Kraken Attack in London!: Photoshop Tutorial

Photoshop Tutorial for "Kraken Attacks London"

When I used to teach myself Photoshop, I found following tutorials to create cool images the most entertaining way to learn. Sure, I’d only create that one image this one time, but by going through the process and understanding the steps, I could then take those techniques and apply them on hundreds of images I would produce later.

For that reason I’m going to write up a few Photoshop tutorials myself. Today I’ll show you how I made Kraken Attack in London! (available to buy as cards, prints, and iPhone cases)

First you need to source your images. When looking for free imagery I like to search Flickr for those that are Creative-Commons licensed. And if you plan to adapt the image (which we definitely are) and sell the image in anyway (as I have done) then you need to make sure you tick these boxes:

Take your time looking for images. The first rule of good photo editing is making sure you source suitable images. Try to image how they’ll fit together. See if the angles will work. For this project I was looking for suitable city and creature shots. The other requirement of using Creative Commons-licensed content is attribution. You must attribute the original photographers. I’ve listed the names of the photos I used at the end of this tutorial.

Step 01: Open your base image in Photoshop. Use the marquee tool to select the area you wish to use. If you have a size ratio you wish to use, this can be set in the top bar. Once selected use Image > Crop to crop the image.


Step 02: Open your “monster” image, in this case an octopus, and either copy it into your first image, or drag-and-drop it into the image. In your Layers window make sure the octopus is above the background layer and bring the opacity slider down. This will allow you to see through the image and help with positioning.

Now we need to resize the image. You can use Edit > Free Transform, or Edit > Transform > Scale. Whichever you use, holding down the Shift key while altering the size will keep the ratio in check and avoid squashing or stretching this layer.

Once you have positioned the monster where you think it fits best, you can bring the opacity back up to 100%.


Step 03: Add a layer mask. An easy way to do this is, with your monster layer selected, click the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of your Layers window.

You’ll see it adds a white box next to the thumbnail of this layer. This is the mask. You can either select to edit the image or the mask.

The mask is essentially just a black and white (and grey) canvas. By painting the image black with it selected you remove those parts of the image. By painting in white those parts of the image will be seen.

What we’re going to do is paint out the parts of the octopus we don’t want with a black paintbrush. There are a number of ways to select or cut out an image. Some using a mask like this, some not. I like this method because it means I can decide as I go which parts I want to keep and which I don’t. Some of those tentacles will go, for example.

Another advantage of mask use, is if you make a mistake you can you switch to a white brush and paint the area back in. (Also, notice in the corner that the mask thumb shows what is black or “masked out”, and what isn’t.)

Make sure you remove parts that go around and behind the scenery to give some depth. And here’s a tip. By right-clicking (in Windows) with the brush tool selected, you can change the shape of the brush or the hardness. So in this instance I softened the brush slightly so that the edges of the octopus weren’t so harsh, making it look less “cut-out”.

It’s starting to come together.

Step 04: Select the Burn Tool and choose either Midtones or Highlights in the Range dropdown at the top.

This is another brush tool. Again, I suggest you use a soft-edged brush, perhaps even softer than before. Make sure your background layer is selected and brush in your shadows. This will take practice, so Ctrl-Alt-Z (undoes your last action, keep clicking to go back several actions) is your friend. The Range you selected will determine what tones will be darkened or “burned”. I like to mix it up between midtones and highlights and experiment with what looks most natural to my eyes.

Like so much in Photoshop, this is not the only way to create shadows, or even the best. It’s just a rough and easy way that I sometimes like to use. In future tutorials I’ll try and use different techniques so you’re not just learning the same ones over and over.

When you’re done with the background, select your monster layer (be sure to select the actual monster thumb, not the mask thumb) and add shadowing to him. When you’re finished you should have something like this.

Step 05: Let’s speed things up a little. I decided I wanted a little foam around my octopus – or kraken as I should be calling it now. It’s a small detail, but these small details can often make or break an image. I start by finding a good sea/foam texture. There are a plenty of free texture sites out there. Search around, check their terms & conditions (can you use them for commercial use?) and download. I drop the foam texture into my PSD.

