In this tutorial, you will be introduced to the process of creating a magical lake fairy illustration. You will learn how to create quick selections, make adjustments, create special effects, water reflections and original toning.
In the process of creating this illustration, we will get acquainted with many Photoshop tool & features such as adjustment layers, filters, and layer styles.
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- Scene Photo by Nils Leonhardt on Unsplash
- Fairy Photo by Tú Nguyễn on Pexels
- Butterfly Photo by Kathy Servian on Unsplash
- Lotus Large Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Unsplash
- Lotus Mid Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Unsplash
- Foliage Photo by ADARSH KUMAR SINGH on Unsplash
Let’s open Photoshop and create a new document by using the File > New command or by using the keyboard shortcut Cmd (Mac) / Ctrl (Win) + N. Set up the document as – Width: 3840 pixels, Height: 2560 pixels, Resolution: 240 Pixels/Inch. Go to File > Place Embedded and specify a path to the image “nils-leonhardt-Tss1uOMczDg-unsplash.jpg” on your hard drive.
Scale the image proportionally (Opt/Alt + Shift) while in Free Transform mode (Edit > Transform > Free Transform or Cmd/Ctrl + T) to a bit bigger, than the working area. Be sure that there are no gaps on the sides.
The photo has great lighting. We will add a little more to the existing benefits to create a fairy tale atmosphere. Let’s start with the soft focus effect. Duplicate (Layer > Duplicate Layer or Cmd/Ctrl + J) the layer with the placed photo. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius to around 25px. To restore sharpness and localize a glow in the highlights, I use advanced mixing with Blend If. Go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options (double-click on the layer).
In the window that appears, set the Blending Mode to Lighten, and Fill Opacity to 70%. At the bottom is a Blend If section that helps mix images. Our task is to use the Underlying Layer gradient to remove blur from the darkest areas of the layer below. Hold down Opt/Alt and click over the black slider on the left to split it. Move the right half of the slider to the left (0/210 – 255).
I wanted to create a sun rays effect when the sun breaks through the leaves. Go to the Channels panel (Window > Channels). Hold down Cmd/Ctrl key on the keyboard and click over the Red channel thumbnail to load the selection or use the icon at the bottom of the Channels panel. Use the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + J or go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy to duplicate the content of the selection on the new layer. Go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur.
Use settings like – Blur Method: Zoom, Amount: 25 pixels, Quality: Good and move the reference point to the top and slightly to the left to match the direction of the light from the image. Change Blending Mode to Lighten. Place that layer at the top of the layers’ stack.
Add softer lighting around. Create a new layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + N) below the layer with rays. Take the Brush Tool (B) with the Soft Round preset, Opacity 30%, Size 700px, light/foreground color: #f5ff43, and paint over trees and areas near the lighting source.
Feels free to reduce effects if you feel that this is too much to influence the image. I reduce the layer’s Fill to 75%.
Now tweak the colors a bit. Add the Selective Color adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color) at the top of the layers’ stack. Set the settings for green, yellow, neutral and black tones as shown in the image below.
That layer will make the colors more saturated and vivid. To make it more convenient to work, I highlighted all the layers in the Layers panel with the Shift key and grouped them (Layer > Group Layers or Cmd/Ctrl + G).
Move on to the next part of our composition and add the fairy, but first, we need to prepare the image a bit. Open the image pexels-tú-nguyễn-1545590.jpg (File > Open or Cmd/Ctrl + O). Start separating the model with wings from the background.
To do that, use the Quick Selection Tool (W) from the toolbar on the left. Make a selection of the background around the model. Make sure that all the background parts are in the selection. Some parts can be added to the selection like a shadow on the shoes and some minor fragments on the dress.
Be careful with hair and butterflies because they are not very contrasting objects, so parts of them may disappear. With a little effort, you will get quite a good result. To return the desired fragments or correct the selection, switch the tool to the “Subtract from selection” mode at the top panel or by holding up Opt/Alt key on the keyboard. Inverse the selection (Select > Inverse or Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I) to focus on the model.
The selection should be improved, especially over the hairs. Go to Select > Select and Mask (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + R) or use the button at the top panel. This is a feature for improving selections (former Refine Edge command).
Set the following settings: Radius: 5px, checkmark “Smart Radius” Smooth: 1, Contrast: 15%, Shift Edge: -20%. This will enhance and soften the edge of the silhouette. After that, use the Refine Edge tool from the toolbar on the left and carefully draw small strokes along the edge of the hair.
