In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a photo manipulation featuring a cat watching flying fish.
First, we’ll build the base scene using a sky and wall images. After that, we’ll add the cat, fish, and trees, and we’ll blend them together using adjustment layers, masking, and brushes. Later, we’ll paint some dreamy light and complete the tutorial with several adjustment layers.
The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:
1. How to Build the Base Scene
Create a new 2000 x 1700 px document in Photoshop with the given settings:
Open the sky image. Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the
sky area only, and drag it into the white canvas using the Move Tool
To soften the sky, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 8 px:
Duplicate the sky layer and move it up and to the right. The aim is to
move the light area of the sky to the higher position on the left.
Click the second icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to
this layer. Use a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush)
to erase the right side of the canvas as we only need the left of the
Select the two
sky layers and press Control-G to make a group for them. Change this
group’s mode to Normal 100% and create a Color Balance adjustment layer
within this group (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance):
Make a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness a bit. On this
layer mask, use a soft black brush to paint on the lower of the left
side and make the top right become darker to fit the main light source.
Open the wall image. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to grab the wall only and place it in the bottom half of the main canvas.
Make a new layer and set it as Clipping Mask. Activate the Clone Tool (S) to remove some unwanted details on the wall:
Create a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the wall. On this layer
mask, use a soft black brush with a lowered opacity (20-25%) to paint on
the bottom area of the wall so it won’t be too bright.
Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50% gray:
Activate the Dodge Tool (O) with Midtones Range, Exposure about 10-15%
to paint more light on the left of the wall’s surface as it’s nearer the
light than the right. You can see how I did it with Normal mode and the
result with Overlay mode.
Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones and
Highlights settings. Use a soft black brush to reduce the effect on the
hidden area of the wall and leave the warm light reflected mostly on the
Use a Photo Filter adjustment layer to give more warm light to the wall. Pick the color
To make the shadow of the top plate on the wall, use the Rectangular Marquee
Tool to grab a selection below the plate and then fill it with the color
Lower the opacity of this layer to 60% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 4 px to soften the shadow.
Use a layer mask to lighten the shadow’s opacity on the bottom area.
2. How to Retouch the Cat
Cut out the cat from the background and place him on the right-hand side of the wall’s surface.
To make the shadow of the cat on the wall, create a new layer under the cat
one. Hold Control and click the cat thumbnail layer to load his
selection. Fill this selection with the color
it vertically (Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical) and use the Free
Transform Tool (Control-T) to make it longer and narrower.
Lower the Opacity of this layer to 70% and apply a Gaussian Blur of 5 px to this layer.
Add a mask to this layer and erase the unwanted shadow parts on the lower wall area and the tail (we’ll be making the tail shadow on a separate layer).
Create a new layer and load the cat selection as we did in the previous step. Hit Control-I to invert the selection.
Use the Lasso Tool to move around the cat body until only the tail is unselected.
Press Control-I again, and we have the tail’s selection now. Make the shadow for the tail on the wall as we did with the body.
Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to change the color of the collar. Alter the Cyans values:
Create a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the cat. Paint on the
shadow areas and the top head so they won’t be affected or less affected
by this adjustment layer.
Make a new layer, and use a soft white brush to paint on the cat contour
and the strong shadow area of the cat to brighten these details. Change
this layer mode to Linear Dodge 100%. Vary the brush opacity depending
on the brightness of the different details to get a better result.
Make a new layer, change the mode to Overlay 100%, and fill with 50%
gray. Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to continue refining the light and
shadow on the cat.
Add a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones and Highlights values:
Create a new layer, and don’t set it as Clipping Mask. Use a small
medium-hard brush with a light yellow color (
#fef5dc) to paint some
whiskers for the cat.
3. How to Add the Fish
Cut out the fish 1 image from the background and place it above the cat. Duplicate this layer and make the fish a bit bigger. Move it to the
right corner of the canvas.
Isolate all the rest of the fish and place them together from left to right.
You can duplicate the fish and resize them, but remember not to make
some of them too big or too small than the others. I’ve placed fish 7
to fit the direction of the cat’s gaze. Here is my result, but feel
free to make your own arrangement.
You can see the fish have quite a similar color scheme. I’ll go through the
common process of retouching and making them fit together so you won’t
see the steps repeatedly and get bored. I’ve aimed to make some of the
fish more orange, and the rest more magenta/pinkish.
First, use a cloning layer (set it as Clipping Mask) for each of the duplicated fish layers to make them appear different from the original. You can clone the eye, fin, and other
details on the fishes’ bodies.
a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate the greenish/yellowish
of the fish. Here are the settings I’ve used for fish 1, and you
can apply them to all the other fish. Depending on how saturated the fish are, you can alter the settings a bit until you feel okay.
Here is the result of the fish after adding a Hue/Saturation adjustment with similar settings.
Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the color of the fish. Here
are the values I’ve applied to the selected fish that I want to be more
orange than the others. Increase the Blue of the Midtones and Yellow of
And here are the settings for the rest of the fish (increase the Cyan value). Remember to alter the settings to be suitable for specific ones.
Create a group for the fish. All of the fish are too dark, so use a
Curves adjustment layer to increase their lightness and contrast.
Use a soft black brush to reduce the brightness on the front of the fishes’ bodies (the parts towards the right) and the shadow areas.
Use the Dodge and Burn Tool to refine the light and shadow of the
fish. The fish that are nearer the left or darker than the others need to have more light added.
Create a new layer and use a soft white brush, 2 px, to make a highlight
inside the eye of fish 7. It’s to emphasize the look of this fish and create more of a connection to the cat.
4. How to Add the Trees
Move tree 1 to the bottom left of the canvas and apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to this layer.
Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and alter the Hue value of the Master:
Use a Color Balance adjustment layer and work on the Midtones settings:
Create another Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and change the Yellows values:
Make a Curves adjustment layer to increase the lightness and add a bluish tone to the tree.
Add tree 2 to the bottom right of the wall and apply a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to it.
Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and alter the Master settings:
Continue changing the tree’s color with a Color Balance adjustment layer.
Brighten the tree using a Curves adjustment layer.
5. How to Make the Final Adjustments
To create a dreamy light for the scene, make a new layer on top of the
layers. Use a soft light brush (
#e9cfbd) to paint over the canvas, and
then change the mode of this layer to Screen 20%.
a layer mask to erase the lower and the upper part of the scene to make the
dreamy effect visible mostly around the middle left and the fish.
Make a Gradient Map adjustment layer and pick the colors
#b68760. Alter this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.
Create a Color Balance adjustment layer and alter the Midtones and Highlights settings:
Use a Vibrance adjustment layer to enhance the final effect. Use a soft black brush to reduce the blue on the bottom of the wall as I’ve found it too saturated.
Congratulations, You’re Done!
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the tutorial and learned something new for your own project. Feel free to share your results or leave comments in the box below. Enjoy Photoshopping!