Apply fire and smoke and learn how to blend it perfectly
Open your subject image and start retouching. Navigate to Filter>Liquify. Use the Forward Warp tool and make sure the brush size is quite high when moving larger areas, and lower for small areas. We adjusted her nose slightly and dragged her left cheek in. We also clicked once with the Bloat tool to enlarge the eyes.
Make a new layer and select the Healing Brush tool. Make sure that ‘Sample all layers’ is set in the top toolbar. Hold down Opt/Alt and sample a portion of skin below the eyes, then carefully brush away the bags beneath them. Go back over with the skin tones for a seamless blend, then lower Opacity to 75% to reveal slight shading.
Create another layer. Select the Mixer Brush tool and, in the upper toolbar, set it to one of the Very Wet modes. This will help us smooth out pores and blemishes. Using the colour sampling method from step 2, carefully paint over her skin, smoothing it without losing sharpness. Repeat for the hair and lower the layer’s opacity to around 40%.
Add a Curves layer. Click once on the diagonal line to create a point and then drag the centre of the curve up to brighten the midtones. Fill the layer mask with black, select a soft-edged brush and set the foreground colour to white. We can now paint highlights back in by using the brush to reveal brighter facial areas while maintaining other levels of darkness. Add a second Curves layer and drag the line down to darken the image. Again, use the mask to darken some areas of the body.
Now it’s time to get some warm, fiery tones into the piece. Since the original shot already contains a teal cast, let’s start from scratch. Navigate to Layer>New Adjustment Layer and add a Black & White adjustment layer. Leave it as it is. Now, add a Gradient Map adjustment layer and select #4b0616 (left side) and #ff8400 (right side). Set the blend mode to Color and duplicate the layer. Set the duplicate to Soft Light at 35% Opacity. This will give us a nice red-orange base to work off from now on.
Once you have a new two-colour gradient using #1f2c08 and #e1d076 and have set the blending to Soft Light. The greens help to balance out the tones and give a warm look. Next, add a Color Balance adjustment layer with Shadows: 3, 0, -28; Midtones: 61, 0, 41; and Highlights: 0, 0, -7. Set the blend mode to Color and lower Opacity to 60-80%. Use a soft black brush and mask off the skin so it’s not too red. Apply the same mask to the Gradient Map, then set it to the Soft Light blend mode.
Find a stock image of some fire on a black background. Resize the image and set it to Screen, so that it eliminates the black background and allows us to blend the fire in with the hair. Go to Edit> Transform>Warp, then carefully click and drag the mesh to warp the flames in the same direction as the hair. Paint on a layer mask with a 100px black brush to help blend the stock together. Repeat as many times as you see fit; we’ll be revisiting this technique throughout the tutorial.
Choose an orange tone and on a new layer, paint with a soft-edged brush in the bottom-left of the canvas to dim the brightness. Find an image of some sparks and place into the piece. This will add a soft glow and fill in some of the darker areas with fiery embers. As you work, remember to experiment with this effect in other areas to keep it consistent and also add the same dramatic glow in some other areas around the focal point.
Since we added the colour cast, the model’s face has become a bit too dark. Select #ffd036 and, using a soft brush, paint over it and set the blend mode to Soft Light. Lower the Opacity to around 30%. Now zoom in on the eyes and do the same, using #f0f182 to add a soft yellow glow to the iris.
For a more dramatic lighting effect, select an orange tone and set the layer mode to Color Dodge. Start painting over the noticeable edges on the model’s face and body. Make sure that the brush Opacity (at the top) is around 30%. Now draw a path with the Pen tool, then Ctrl/right-click on the canvas and select Stroke Path with the Brush option selected. Make sure the brush size is quite small: between 10-20 pixels. Repeat the effect on parts of her body where the light would be reflected.
Create a new layer group and place all of the corrections and effects inside it. Hide this group and create a new layer beneath for the retouch. Select the Spot Healing Brush tool by pressing J. Make sure ‘Sample all layers’ is checked and slowly begin to paint over all the hairs on the arm. Make sure you go slowly. The tool will also help you to blend in any blotchy areas. You can also make a selection around her arm and sample a skin tone to manually paint over the remaining arm hairs.
