Pearl Diver – Photoshop Tutorial

This blog is all about learning and I try to share my vision on photography education with you. Then I thought, “hey, I know many other great photographers that could share their knowledge and skills right here on my blog!” I thought it would be great for you, my fellow photography buffs, to get as much information about photography as possible. I am but one man and I do have to shoot once in a while. I can’t just play around on my blog. 🙂

So, once in a while, I’ll be inviting fellow photographers to share tutorials with us. So let’s get the ball rolling shall we.

In Calgary, I hooked up with a good friend of mine and fellow photographer, Gary Kapluggin, a Kiwi living in Germany. His speciality  is what I call digital art. He uses many images and the full power of Photoshop™ to compose his final vision. After his tutorial, you’ll see a few examples and I invite you to visit his website to admire his portfolio.

You can download the source files for this tutorial HERE and play along if you wish. This tutorial is intended for frequent Photoshop™ users but beginners can easily follow along. Gary was also generous enough to let me post the video that goes with his tutorial (no sound). Enjoy the tutorial!

[vimeo 1419599]

Pearl Diver Instructions

Before you start working on any project you need to come up with a concept of what you want to create. This is extremely important, it is far easier to work to a plan rather than just creating an image as you go along. You need to see the completed image in your mind and often it is a good idea to basically sketch what you want to achieve on paper beforehand. For the “Pearl Diver” image, I wanted to create an image where a girl has dropped a pearl necklace over the side of a boat and has dived in after to catch it. I wanted to catch the moment of her just after she has dived into the water with the bubbles rushing upwards from behind her and her reaching out towards the necklace just before she finally grabs it.

For the photo session with the model, I had her laying on the studio floor on a white background in a position that would be similar to how she would look swimming underwater.


Using a white background made it easier to separate the model from it (see intro image). I separated the model from the background using a combination of the pen tool for her body and channel selections to separate the finer details of her hair. I have included the separated version of the model for this tutorial to save you the time of doing it yourself.

Step 1: Lightening the skin tones

Open the image named “M1.psd”. Light reflected under water goes through changes. Absorption is greater for long wavelengths (red end of the visible spectrum) than for short wavelengths (blue end of the visible spectrum), which means the skin tones of the model come over too much on the red side and also a touch too dark so we need to alter this to make it look paler and lighter.

First to lighten the image, open image/adjustments/levels and change the input levels to 0:1.05:166. In the next step you will need to reduce the reds and slightly increase the blue and green tones.

Step 2: Matching the skin to an underwater world

Go to image/adjustments/curves, choose the red channel, click once on the curve and adjust the setting to input = 191 and output = 170 to reduce the reds slightly. In the green channel up the greens to input = 179 and output = 192. In the blue channel input = 176 and output = 191. The RGB channel input = 173 and output = 191.

Create a new document with the dimensions 1000 px X 1000 px, resolution 96 dpi and background white. Open the file named “sand.jpg” and pull it into the new file making sure the bottom is flush to the new file. Name this layer “sand”.

Step 3: Sandy sea bed


Transform the “sand” layer Edit/Transform/Scale and pull out the right side so the brighter sand on the right side disappears off the canvas. With the healing brush, clean up any little irregularities on the surface.

Go to Image/Adjustments/Hue and Saturation and set “Hue” = -180 and “Sat” = 45 to achieve a deep sea blue for this layer.

Add a new layer on top of this layer and name it “gradient”. Set the foreground color to #0a14d6 and the background color to #5d6096. Using the gradient tool, pull a gradient from the bottom to the top holding down the shift key at the same time to keep the gradient even.

Step 4: Blending water and sand

Add a layer mask to the gradient layer, change the background and foreground colors to the default colors. Pull a gradient from the bottom of the image upwards to about half way into the image. You should see the sandy bottom disappearing into the background with a blue/violet gradient heading up towards the top of the image.


