Summer is [almost] over, but the vacation photos can keep the memory
of it alive. But you don’t need to limit yourself to only looking at these
photos—you can use some of them to create a beautiful
In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a
mermaid in Adobe Photoshop using only two stock photos. You’ll learn
how to modify, adjust, and merge them to create a consistent, realistic
image of something unreal. I will show you tricks you can use in other photo manipulations as well!
In order to complete this tutorial, you’ll need the following resources:
1. Prepare the Assets
Because we’ll want to add a long tail in place of the legs, the
composition of the photo will change. That’s why we need to crop it for a
more balanced look. Use the Crop Tool (C) to create a proper frame.
The bigger the photo, the more details we’ll be able to fit into it. Go to Image > Image Size to make the resolution reasonably high.
Now we need to isolate the other assets. Open the Fish photo in Photoshop and use the Pen Tool (P) to select it. If you don’t know how to use this tool, you can learn it quickly from these materials:
Turn the path into a selection with Control-Enter, and then Select > Inverse to remove the background.
Use the Pen Tool (P) again to slice the fish into separate elements we may need. Keep them all on separate layers.
Use the Patch Tool (J) to make the body more uniform.
We’re going to use the body for a tail, but it’s quite short. Let’s make it longer: use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) and the Move Tool (V) to divide the body into three pieces with some space in between. Keep them on the same layer.
Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) again to select the area between the two pieces.
Go to Edit > Fill and select Content-Aware. Press OK.
Do the same with the other area.
You can also use the Patch Tool to clean up the body, but it doesn’t really need to be perfect.
Duplicate (Control-J) the body, and drag the copy right over the original.
Use a Layer Mask to blend the layers into each other. You can learn more about it from Quick Tip: Layer Mask vs. the Eraser Tool in Adobe Photoshop. If you don’t want to learn that, you can always use the Eraser Tool (E) instead. Layer Mask is simply more versatile and it lets you “un-erase” already erased parts.
Select both layers and Merge them (Control-E). Use the Patch Tool (J) if necessary.
Repeat the previous steps as many times as necessary to create a big “texture” of scales. Copy it.
2. Put All the Elements in Their Places
Paste the fish body into the main file. Lower its Opacity to see what’s behind it. Then go to Edit > Free Transform (Control-T) and resize/rotate the texture to cover the legs.
Without pressing Enter, change the mode to Warp. Drag the handles around to adjust the shape to the perspective of the lower body.
Use a Layer Mask (or the Eraser Tool) to clean up the shape.
You can paint on individual scales to create a more natural transition.
Before we add the rest of the tail, we need to find out where to put it. The background photo dictates some kind of perspective, and we need to follow it to create a convincing scene. You can sketch the tail on a new layer, but it’s not necessary—you can simply “see” it with your imagination.
Paste the scales once again and use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to create a rectangular selection. Copy and paste it.
Duplicate (Control-J) the rectangle. Hide the original for later and modify the copy with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to “stick” the rectangle to the tail in perspective. Hold Control to drag the corners separately.
When you’re done, duplicate the original once again to create another part.
Repeat the process along the tail.
You can paste a bigger area of scales once you reach a flatter part.
Use a Layer Mask to clean the borders between the layers. Then Merge them all and use a Layer Mask again to give it the shape of a tail.
Add some scales to the side of the tail as well. Merge it with the rest of the tail…
… then use a Layer Mask to create a border between the tail and water.
Paste the caudal fin into the file. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to position the fin.
Go to Filter > Liquify and use the Forward Warp Tool (W) to adjust the base of the fin to the width of the tail.
Use a Layer Mask if necessary to blend the fin better.
Go into Quick Mask Mode (Q) and paint over a part of the bra to select it. Go out of the mode (Q) and go to Select > Inverse.
Go to Edit > Fill and select Content-Aware.
Adjust the result manually using the Patch Tool (J).
Use this trick on the bra until it becomes invisible. The effect doesn’t need to be perfect, unless you want to leave the breasts uncovered.
Let’s create a “corset” out of scales to avoid unnecessary nudity. Use the Free Transform Tool and a Layer Mask to achieve such an effect on the side.
The scales on the breasts should be rounded, so we need to work on the texture a little bit. Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) and hold Shift to select a circle. Invert the selection and cut the redundant part.
Hold Control and click the thumbnail of the layer to keep it selected. Go to Filter > Distort > Spherize and use 100% for the Amount.
