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Compositing Water Effects in Photoshop

Part 2: An approach to creating shallow bodies of water By Dave Nagel
Last time we took a look at water effects in Adobe Photoshop, we created a deep, murky body of water. This week we take a look at an approach to creating a shallow water effect, one in which the body of water--or brook, as the case may be--is clear and shallow enough for us to distinguish features below the surface.

This process is far, far more simple than the heavy water body we created before. (Incidentally, if you missed that one, you can read it here.) And it can be applied in a wider variety of situations--from creating garden water features to flooding a field to creating a little stream. In this tutorial, we'll focus on creating a stream, though the process can be applied to all of the above.

Project summary
In this project, we'll create a small stream out of a photograph of a dry trench. This effect involves four layers and five steps, none of which will be difficult for even a beginning Photoshop user to reproduce.

The big step
The most involved step in this process is the creation of the ripple layer in Photoshop, but even this is not difficult. To begin, create a new document that is exactly as wide as your main background image but three times as tall. In my example, my background image (the photograph of the trench) is 400 pixels wide by 300 pixels high. My original is shown below.

So I'll create a new document that's 400 pixels wide by 900 pixels high. (To save space here, I'll just be showing you a portion of the image.)

Make sure that you've selected gray or black foreground color and a white background. Then choose Filter > Render > Clouds. And you should wind up with something like this, only bigger.

Now choose Filter > Distort > Ocean Ripple. Set the Ripple Size to about 10 and the Magnitude to somewhere between 15 and 20, depending on how prominent you want your ripples to be. (You can tone down the ripples later on, as shown at the end of this tutorial.)

Now choose Image > Image Size. Turn off the "Constrain Proportions" option, and set the height of the image to the height of your background image. In my case, this will be 300 pixels.

This will have the effect of scrunching up our ocean ripples to give it the effect of perspective. (Alternately, you could also just use the Layer > Transform > Scale command to scrunch this manually.)

Now save this image. We'll be using it in Step 5 below.

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