Choose a blending mode for this layer. There are no real rules for this. I suggest you use the dropdown menu in the Layers window and see the different effects each one has. See what works for you and your images. Over time you’ll start to know which ones are going to be best for each project. For now I’m choosing Lighten.

I use Edit > Transform > Distort to stretch and arrange the foam at an angle that I think works. If I’d found a less angled foam image, ideally from directly above, then I’d use Photoshop’s Vanishing Point tool. But not this time, so you’ll have to wait for a tutorial with that.

Step 06: Next I use a layer mask and a soft brush to remove the edges. I also pull the foam layer so it is underneath the kraken layer.

I also decide that the Lighten blending mode isn’t working for me, and instead choose Soft Light.

Step 07: Keeping up? Let’s knock it up another gear. Time to add a more dramatic sky. Again, searching for textures, I find one I like and drop it in the image. If you click off the eyeball icon next to a layer thumb, it makes it invisible. I do that because I’m going to come back to it later.

First, making sure I’ve selected the background layer, I use the quick selection tool to mark out the cityscape. I suggest you to practice with this brush to see how it works – you’ll learn a lot more than reading a detailed description of it. Tip: holding down Alt while brushing removes parts you may have accidentally selected.

This tool can often give you jagged and hard edges to your selection. Which in this case we don’t want. So use the Refine Edge button at the top to change that. The Refine Edge menu allows you to see just your selection and by playing with the Smooth, Feather, Contrast and other sliders, we can find the type of selection we want. In this instance I want it quite feathered as the horizon is a little blurred and we’re going to hide it somewhat.

Click OK. Here’s a problem, I don’t actually want the city selected, I just wanted to make sure I got it’s outline correct. I want the sky selected. So right-click and Select Inverse.

Now click the eyeball on your Sky layer to bring it back, make sure that layer is selected. Here’s a nice tip, if you create a layer mask while your image has a selection outline on it, it automatically creates a mask around that selection. So… Add Layer Mask!


Step 08: Time to add an Adjustment Layer and create that cool green tint effect. These are layers whose attributes affect either all layers below it, or just a selection of the layers below it.

Select your background layer. We only want this Adjustment Layer to affect the background for now, so be sure that the small circles icon in the bottom right of the Adjustments window are intersecting. Click them if they’re not.

(If you ever can’t find a window, go to Window > and then add a tick next to the window you’re looking for.)

We’re adding a Black & White Adjustment layer here, so click that icon. It should appear above the background as shown in the image here. You can also see if it’s only affecting the layer below it by the indentation and small arrow next to the thumb.

But we don’t want black and white, we want tinted. So change the settings that have come up so the Tint box is ticked. Double click the colour box to choose a colour for the tint.

Finally, because I don’t want a single colour image, change the blending mode for this adjustment layer to Overlay. Once you’ve done this, do all the above but with the Sky layer selected. Choose a slightly different green for your tint, so that the image colours aren’t too uniform




How’s it looking?

I’m not sure about that horizon, so I darken it a little with the burn brush.

Step 09: Before we go any further, I also add the same type of adjustment layer to the kraken. I experimented with giving him a more blood-red tint, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe it will for you.

I’m a sucker for textures over images, so that’s what I’m doing next. I find a nice grungy, scratched texture…

… and I simple drop it into the PSD as the top layer and select a blending mode and opacity level that adds to the image without being too distracting.

And we’re down. Add a bit of shading around the edges, make any corrections you might need to (see how useful it is to use masks!) and you’re done.

Photoshop Tutorial for "Kraken Attacks London"

If you try this tutorial then feel free to link to your final image in the comments, or email it to me directly. Let me know if you want to see more. I’ll always post these tutorials for free and if you like the images then, as mentioned, you can purchase them as prints, cards and iPhone covers by clicking the image below.

 (Creative Commons-licensed images: Octopus by Mrs. Gemstone on Flickr. London by Duncan Harris on Flickr.) 


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