If something went wrong, change the mode to “Subtract from selection”, return the missing fragment and try to clean that area again. In the end, under Output Settings, set Output To: New Layer with Layer Mask.
Hide for a while all the others layers below by clicking on the eye icon near the layer’s thumbnail. Enter Select and Mask workspace (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + R) again. This time, remove the wings by using tools like Lasso Tool (L) or Brush Tool (B) in the “Subtract from selection” mode.
After that, refine the hair near the wings with the Refine Edge tool. Set Output To: New Layer. Now, you can unhide the layer below and evaluate how well the model cleaned from the background. If there are any flaws, use the Select and Mask tool again.
When you’re finished, grab both cleaned layers of the fairy from the Layer panel and drop them into the working document with the Move Tool (V). With Free Transform (Edit > Transform > Free Transform or Cmd/Ctrl + T), flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal).
Scale both layers proportionally (Opt/Alt + Shift), rotate it a bit, and place it over the stump in the water. Try to place the model so that its presence in the composition looks natural.
It is necessary to adjust the colors of the fairy to match the overall atmosphere. I used the Curves adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) and shaped the RGB and Blue curves, as shown in the image below.
That make colors warmer, with a small shade of surrounding greens. Clip that layer to the layer without wings by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the panel. Change Blending Mode to Lighten. Feels free to reduce effects if you feel that this is too much to influence the image. I reduce Fill to 82%.
After cleaning up the hair, an unpleasant edge remains. Let’s fix it so that the hair looks natural. Zoom in around 300% to closer see the details with the Zoom Tool (Z). Create a new layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + N) and take the Brush Tool (B) with the Soft Round preset, Opacity 100%, Size 1px. Hold down Opt/Alt key to switch to the Eyedropper tool (I) and take color samples near the place where you want to paint hairs. Paint slight strokes in the direction of the hairstyle.
To add a bright spot and a second character to the composition, I use a little butterfly. Open image kathy-servian-Td6SfOMkTzE-unsplash.jpg. This time, use Magic Wand Tool (W) and Quick Selection Tool (W) to make a selection of the background and the flowers. Hold down the Shift key on the keyboard to activate the Add to selection mode while working with both tools to expand the selection.
Keep your eye on details and try to make an accurate selection as possible. When the entire background is selected, Inverse the selection (Select > Inverse or Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I). Go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Cmd/Ctrl + J) to extract the butterfly on a separate layer.
Place the cleaned image into a working document with Move Tool (V). With Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) downscale and rotate it to get a realistic position on the fairy’s hands. Use the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast) as a clipping mask (Layer > Create Clipping Mask or use Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + G shortcut) to make it brighter. Set Brightness: 34, Contrast: 47.
Duplicate the layer with the butterfly (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and place it above the clipped adjustment layer. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius to around 15px. Change Blending Mode to Screen. This creates a glow around the butterfly and will help to better integrate it into the composition.
Go back to the document with the butterfly and grab one more copy. Make a clipping mask from that layer to the layer with the fairy’s wings (Layer > Create Clipping Mask or Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + G). Use Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to place and scale the butterfly’s wing over the fairy wings’ shape. Try to find an interesting look, rotate or play with the scale.
The main thing is to find nice looking option. Duplicate (Cmd/Ctrl + J) it two more times and do the same thing with each copy to cover the fairy’s wings. Merge all layers with the butterfly’s wing by highlighting it at the Layers panel and go to Layer > Merge Layers or use the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + E.
When wings in place. Apply the layer mask by making right click over the mask > Apply layer Mask or go to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply. Go to Blending Options (Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options or use the icon at the bottom of the Layers panel).
In the window that appears, set the Blending Mode to Screen, and checkmark the Layer Mask Hides Effects option. Apply several layer styles to emit a glow over the wings. Check the Inner Shadow style at the left and set the following settings:
- Blend Mode: Linear Dodge (Add)
- Color: #e4bd59
- Opacity: 11%
- Angle: 98 degrees
- Distance: 0px
- Choke: 0%
- Size: 87px
Next, checkmark Outer Glow style, set:
- Blend Mode: Screen
- Color: #e0c76c
- Opacity: 27%
- Spread: 0%
- Size: 142px
The last one is the Drop Shadow style, with the following settings:
- Blend Mode: Linear Dodge (Add)
- Color: #ecdc88
- Opacity: 31%
- Angle: 90 degrees
- Distance: 0px
- Spread: 0%
- Size: 38px
You can always modify the settings, add more styles, or change the colors to make something different. There are no right and wrong things. Just keep in mind that the glow should look realistic.