Duplicate (Control-J) the circle, and use the tricks you’re already familiar with to adjust both copies to the breasts.
3. Make the Scene More Appealing
Paste the scales and modify their shape to fix the perspective of the tail. Use a Layer Mask to clean up the shape.
Double-click the layer to open the Layer Style window. Play with the lower Blend If slider to cover the tail with reflections. Hold Alt to split the marker for a more natural effect. You can learn more about this tool from Quick Tip: the Magic of Photoshop’s Blend If.
Use a Layer Mask as well to make the submerged part less visible.
Paste a fin from our fish and add it to the sides.
Add the other fins and attach them under the shoulder blades, as if they were a kind of wing.
Use a Layer Mask to make the fins partially transparent and therefore thin in look.
4. Blend the Elements
Select the upper tail layer and open Window > Adjustments. Select Hue/Saturation.
Clip the adjustment to the layer below (Control-Alt-G). Then play with the sliders to create a darker version of the layer—just how it would look in the shadow.
The adjustment layer has its own Layer Mask attached. Use it to blend the effect and to keep it in the shadow. Follow the lighting on the body to achieve proper results.
You can duplicate the adjustment layer as many times as you want, getting a darker shade each time.
Shade all the elements.
This is a good time to decide whether you want to change colors. It can be done easily with another Hue/Saturation layer. Check Colorize for better results.
You can also add a few Colorize layers for each part, and then blend the colors using a Layer Mask.
Let’s add the highlights now. Add another Hue/Saturation adjustment and make it brighter/more bluish.
Use a Layer Mask to keep this area in the light.
You can add an even brighter version of this adjustment on top to make the edge lighter.
You can use the same method to shade parts of the body. Just be careful with selecting them, because they’re all part of the background!
5. Adjust the Elements to the Environment
Copy the ripples from the background using the Lasso Tool (L)…
… and paste them over both submerged parts of the tail.
Use a Layer Mask to blend them into the rest of water.
Let’s add some highlights to make the scales look metallic. Add a New Layer over the tail, clip it (Control-Alt-G) and use a soft brush to paint a long stroke.
Change the Blend Mode to Overlay.
Double-click the layer and play with its Blend If settings to give the highlights to the brightest parts.
Add this effect to all the scaly parts. You can also use a Layer Mask to make the highlights more natural. To make the metallic effect even stronger, you can darken the shadows more.
Reflected color is another important factor that makes elements look as if they’re really next to each other. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment to give a skin color to some of the scales. Then limit the area with a Layer Mask.
Hold Control and click the thumbnail of the lower tail layer to make a selection out of it. Use this selection to copy a part of the background.
Paste it over the tail.
Use Filter > Liquify to disturb the water.
Use a Layer Mask to blend it into the tail. The reflection should be the strongest at the edges.
We have a lot of layers now, so go ahead and merge (Control-E) the ones that already make a group together (for example, a layer with all its clipped adjustments).
Go into the Quick Mask Mode (Q) and use a soft brush to select the edges of an element.
Make and invert the selection, and then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Make the edges as blurred as the body.
Do the same with all the pasted elements.
The lower tail is slightly farther from us, so it shouldn’t be so much in focus. Go to Filter > Blur > Tilt-Shift and play with its settings to make it fit the blurry background.
6. Add Finishing Touch
Copy the upper tail and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical. Place it under its original layer. Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to adjust it to perspective. Blend it with a Layer Mask.
Use the Lasso Tool (L) to select an area between the lower tail and water. The actual shape is not important. Duplicate the selection.
Use the Liquify filter to create ripples.
Blend it with a Layer mask.
You can shade the skin by adding two adjustments to the background layer. To make it more realistic, you can add Filter > Noise > Add Noise to both of them.
We’re almost done now. Take a good look at your artwork and use all the methods you have learned to apply any necessary fixes. When you’re sure you don’t want to change anything else, save it as a new file, right-click the layers, and select Flatten Image.
Use the Crop Tool (C) to get more space on the left and on top. Make it slightly excessive.
Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the empty area on the left. Use Content-Aware Fill on it, and then do the same with the top. Once it’s filled, use the Patch Tool (J) to make the seams less obvious.
Crop the picture once again to create the final frame.
Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise to make the image more uniform.
Go to Image > Image Size to convert the artwork to the final size. The smaller it is, the stronger the illusion.
You can add Color Balance adjustment to quickly change the atmosphere of the image. You can also add Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen the artwork to unify all the elements and make the scale pattern clearer.
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