Creating Water and Splash Effects in Photoshop CS6

Splash Dance Photo Manipulation Tutorial Title Image


In this brief behind the scenes I will show you some of the secrets behind the piece seen above. I can’t necessarily do a tutorial on it because it wasn’t a recipe achieved by a series of steps, but rather this piece was the product of some experimentation, failed attempts, and then just letting my inner artist loose. At a certain point I can’t say  what I did specifically, but upon review of the PSD I wanted to offer a behind the scenes of this piece.


To start off, this piece was done because I entered a contest with a special effects/photo manipulation  category. My initial entry, of a group of zombies, was rejected because it was considered to graphic/gory. So, I was stuck trying to find something to replace it. Nothing in my current catalog interested me or was modern enough to use so I sought inspiration elsewhere.  I usually find myself scouring the net for ideas and this time was no different.

Water Spider by =B-O-K-E

Water Spider by =B-O-K-E

I eventually stumbled across the work of deviant art user =B-O-K-E. He used a technique that intrigued me where he turns insects and other animals into water splash creatures using custom brushes in Adobe Photoshop. I also found his tutorial and in an effort to try something resembling this technique I started playing with the concept. I loved the work he had done with his insects in particular the spider I have linked above. I didn;t want to copy the technique but I had some ideas as to how I could play with the concept.

Early Experiments

The tutorial =B-O-K-E put together pointed me in the direction of the custom Photoshop  brushes that he used. The brushes are called “Ron’s Clearwater Brushes”. I ended up downloading them from the first site Daz3d, but I don’t recommend this method if you wanna do this. The Daz3d site wants you to download software and then does  not even install them correctly. Not much more than spyware. So yeah, if you can find the brushes elsewhere, get them from somewhere else…..anywhere else.

The Background

Before I got started I decided on a colour for the piece and created a paper background. I wanted to emulate Japanese watercolour painting with a modern twist. As well the common double Koi tattoo design provided layout concepts.  With this in mind I would use a paper background and the rich light blue/teal colour of modern Japansese tattoos. Creating the Background was pretty straight forward, I used a stock paper texture, desaturated it and applied a color with a hue and saturation adjustment layer. Later I would use a custom brush to add some water details to it.

The Goldfish Splash Effect

To begin I used a couple of goldfish images I had and began rotating and painting with one click the splash brushes along the outline of the goldfish. It was a long process and gradually found myself letting more and more of the goldfish show through. Eventually I found the technique BOKE was using, for my work at least, a bit lacking in the character of the animal I was working with. I didn’t keep the version that most emulated BOKE’s work. But, as you can see in the below example as I adapted his technique to show more and more character of the fish, at a certain point I realized I was simply starting to make a ghost fish.

An early experiment and start with the KOI fish tutorial.

An early experiment and start with the custom brushes

As well, I decided that the character and contrast I wanted in the image was not really showing through so I abandoned that approach in favor of a more literal interpretation of the goldfish splashing out of the water. The famous photoshop image of Gisele Bundchen in a water dress from a few years ago came to mind, with more of a graphic feel.

Painting Splashes

I began working with the goldfish and the custom brushes to create the splash effect. Masking and building them layer upon layer to create as realistic a splash effect as I could. Using the brush panel I was able to reuse some brushes without obvious repetition by flipping the x and y coordinates of the brush, rotating the brush, and changing the size of the brush  itself.

I found less was more at this stage and here are the results.

Splash Brushes applied to Goldfish.

Splash Brushes applied to Goldfish.

Adding Details

Now I really needed the water to interact more with the fish, so I began blending the water directly with the contours of the fish using a small normal brush with about 60% hardness. At this point I am just painting, and being able to paint is pretty important to pull this off. I began at this stage to paint in some highlights and accentuate some of the forms of the goldfish. See below the before and after of this process:


Animation of hand painting the highlights on goldfish with small brush.

At this stage in the game it was just a matter of repeating the process throughout the fish.

Making Fins Translucent

Another challenge was creating translucent fins. The original images were shot against a black background and the result were black fins.

Black Fin Problem

Black Fins

To fix this I ended up duplicating the goldfish layer and converting it’s blending mode to screen. I then adjusted opacity to taste to create a translucent fin. I placed this “translucent” version of the goldfish below my normal layer and masked out the black fins on the normal layer.

Screen Layer to create Translucent Fin

Screen Layer to create Translucent Fin


Getting All Arty

After this I let my artistic freak flag fly, and painted highlights and shadows and damn near anything else I felt like using a small brush. This is where I kind of lose what I did as I probably went into my artistic zone and don;t really keep track of things like time, and what I am doing. After waking from my art coma,  I realize I went for a painterly look up close with photo realism at distance. I often sampled colours directly from the fish and painted to my hearts content.

The animation below shows a close up of the before and after:

Paint Effects Before and After

Paint Effects Before and After

As a final touch I added a high pass filter sharpening technique and a slight curves adjustment layer to punch up the fish contrast. Then the decorative details of the Japanese characters and ribbons were added.

Final Result

Here is the final result:


"Splash Dance" final.

“Splash Dance” final.


Hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at the making of Splash Dance.

This entry was posted in Digital Photo Processing, Photoshop and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. Christian C August 23, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Love it Shawn,
    Tx for the educational post.
    Having just purchased a 1964 – 230SL Mercedes, I intend to have this vintage car photographed in many different ways, with models, and no models etc, so i’m just building a visual memory of what is out there just to get a few ideas.


  2. Chris Washburn November 18, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    thanks! some ways… this is better than a video tutorial… its like hearing your internal thoughts…

    loved how you made the fish translucent… to me, its all about problem solving – one thing I love about photoshop retouching..