Photography: Create a Smoke Dispersion
The smoke dispersion is one of the most visually impressive effects in Photoshop, and in this tutorial you’ll learn how to create it in an easy way. You’ll only need a good picture and some brushes that mimic smoke (you’ll find them in the Attachments section). This is an intermediate-level tutorial, so it’s assumed that you know how layer masks and brushes work. If you don’t feel confident enough, take a look at this tutorial on how to use the Photoshop brushes. Alright, are you ready to know what you need to do to apply this stunning effect to your pictures?
As I previously mentioned, it’s important that you choose a nice picture to use this effect on, as the final result will greatly depend on that picture. This effect tries to recreate something dynamic, an element that is in constant motion such as the smoke, so try to have this in mind when you’re looking for the picture. In short, think of an image that conveys movement.
Open the folder where you have the picture, right-click on it→ Open with → Adobe Photoshop CC.
Unlock the layer to start working with the image. If you don’t know how to unlock the layer, just click on the padlock, or either click on the name of the layer and, in the pop-up window, change the name and press OK.
Create a layer mask and hide the background. To do this, you can use any tool that you feel comfortable with. In my case, the background contrasts a lot with the dancer, so I’ll use the Magic Wand tool (W) to select the background.
With the selection already made, hold Alt and click on Add layer mask.
Press Ctrl / Cmd + T or go to Edit → Free Transform. Adjust the size of the image and, to boost the composition of the image, flip it horizontally.
Now, let’s turn the image black and white. You can follow any method that you want, but I suggest that you use adjustment layers in this case. Therefore, create a Black & White adjustment layer.
Select both layers and convert them to a smart object by right-clicking on the selection and choosing Convert to Smart Object.
Let’s make a new background for our image. Create a Gradient fill layer clicking on Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer → Gradient…
To configure the gradient, choose the Radial type and then click on the gradient to change the colors. For the right color stop, choose a gray color, almost white (#D8D8D8). For the left color stop, a different gray (#929292). Don’t forget to leave the opacity of both colors at 100%. Now, tick the Invert box, change the scale to 180% and leave the angle to 90°. The background should now be ready.
Creating the smoke
We’re going to begin working with the smoke on our picture. There are multiple ways to create this kind of effect. In our case, we’ll use brushes. Let’s go!
Select the Dancer layer and create a new layer mask while holding the Alt key.
Now click on the layer mask, open the Properties panel and lower the density of the layer mask to 70%. This way, the figure of the dancer will be visible (even though it’s hidden because of the layer mask).
Let’s stop for a moment to install the two sets of brushes in case you didn’t have them. You can download them here and here.
Installing them is very simple. Once downloaded, double-click on them and they’ll automatically appear in your brushes.
Return to the project and start using the different brushes over the parts of the dancer that you want to be visible. I think that this is the most complicated step, given that it’s basically trial and error. Remember to paint with white color to turn something visible.
Keep working until the dancer is defined enough and you’ve got a result that you like.
Create a new empty layer and place it below the Dancer layer. We’ll be applying different brushes to this layer to get the final result.
Choose the brush that you like the most and start applying different gray values to the image. In my case, I’ve taken some samples from the dancer.
Don’t focus on getting the exact same result as the one you see here. Trust me, it’s almost impossible, no two images are alike. Try to explore different outcomes with these brushes and see what you can get.
Keep applying the brushes until you’re satisfied with the result. Remember to alternate some gray values with others to avoid too much overlapping.
Group the Smoke layer and the Dancer layer. Then, adjust the size and the position of the elements to achieve a good composition.
I wasn’t very happy with my final result, so I kept trying and playing with the brushes until I was satisfied with the changes. You can use these smoke brushes to paint, but you can also use them to erase the smoke, so try that if you need so.
At the end, this was the result that I liked the most. Again, no two images are the same. In fact, it’s going to be almost impossible to achieve the same exact result. However, keep practicing and try different things.
We’ve reached the end of the tutorial. I hope you had fun with this. I’m sure that you’ve tried many things until you got your final result. Please share your thoughts and questions with us in the Comments section. Here you have two of the results I got. I’d also like you to upload your project to see what you’ve learned. Regards and see you next time! 🙂