After applying layer styles, it glows all way around. In some places, we don’t need that. To remove glow, add the layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All) and use the Brush Tool (B) with the Soft Round preset, Opacity 100%, Size 200px, foreground color: black. Remove the glow at the bottom and near the arms.
Start to create a reflection in the water. Group all layers with the fairy (Layer > Group Layers or Cmd/Ctrl + G) and create a merged copy via the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + E from that group. Move that layer below all the layers with the fairy in the group at the Layers panel. Rotate the reflection with Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T), hold the Shift key to restrict moving axes, and move the reflection down. Flip it vertically (Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical). Take Erase Tool (E) with a Size: 100px and remove everything that does not correspond to the composition and perspective.
Notice that the background image showcase moving water, so we should recreate that effect for reflection. Apply Motion Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur) with Angle: 90 degrees, Distance: 30px.
To soften the reflection, use the Gaussian Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with the Radius: 5px. Change Blending Mode to Multiply and decrease Fill to 55%. Duplicate that layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J), change Blending Mode to Lighten, and increase Fill to 75%.
Take Erase Tool (E) with Soft Round preset, Opacity 50%, Size 500px and soften the reflection near the bottom edge of the working area. Create a new layer with Multiply Blend Mode (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N). Take the Brush Tool (B) with Soft Round preset, Opacity 100%, Size 80px, foreground color: #737270.
Paint a light shadow below the dress, where it meets the water’s surface. On that, corrections and the creation of realistic reflection are done and we will go to the next elements – adding plants and foliage.
Add water plants to the composition. Open image jeffrey-eisen-bfFjRZFmo2I-unsplash.jpg. If we look at the background is solid blue. To capture a certain color shade quickly, we will use the Color Range command. Go to Select > Color Range.
In the window that appears, are several eyedropper icons that can help take samples of certain shades. Take the “Add to sample” eyedropper, click and drag over the blue background to pick into selection all the shades. Set Fuzziness to 60% or more to make the selection more precise. You can see in the preview area of this window a black silhouette of lotuses and check the quality of the selection.
Add an inverted layer mask by holding Opt/Alt key and clicking on the icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection). Take the Brush Tool (B) with Hard Round preset, Opacity 100%, Size 100-200px, foreground color: black.
On the layer mask, remove fragments and leaves that are cut at the edge. Some leaves may be rounded to imitate intact plants. Apply the layer mask by making right click over the mask > Apply layer Mask or going to Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.
As we do before, take the Move Tool (V) and grab the cleaned layer into our working document. Locate it topmost at the layer stack. Scale and place it near the model, covering the shoes with Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T).
Use several copies of the layer (Layer > Duplicate Layer or Cmd/Ctrl + J) and Free Transform command to create a composition and cover the water. When done, merge all layers with lotuses into one (Layer > Merge Layers or Cmd/Ctrl + E).
Duplicate that layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J), and locate it below the original layer. Change the Blending Mode to Multiply and apply the Motion Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur) with Angle: 90 degrees, Distance: 100px. With Move Tool (V) and holding the Shift key moves it down.
That can help create not only reflection but a shadow at the same time. Reduce Fill to 55% to better mix it with the water.
To reinforce the striped texture of the water, duplicate the blurred layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and locate it below the previous, increasing Fill to 75%.
Restore colors to default black and white (D). Add a layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All), and make it active by clicking on it.
Go to Filter > Render > Fibers. Set the following settings – Variance: 16, Strength: 4. Apply Gaussian Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with the Radius: 5px, to soften texture. Apply Levels adjustment (Image > Adjustments > Levels) and set for Output Levels: 25-255.
Now create a shadow over the lotuses’ leaves. Create a new layer with Multiply Blend Mode (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N). Clip it to the layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + G). Use the Brush Tool (B) with Soft Round preset, Opacity 20%, Size 150px, foreground color: black to paint a light shadow on the sides to match the overall lighting in the scene.
To restore highlights and restrict the effect over white flowers, use Blend If (Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options) option with Underlying Layer: (0 – 209/255).
Repeat Steps 17-18 for the second lotus photo. Open image jeffrey-eisen-6OghA1q2PaY-unsplash.jpg. Select the blue background with the Color Range command (Select > Color Range) and clear the lotuses with the layer mask.
