Creating smoke in Adobe Photoshop

Introduction

This tutorial tells you how to create smoke (from scratch) in adobe photoshop. To work through this tutorial I created the following image by drawing an itty bitty boat onto a photograph.

I have decided to set this boat on fire.

Step 1 - Preparing to make the smoke

Create 2 new layers above the background image, if you are a photoshop CS user you may widh to put these into a new layer set named smoke.

Fill the lower of the 2 layers with black and then hide it. In the upper layer paint a thick white mark where you wish the smoke to eminate from, in this case the rear of the boat.

Stage 2 - Making white smoke

Unhide the black layer so that you can see the smoke you are forming better.

Using the smudge tool manipulate the white mark until it begins to take on the appearence of a tendril of smoke. At this point you can start to use the Liquify tools to manipulate the tendril without losing opacity. Create a new layer and repeat the process of manipulation.

Build up these layers until you have the desired volume of smoke, then link all the layers of white smoke together. Merge the linked layers, this will form the main body of your smoke. Hide or delete the black layer.

Stage 3 - Adding detail

Create two duplicates of your white smoke layer and name them Halo and Grey. Move both duplicates below the white smoke layer.

Apply a 10 px gaussian blur to your halo layer. If the layer is too light then duplicate it and set the layer blend mode of the duplicate to screen.

Use the curves dialogue to partially invert the Grey layer and change the blend mode of this layer to Multiply:

select the move tool and then use the cursor keys to shift the grey layer down and too the right until the clouds take on a 3D appearence.

Stage 4 - Making the smoke match the scene

Use masks on the grey, white and halo layers to create a more coherent stream of smoke. This means reducing the halo around the boat and where the smoke meets the water. This Helps to add realism.

Also, using a low opacity, feathered brush on the masks reduce the amount of white in the smoke near the boat and the amount of grey in the smoke further away from it.

Stage 5 - Subtle colour

The final stage in making the smoke is to add a little subtle colour to match the sky.

Duplicate the white layer one more time and name this layer Colour. Create a gradient to roughly match the sky by selecting a pink colour from near the top of the smoke and a blue colour from near the horizon. Ctrl-Click the new layer to create a selection by alpha and then fill this selection with the new gradient, dragging from horizon to the top of the cloud. Change the layer blend mode of this layer to Overlay.

Whilst you are doing this you may also wish to add a splash of colour at the base of the smoke to represent the fire:

Thats it, The finished effect. If you wish to see my psd it is available here (550Kb psd).There are probably other ways to achieve thse effects but i like this technique. If you have any questions/suggestions feel free to contact me.

 

 

 

 

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