Open the file “water.jpg” and pull it into the image. Set it flush to the top. Add a layer mask to this layer. Choose the gradient tool with black as the foreground color. In the gradient tool bar check foreground to transparent and pull a gradient from just below the top of the sand layer up to the top of the image.

Step 5: The model enters the water

The sand layer and the water layer should now blend in together without any sharp edges appearing. The horizon between sand and water surface should be join together seamlessly. If you can still see the edge slightly between the water surface and sand then just pull the gradient another time, but this time only over the area where you see the edge.

Go to the image of the model which we just optimized and pull it into the main document. Edit/Transform/Scale the model to a suitable size while holding the shift key to keep the scaling proportional, and move her into the lower right corner of the image.

Step 6: Softening the edges

Now you have to soften up the edges of the model so she doesn’t have that “cutout” appearance to her. Making sure the model layer is highlighted, Ctrl/Cmd click on its icon to select the model. Create a layer mask of this selection Layer/Layer mask/Reveal selection and then Alt/Opt click on the layer mask icon to bring up the mask view. Apply a Gaussian blur Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur of approximately 0,4 to the mask and then click on the model icon to bring the image back into view. The edges of the model are somewhat softer now.

Step 7: Tinting the water

The darker water behind the model looks too purplish and needs a darker tint to it. Create a new layer above the water layer and name it “dark tint”. Fill this layer with black and set the opacity down to 20%.

Now you have to fine-tune the skin tones of the model a little more to increase that “underwater look”. Making sure the model layer is highlighted, alt/opt click on the adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette and choose color balance. Check the “Use previous layer to Create Clipping Mask” box. Adjust the settings as I have in the screenshot. This creates cooler skin tones.

Step 8: Forming the necklace path

Create another adjustment layer following the procedure as with the color balance adjustment layer, but this time choosing “curves”. Set a slight “S” curve as shown in the screenshot.

Now you will create some pearls using a combination of the pen tool and brush tool. With the pen tool create the shape of a necklace much the same way I have in the screenshot. This is the outline of the necklace which we will fill with pearls in the next step. Ctrl/Cmd + T to resize and move the path. Place the path in front of the models hand reaching out. Save the path with the name necklace.

Step 9: Setting the pearl brush

Load tutorial brushes from the CD and choose the “pearl” brush Set the foreground color to #f4f4f4 and background color to #707070. Open the brush preset menu (window/brushes). An 8px brush tip diameter was about right for the necklace here. I set the spacing to 95% so that there is next to no space between each pearl. In the shape dynamics tab turn the size jitter control to “off” so that the pearls are equal in size from the start of the brush stroke to the end. I also adjusted the angle jitter a little (5%) so there is a little variation in the pearls.

Step 10: Stroking the necklace path

Create a new layer and name it pearl necklace. In the paths palette, click on the path you just created. With the brush tool selected and the necklace path highlighted, press the stroke path button at the bottom of the paths palette. Deselect the path and then click on the pearl necklace layer in the layers palette.

You now have a very realistic string of pearls. However, they still seem a little too “see-through”. Press Ctrl/Cmd + j to duplicate the pearl necklace layer and set the layer opacity of this layer down to 40%. Press Ctrl/Cmd + e to merge these two layers together.

Step 11: Adding the cross to the necklace

Open the file “red cross.psd” and pull the cross into the main image. Place this layer behind the pearl necklace layer then press Ctrl/Cmd + t and transform the cross down to a suitable size and place it at the bottom of the pearl necklace.

You need to add more hair which flows off to the side and you also need to darken the existing hair and take out any white patches which seem to be coming through. First click on the layer thumbnail of the model layer. Create an adjustment layer by Alt/Opt clicking the new adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette and choosing selective color.

Step 12: Darkening the hair

The link to previous layer box should already be marked seeing there are already two adjustment layers directed at the model layer above this new adjustment layer. In the selective color adjustment box choose the “blacks” from the colors tab. Pump the black slider right over to 100% and you will see the hair turning blacker. Click okay. The sole of her feet and a place behind her knee also became affected from the selective color adjustment layer. To rectify this click once on the mask of the selective color adjustment layer and with a black brush at 100% opacity just mask out those areas.