Move lotuses into the working document below the fairy’s group. With the Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) place it over the water in the background area. Use several copies to cover the water surface. When you’re finished, merge all (Cmd/Ctrl + E) the layers into one.
Since that photo slightly differs from the previous one we need to correct the colors to match our composition. Add the Curves adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) and place one reference point in half of the RGB curve.
Move it to Input: 116, Output: 143. Switch to the Blue channel, add and move the point to Input: 137, Output: 109. Clip that layer by using the icon at the bottom of the panel.
Repeat Steps 19 and 21 to make a reflection and shadow for that layer. Since that is a background object, it is not necessary to add a lot of details.
Simply duplicate the layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J), locate it below, and apply the Motion Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur) with Angle: 90 degrees, Distance: 10px. Move the layer down with Move Tool (V). Set Blending Mode to Multiply and reduce Opacity to 55%.
A small detail is to make the flowers’ reflection blurred in the water. The sharpened edge of the reflection ruins the realism. To fix that, use Blur Tool from the toolbar and set the following settings – Size: 60px, Strength: 50%. Highlight each layer at the Layer panel and paint several times over the reflection area until it becomes blurred to match the water reflection.
Now I show you a quick way to color-match new elements into the scene’s environment. This is not always a good idea, and in many cases, it is better to use corrections and manual work. But since we are dealing with plants and water where there is always a special point in accordance with the introduced elements.
It will be useful to find out such a simple trick may come in handy. To begin with, we will create a copy of the background on a new layer. Highlight the “Background” group at the Layer panel and use the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + E.
You should get a new layer with the background image. Change the Blending Mode of that layer to Screen. Now duplicate this layer several times and place it like a clipping mask (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + G) over the reflection of the fairy (reduce Opacity to 41%), both layers with lotuses (under a layer with a shadow).
Reduce the opacity of each of the layers to harmoniously mix the colors and brightness with the general atmosphere (Lotus_front Opacity: 19% and Lotus_back Opacity: 41%).
Now, add shine over the flowers. Create a new layer with Screen Blend Mode (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N) at the top of the layers’ stack. Take the Brush Tool (B) with Size: 300px (for small flowers) – 500px (for bigger flowers), Opacity: 100%, foreground color: #c0c7a9. Single-click over each flower to make shine around.
Reduce layer Opacity to 60%. Duplicate that layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and change Blending Mode to Dissolve. Create a new layer and merge it with the Dissolve layer (Cmd/Ctrl + E) to render a noisy appearance. We now have the option to change the Blending Mode for that noise to Linear Dodge (Add).
To make the glow more believable, add an inverted layer mask by holding Opt/Alt key and clicking on the icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All). Apply noise (Filter > Noise > Add Noise) with Amount 30%, Gaussian.
To soften the noise, apply Dust & Scratches filter (Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches) with Radius 1px, Threshold: 25 levels. Next, apply Levels adjustment (Image > Adjustments > Levels or Cmd/Cytl + L) with Shadow input level: 22, Midtone input level:d 0.76, and Highlight input level: 91.
Create a special firefly brush. Activate the Brush Tool (B) and go to Brush Settings (Window > Brush Settings or F5). Use the image below to tune up Soft Round Preset from the default set of brushes. Save that brush as preset, so we can apply this further. Create a new layer with Linear Dodge (Add) Blending Mode and set the foreground color to #dcdcd8.
Paint small strokes to create a variety of accumulations of luminous lights, near the flower, or anywhere you want. Use a different size of brush or color to make them varied. Some lights can distract or be in an unnecessary place. Remove this with the Erase Tool (E).
To create an additional glow, copy the layer style from the fairy wings from Step 14 and paste it on the firefly layer (Layer > Layer Style > Copy/Paste later style). Reduce Fill to 20%. Duplicate that layer (Cmd/Ctrl + J) and change Blending Mode to Color Dodge.
Add some vegetation to the foreground. That will help separate the plans and create depth. Repeat Steps 17 – 18 for image adarsh-kumar-singh-kAy61QZPVxE-unsplash.jpg. Since there is not so much work, just remove the background, and place the cleaned image into the working document.
Duplicate the layer several times (Cmd/Ctrl + J), scale, and rotate each piece with Free Transform (Cmd/Ctrl + T) to create a composition that is not distracting, but at the same time becomes like a frame.
