The Digital Darkroom
Developed and Instructed by James Gordley 2004-2009
All illustrations and graphics  done using Photoshop Elements.

Smokin' in the Class Room

In this tutorial we are going to make something that looks like smoke.

New Document Dialog Box1)  Create a new document. [File >New > Blank File]

After typing the name of your new document you can use the dropdown options to complete the dialog box.

After you complete the dialog options click the OK button or press the return key on your keyboard.

NOTE: The background color defaults to the current background color in your tool box.

New Layer Dialog Box2) Create a new layer [Layer > New Layer] or place your cursor on the New Layer Icon in the Layers Palette and click one time. New Layer Icon

[Shift + Ctrl + N] will also create a new layer.

NOTE: It is good practice to name your layers as you make them. This will help keep track of what you have on each layer as your image layers grow.

If you choose to create a new layer using the Menu Bar the New Layer dialog box will pop up. Using the Layers Palette a new layer will pop up with the default name of "Layer (x)". Double clicking a layers name will allow you to rename the layer within the layers palette. You can also right click on the layers name then select Rename Layer from the menu options, doing so will open a Rename Dialog box on your screen.

So Far So Good
Your workspace should look about the same as the image below

Screen shot of work space at the conclusion of step 2

Color Swatches Palette3) Select a 70-80% gray shade of paint from the Color Swatches Palette [Window > Color Swatches]. Using a solid edged brush nib with your Brush tool paint a serpentine line diagonally across your canvas. I used a brush nib that was 40 pixels in diameter.

Make your curves smooth avoiding any straight lines will help the image appear more smoke like.

NOTE: If you allow your cursor to float over the color in the Color Swatches Palette the name of the color will show up in a tool tip note box.

Sponge, Dodge, and Burn Tools4) Using the Burn Tool with a brush nib that is small enough, burn the edges of your serpentine line, don't worry if it isn't perfect we do want some random looking shadows and highlights.

NOTE: Pressing the letter "O" on your keyboard selects this group tools. Each time you press "O" the tool will change. You can click on the tool as well. Note the hidden tool tag at the bottom right of the tool box icon. Adjusting the nib size can be done from the options bar or the square bracket keys on your keyboard "[" decreases the nib size "]" increases the nib size.

With the edges burned change over to the Dodge tool. Check the options bar to ensure that "Range" is set to Highlights. Adjust the nib size so that it fits within your serpentine line. Drag the nib the length of the line

Your workspace should look about the same as the image below

5) To smooth out the edges of this layer of smoke use the Gaussian Blur [Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Gaussian Blur Dialog Box

Filter Menu Drop Down and Blur Options

Set the Blur Radius so that the edges of the serpentine line soften. In this example I used a radius of 3.7. With the edges of the line softened up to a point that you like move on to step 6
6) Click on Filters then Distort [Filter > Distort > Wave]

Wave options dialog boxThe default settings are great for the smoke being created. If the settings are different than those that you see in the example image to the right. Change them so that they are close to or exactly like the settings shown here.

Click on the Randomize button until you have a shape that you like. Keep in mind that jagged edges and steeply angled turns are not what you want to see.

When you find the wave pattern that suites you click on the OK button in the dialog box or press the Enter or Return key on your keyboard.

Make a copy of the smoke layer in the layers palette by dragging it to the New Layer Icon. Set the blending mode to Screen.

Then repeat step 6 using a different wave shape. Adjust the opacity of this copied layer until you like the way it looks.

7) Use the smudge tool to gently nudge the smoke around, tweaking it to look just the way you like it. Using the Dodge and Burn tools add some shadow and highlight to you two layers of smoke. Once satisfied with the way it looks save the file as a .psd. This will allow you to add your smoke to your own photographs or paintings in any way you like.