Step 13: Adding more hair

Use the burn brush set to highlight mode at about 30% opacity and paint over the lighter areas of the hair.

Create a new layer above the “dark tint” layer naming it “hair 1”. Using black as the foreground color load the hair brush supplied at about 160px with the opacity at 100%. This layer click twice in one place without moving the mouse/stylus. Ctrl/Cmd + t and rotate the hair and move it to behind the model’s head so it is flowing out to the left side. Duplicate the “hair1” layer and name it “hair2”. Ctrl/Cmd + t and flip horizontal, then move it down so that hair also shows below the arms.

Step 14: The bubble brush

Now for the bubbles. You will use one bubble brush for this effect, changing the properties in the brush window each time to create the different varieties of bubbles.

Add a new layer just below the necklace and cross layers and name it necklace bubbles. Choose the bubble brush included with this tutorial and open window/brushes. You can get different brush flow effects using different settings in the brush window. Best is to move the sliders and test the brush with one stroke each time until you are happy with the stream of bubbles. The settings I used for the necklace bubbles are in the screenshot.

Step 15: More bubbles

I added a layer mask to the “necklace bubbles layer” and using the gradient tool with the default colors and the gradient tool set at 70% opacity, I masked the top part of the bubbles gradually out so that they appeared stronger at the bottom than at the top.

Next add a new layer below the hair layers and name it “bubbles left hand”. Using the same brush and changing the settings to suit, brush a small line of bubbles leading back from the hand.

Create another layer above the bubbles left hand layer and name it entry bubbles. This is the main stream of bubbles caused by diving into the water.

Step 16: And even more bubbles

You may want to combine different brush strokes at different settings here, making sure that the main bulk and dense area of the bubbles are located in the middle of the stream. The best way to achieve a dense flow of bubbles is by pushing the “count” slider upwards in the “scattering” panel.

You can add a few extra bubbles here and there if you like, just remember to keep the image looking realistic. Play around with the brushes here and just use your imagination. Reduce the opacity of the layers to suit. Paint a few small bubbles on the “viewer” side of the model so that not all the bubbles appear to be behind her.

Step 17: Fine tuning the image

Add a layer above the model and paint some bubbles over her hair and her legs at the back.

You are almost finished. There is still a slight purplish tinge in the water at the back. To eliminate this make sure the top layer in the layers palette is highlighted and add a color fill adjustment layer by clicking the adjustment layer icon at the bottom. The color we are after is #386899. Set the blending mode of this layer to soft light.

Still making sure the top layer is highlighted, add one more layer and name it gradient. You need to darken the bottom of the image a little.

Step 18: Final steps

Making sure the gradient color goes from black to transparent, pull a gradient up from the bottom of the image and about 4 centimeters into the image. Go to Edit/Fade and fade the gradient down until it looks suitable.

And that is it, photo finished. If you happen to have the nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 filters then I did the following. Push Ctrl/Shift/Alt + e (Cmd/Shift/Opt + e) to make a copy of everything done so far and use the nik Color Efex filter “Classical Soft Focus” using number 3 at default settings. Again you can use the Edit/Fade to fine tune the effect.



Here are more images from Gary Kapluggin.


4 responses on "Pearl Diver - Photoshop Tutorial"

  1. Excellent tutorial, two thumbs up!

  2. Hi! I just found your blog and this is a great tutorial!
    I’ll be looking through your others too and keep up the good work!

  3. Hi,

    I have been reading this blog for some time now but never bothered to comment until today. Wanted to let you know that I am a fan and enjoy your work.


  4. I open my rss reader find a familiar face staring out at me and thought I don’t have Gary’s blog on my feed (yet)
    good to see Gary is lightening your load a little, hopefully there will be lot of your friends helping us all learn
    I just wish I wasn’t on the other side of the world some days as it would be good to meet up with you guys in the northern hemisphere


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