In total, I use 3 copies and positioned most of them on the right side of the working area. Blur it a bit to create defocus effect, using the Gaussian Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with the Radius: 5 px.
Add Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation) as clipping mask (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + G) and set Master – Saturation +17, Reds – Hue: +45, Yellows – Hue: +9, Greens – Hue: +19, Saturation: +58. That dramatically changes the appearance of the foliage and flowers.
Darken it with the Curves adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves). Use the settings as shown in the image below. Reduce Fill to around 75%. Go to Blending Options (Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options) and restrict the effect over highlights of the flowers with the Underlying Layer gradient (0/125 – 230).
As in Step 24 make a merged background layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + E) and place it at the top of the foliage layer as Clipping Mask (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + G). Apply Gaussian Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with the Radius 20px. With Move Tool (V) move it down, using the more textured part of the image. Change Blending Mode to Lighten and reduce Fill to 28%.
Start to work on the details and lighting. For this, I used the so-called “Dodge and Burn” technique. To create light and shadow, use Brush Tool (B). Create a new layer with Overlay Blending Mode (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + N).
Setup the Brush Tool as follows: Preset: Soft Round, Size: 900px-1100px, Opacity: 20%. Hold Opt/Alt to switch to the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick colors from the image. I want to enhance not only the lighting but also bring some color to those areas to make them more meaningful.
Start adding light and shadows according to the light source, add more volume, emphasize the edges, and fix the lighting. But do not overdo it and use the image below as a reference. That layer is not about hi-res details, but slight lighting adjustments.
Add the Curves adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves). Use the image below to set up curves for each channel. Only small additions remain to reveal the mood and atmosphere in the image. Add Gradient Fill layer (Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient).
In the window that appears, set Angle: 90 degrees, Style: Radial, checkmark Reverse option, Gradient Preset as follows: (#330d69 (Location: 0%) > #ffffff (Location: 65%)). Set Blending Mode to Multiply, Opacity to 74%, and Fill around 50%.
This method is a quite simple solution if you need to add a vignette or darken the image around borders. Foliage, foreground elements fade into its background without a definite border. That helps us to focus the viewer’s eye.
To add an unusual color impact that fades into shadows, use the Solid Color layer (Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color) and set a color to #20123a. Set Blending Mode to Lighten, reduce Opacity to 71%, and Fill to 67%.
At this stage, the picture can be called complete. Everything is combined harmoniously in the composition. Very nice sunny atmosphere. But what if we go a little further and turn this image into a mysterious night scene? Start by changing the hue of all the colors with the Channel Mixer adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Channel Mixer).
This is the most unusual layer. With it, you can create color effect and toning. Use the settings for each channel to dramatically change the colors of the entire image.
Next, add the Curves adjustment layer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) and set up curve for each channel, as shown in the image below. Feels free to reduce effects if you feel that this is too much to influence the image. This layer helps make the shades richer and more colorful.
The last thing to do is to bring the image of the model to the desired look to match the general atmosphere. To do this, use the Curves adjustment layer as a clipping mask. On that, our mystical toning is ready!
When all the edits are finished, and you are happy with the result, you can add a soft-focus effect. First, make a merged copy of the current state of the image on a separate layer. Highlight the last/top layer in the Layers panel and use the Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + E keyboard shortcut. You should get a new layer with the image. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
Set the Radius to around 10px. Change Blending Mode to Lighten and reduce Fill to 40%. Add the layer mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All) and take the Brush Tool (B) with the Soft Round preset, Opacity 100%, Size 1700px, foreground color: black. Make a single click over the fairy to restore focus on that area.
Now a little magical detail. Firefly brush from Step 26 will come in handy for us now because if you change the blending mode for the brush itself in the top panel to Color Dodge, play with brush Opacity and start painting over the image itself, you can get a shiny texture.
Take the color samples from image with Eyedropper Tool (I) to make texture colorful. This can be applied as bokeh, fireflies, or in any other creative way. The only thing is that this is a somewhat destructive method and works over an image, not on an empty layer.
I suggest you create a new merged layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Opt/Alt + Shift + E) and paint over that. The effect can be removed using a layer mask, if suddenly an extra texture appears on the main parts of the composition. You can also change the Blending Mode to Lighten if you keep changing the image and settings for the layers.
Enjoy your final result! On this, our fairy-tale image is ready. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try something creative and interesting. Much appreciated for your attention and good luck to you in your creative projects! Have something to add or ask? Use the comment section below!