Photoshop and the Lost Undersea Channel

dekePod Episode 015: Imagine yourself on a once-in-a-lifetime underwater adventure. Adift in a world of wonder. Watch as if in a dream as you ignore the souvenir stand, bypass the lounge chair, even avoid the swim-up bar. Your only intention is to grab the gear, strap on the fins, and plunge into the astonishing azure alure.

Or more simply put: Mix with the fish.

Such destinations have names as to make the heart sigh: Fiji. Kealakekua Bay. Ningaloo. The Red Sea.

If you’ve never been to these lands, welcome to the club, neither have I. But I have spent much time roaming the Caribbean. Things being what they are (and me being what I am), I’ve gone underwater many a time with camera in hand. Only to be excited by what I shot! And disappointed by the results(!). Because the sad truth of the matter is, sea colors are different from land colors. Here’s the official marketing description:

The ocean is a different world. Where else can you cavort with colorful animals a thousand feet or more above the Earth’s surface? But the romance of the sea comes at a price. Just as the watery depths rob our lungs of air, they rob our eyes of color. It’s not uncommon for an underwater photo to lack any information in the Red channel. Which is where coral, clown fish, and our very own skin tones live. Fortunately, Deke knows how to summon a Red channel back from the dead. Watch this dekePod and learn how to create underwater images that will satisfy your inner Jacques Cousteau.

Summary: Use a Channel Mixer adjustment layer to blend a new Red channel from the existing Green and Blue. Use Levels, Color Balance, and Vibrance to finesse the results. And then apply some diliberate hand painting to bring out the coral and other warm details.

Need to watch it again? Why not save it for later by exploring one of these links:

  • For a high-quality QuickTime movie, right-click here and choose Save Target or Download Link or the equivalent.
  • For an M4V file that you can play on an iPod, right-click here and choose one of those same commands.
  • Or you can subscribe to dekePod via RSS or iTunes.

You can also check out the page at my book publisher O’Reilly Media.

And don’t forget, you can explore this very technique in exquisite, painstaking detail in Chapter 16, “Adjustment Layers,” of my comprehensive video series “Photoshop CS4 One-on-One: Advanced,” due out any day from

Next entry:Martini Hour 013, In Which Colleen Revels in Classic Simplicity

Previous entry:Martini Hour 012, In Which Deke (with help from John and Russell) Whips Up Layers of Photoshop Goodn


  • Is it just me?..

    or is the sound in the direct-viewable flv version messed up?


    Deke, did you see my Illustrator One-On-One mentioned method Short-Cut comment @



  • Reminds me a little of so called ‘2-strip Technicolor’


    Reminds me a little of so called ‘2-strip Technicolor for Photoshop’ idea of trying to recover RGB from only 2 sources - in that case a red- and a cyan-filtered separation. Like they did in The Aviator.

  • Holy crap… in sacred shit - you said the bad word! On internet!!!



    Happy, happy, joy, joy!


  • how can i make a collage or poster like these in photoshop?

    Dear Deke,

          I read your nice weblog and thanks for all. I have a question:
    i’d like to make something like these posters:
    i know photoshop very well. i can work with layers and masks. so if
    you help me and give me an example to make a poster like those ( step
    by step with pictures please, i prefer to see a tutorial video about)

    i myself can make them after that. thanks for your attention.

    yours faithfully


  • Did someone say underwater?


    As always, admire the technique. Struggled with “blue/green where colors should be” for quite some time. As you alluded, there is no substitute for a strobe. A bold, but brief, source of white light is key.

    The example you showed breaks nearly all of the fundamental guidelines for good shots under water:

    1. Get close - Just when you think you’re close enough, get closer. The refraction under water makes you think you’re closer than you are.

    2. Shoot up - Shooting down doesn’t give you an “in-context” sensation. Ideally, you shoot sideways, or slightly upward. Including open water in the shot gives context as well. Strobe power controls foreground, shutter speed controls the color of water behind.

    3. Shoot in Manual mode - I know, scary, but “land” cameras don’t know how to shoot under water. Get into the “shooting zone” as you approach a subject, get aperture and shutter speed dialed in, and fire some test shots. And CHECK THE HISTOGRAM. The screen will look red and washed out (usually) under water which is misleading. Histogram will give you the real story.

    Okay, that’s like 5 tips, but…

    I have some other tutorials/actions for automatic “backscatter” (debris in the water) removal as well as a tweak for “sun balls” (light rays that appear when pointing the camera up toward the sun) on my non-day-job-website. smile

    And, if you ever want to go shoot with “real” gear, let me know. We’ll take good care of you. wink

    Daniel Brown

    GridIron Software
    Part-time Underwater Photography Teacher

  • Always approved

    As a Padi OWSI instructor it’s always good to notice that there are other Adobe-loonies enjoying the underwaterlife as well.

    So, to narrow it down, I love this movie for two reasons:

    1) Any excuse to talk about scubadiving is just perfect

    2) eeeeh…. scuba rocks!

    So, where can i donate a dollar to get you started on saving up to *real* underwater photo-equipment?  Would love to see more of your underwater adventures.  My advice to students bringing that (rather nice) olympus camera along, is to have fun with it in the ‘confined water’ lessons and just let it be onshore when we’re going below 6m.

    Did I mention that scuba rocks?

    M:)rten   -  Come to Norway and experience our amazing shore and underwater wildlife.  wink

  • Fundamentals or Advanced ??


    At the end of this podcast, sorry dekecast you reffer to your 1 on 1 Advanced DVD and yet hold up a Fundamentals DVD ... Do I win a copy for spotting the error? grin


  • Damn, you got the eagle eye!

    There is no Advanced DVD yet so I showed the Fundamentals box.

    Guess we shoulda created a paste-on patch.

    And yes, you win my admiration. For 6 hours. It ends at 10:46 mountain time. (Or 12:46 eastern, which is apparently where the finely calibrated dekeChronometer lives. Tho honestly, I sign the POs on these things and I have no idea what happens to them.)

  • Just basking in the glow!!

    Ohhh its soooo good.

    You must be able to feel the expectionally positive karma radiating all the way from Australia ... right??


  • Haha

    This was hilarious, good work!

  • Nice post

    Thank you for sharing ......

  • love it

    i love the idea of this site deke.


  • i liked the global warming remark

    so true!!! liberal people see thing in RGB smile

  • Comment

    I am really thankful yo you for giving me such a nice platform during my browsing. Actually i want to migrate USA for job purposes and i want to search before my departure. Once again thanks.

  • Really appreciate this post.

    Really appreciate this post. It’s hard to sort the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it!

  • As a land lock country I

    As a land lock country I have never experience in sea beach anyway I have seen the sea in film, movie and documentary. It is very interesting to see sea. By the way to quench the thirst of sea I have lots of exciting moments in     Swimming Pools    so I am somewhat satisfied with it.

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