parts with layer mask:

Continue duplicating many times, warp them and place them onto twisting water. I used 15 layers for it ( all of them with opacity 30%). Try to make them rounded to get rid of flat look.

To make some parts of edges of this water more visible, I duplicate the layer created in step 13 ( wave 1) twice and increase opacity to 50%. Warp them and place them onto these parts:

Name them from “wave 2″ to “wave 17″.

Step 15

Duplicate wave 1 twice and place duplicated layers under wave 1. Change opacity to 100% and use Warp Tool to make them look like a half circle like in step 9. Call them “wave 18″ and “wave 19″ and place them on the top of twisting water:

Use layer mask to remove the some parts and get the look below:

Step 16

Make group for these wave layers as we did in some previous steps and call it “twisting waves” or whatever you want. On wave layer which is set on the top, choose Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Hue Saturation:

And here is what we have:

Step 17

There are some parts of this twisting water I want to brighten. On Hue/Saturation layer ( created in previous step), make two new layers ( inside this group). I use soft white brush to paint on some parts which are need to be brighter. I set first layer mode as Soft light 20% and another as Soft light 30%. You can see I change brush opacity for different parts of water :

Step 18

Open wave splash stock. Move it into our picture and position it at the bottom of twisting water. Transform it to make it look like in the screenshot below:

Remember to situate this layer on the top ( above twisting waves group).

To remove most of dark part of this image, I use Blend If tool. Right click splash layer, choose Blending Options. Hold down the Alt key white dragging black button of This Layer to get value below:

Now use layer mask for this splash layer and remove any parts you don’t want:

Duplicate this splash and apply Flip Horizontal for it. Move it to the right:

Call these layers as “splash 1″ and “splash 2″.

Step 19

Make group for these splash layers like in previous steps and name it as “splashes”. Make some adjustment layers inside this group for splashes to make their color and brightness fit the rest.


Color Balance:

Use soft black brush to remove darker effect on a part of splash after adjusting Levels:

Step 20

Extract a part from rock stock and place it at the nearest foreground, on the right:

To change color of these rocks, I use two adjustment layers with Clipping Mask for them.



Step 21

To add some light for these rock as the main light source is set from in front of the rocks, I use Inner Shadow effect. Right click this layer, choose Blending Options:

Step 22

Open model stock. First use the method you like to make selection around model and the rocks where she is standing and copy it into a new layer. Remember to leave a part of hair as shown below ( we will extract it later):

Call this layer as “model”. On model layer, make selection for hair part and copy it into a new layer ( Cmd/Ctrl+C to copy, Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste):

Add layer mask for model. Hide background and model layer:

Press Cmd/Ctrl+Alt+2 to load bright parts of this hair and we have:

Turn on model layer and turn off layer 1. On layer mask of model layer use soft black brush to remove the remained part of background:

Step 23

To add some hair for model to make a natural look, on model layer, use Lasso Tool to create selection for flying hair part then copy it into a new layer. Transform and warp it as shown below:

Duplicate this hair and move it down :

Continue duplicating several times and move to the left. Remember to resize and transform it to create a natural look. I place sea image between background and model layer to make you easier to see the result:

Step 24

Merge model layer with hair ones. Move this layer after being merged into our document. Place model and rock at the left side of picture:

Create a Hue/Saturation layer for model with Clipping Mask. We’re going to reduce saturation on her:

Step 25

To fix some white hint on model hair, create a new layer ( Clipping Mask). Use soft brush with color #845758, opacity and flow about 50%. Paint subtly and creafully along hair strays on two side of model head and change the mode to Multipy 80%:

To add the light stroke reflected from background on model, I add an Inner Shadow effect. Right click model layer, choose Blending Options:

Step 26

As you see, there are some unwanted light on some part of model hair and the rock where she is standing ( they need less light). To fix it, right click on the symbol of layer style on model layer ( Indicates layer effects), choose Create Layer:

Now Inner Shadow effect appears as a normal layer with Clipping Mask for model and we can add layer mask to remove unwanted light part as mentioned above.
Take soft brush and vary opacity from 100% to 40% to do it:

Step 27

We’re going to add shadow for model on the rock to fit the direction of light falls. On model layer, make selection for her legs as shown below. Press cmd/Ctrl+C to copy it:

Make a new layer on the top. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+V to paste the legs into this layer.

Go to Edit-Transform-Flip Vertical and move the copied legs down under model’s ones. Press Cmd/Ctrl+T to transform it:

Hit Cmd/Ctrl+U to open Hue/Saturation dialog. Down the Lightness to -100:

Lower opacity to 40% and add layer mask to remove the parts covering the shoes and blur the top of shadow:

Call this layer as “shadow 1″.

Step 28

There is a missing shadow of the girl feet. You can see how I indicate it in the screenshot below:

To fix it, create a new layer on the top and opacity is Normal 40% ( same opacity with shadow in previous step). Take soft black brush and paint on these parts:

Name this layer “shadow 2″.

Step 29

In this step we’ll fix the lighting to create more dramatic look. Come back to lightning layer, move it up and place it near the sky hole:

Use Warp Tool to bend it in the direction of twisting water:

Create a new layer above this layer, use lightning brushes with white color, number 421 and 464 ( or any you like) paint onto previous lightning and use layer mask to blur or remove rough edges of them:

Lower opacity of these lightnings to 50% and rename them as “lightning 1″, “lightning 2″:

Step 30

Make a new layer on the top. Add more light for picture by using soft white brush and paint on the sea, model part and rocks ( which catch light from background). I vary brush opacity for different parts. You can see the brighter parts ( which are painted with brush 100% opacity) and another less ( brush 50% opacity). Put the mode of this layer to Soft light 100%:

Step 31

To change light focus of this picture, I use Gradient Tool. Create a new layer and press G to active this tool. Choose Radiant Gradient with default color ( black and white). Drag a line from center to bottom:

Change the mode to Soft light 100%. Add layer mask to reduce the dark contrast on the left edge, model clothes:

Step 32

Create some adjustment layers on the top.

Color Balance 1:

Color Balance 2:

Photo Filter:


Step 33

To add more contrast for picture and slightly magenta tone, I use a Levels layer:

Use soft black brush with opacity on Levels layer mask to reduce contrast on model shoes, rocks, and the left edge of the sea and sky, twisting water. I use brush with 100% opacity for the top part of water and lightnings and and anothers with brush 50% opacity:

Step 34

To reduce light contrast on the top part of twisting water and lightnings, make a new layer and place it on the top. Use soft brush and color #cec2b8 and paint on these parts as shown. Change the mode to Multipy 100%:

New layer again and I use Clone Tool to clone over this part to make the top of water look better:

Step 35

In final step, create a new layer, set to Overlay 100% and fill with 50% gray:

Use Burn Tool with Midtones Range and Exposure about 10-15% to darken some parts of twisting water. You can see how I apply it with Normal mode:

And We’re Done!

You can view the final outcome below. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to hear your feedback on the techniques and outcome.

Member File Download

Download the original .psd file for this tutorial here:


Leave a comment


  1. Cosmas says:

    I love this one, especially the lighting and colors!

    • fanextra says:

      Thanks Cosmas, I love the technique for creating the ‘twisting water’, very original. I’m really glad you enjoyed the tutorial, thanks for commenting.

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