In order to differentiate some parts of the hair, we blended in more sparks. The sparks in your image should fit the width of a hair follicle, and also give us an easier way to mix in thin lines and add to the impression of a smouldering scalp. We set the blend mode to Screen and brought up a Levels adjustment, moving the middle slider to the right until only the bright areas were visible. Again, use the Warp function to contour the lines in the same direction as the flowing hair.
So far, we have mostly used the Screen mode to blend the fire stocks. It’s not always the perfect solution. We decided to experiment with the Lighten blend mode, and it actually looked better in some areas. At this point, the hair is starting to look pretty good. Take time to move elements around and test them out on different parts of the artwork. Don’t always use your first idea. We also added some more sparks to the bottom of the image to mimic flames engulfing the model.
To add tiny burning embers, for ambience, put a sparks stock on Screen mode; just make sure the background is black. We also added some fire over the eyebrows, but you can try almost anything. Instead of using the simple Warp option, try out Edit>Puppet Warp. This allows us to place points on the mesh and move them individually. We added four evenly spaced points, then dragged the two left ones down and in so that the fire fit the shape of the brow.
To finish the eyes, we’ll paint some glows and colour over the eyelashes. Select a 5-10px brush with colour #fcc855, set to Linear Dodge and with a brush Opacity around 20%. Carefully paint some lines over the eyelashes. Be sure to go over each stroke multiple times to activate the Linear Dodge; it will increase the glow each time you go over a line. Repeat this technique in other areas that might need some more light, which is being cast by the fire.
Find a subtle cloud stock – something that will blend with the surroundings. Desaturate the image (Cmd+Shift+U) so that the red doesn’t overpower it, then set it to Soft Light and drag this layer beneath the fire layers. Add a layer mask and, using a soft 300px brush, paint with black over the model to remove the image from her. We also used ‘6562474’ from Dreamstime, set to Soft Light and 25% Opacity.
Now you need to find smoke stock that can easily be clipped out of the fire. As before, we used the Screen blend mode to place the smoke around the model’s hair. The effect you produce is down to your personal preference, so just apply it wherever you feel that it works.
Find more sparks. Scale it up to around 200%, place it in the corners or sides of the image (we did both sides), and then apply Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. The blur will vary depending on the size of the canvas. In this case, we used a radius of 12 pixels. Use Cmd+F to duplicate the blur if it still looks a little too crisp.
After the effects began to cover the model’s face, we returned to the earlier layers where we’d only applied the colour cast and slight detail. We hid all layers above this, merged a copy (Cmd+Opt/Alt+ Shift+E) and moved it to the top of the Layers palette. We then used a soft-edged white brush on a black-filled layer mask to reveal parts of the face and eyes, bringing back detail and brightening it up. We kept the old eyebrows intact and the hair at full opacity.
This step focuses on filling in the hair and areas around the face with more of a glow. Since some parts are still too brown, like the model’s natural hair, just paint them back in. We used brushes between 10-20px in size, set to Color Dodge. We used the same technique of layering the strokes in order to slowly bring out the vibrancy. We filled in mostly around the hair and, at the end, added some reflected light on the model’s arms.
Now for some global adjustment layers at the top of the stack. Apply a dark brown (#080808) to white Gradient Map and set the blend mode to Multiply at 10% Opacity. Next, add a new Curves adjustment and drag the diagonal line down, the same way we did earlier on, to darken the midtones in the image. Apply a black fill to the layer mask and then carefully reveal the mask by painting with white on the face and skin to darken select areas.
We also adjusted some of the fire. We wanted it to appear as though it were on the ends of her hair. This is where personal preference comes in; as long as the techniques are there, everything can be revisited and adjusted later. We also decided to remove the eyebrows for the final image, but feel free to apply fire effects anywhere that feels right. The easiest way to blend behind the head is to make a mask of the hair and then apply it to any fire layers.
Try using some favourite adjustments, textures and plug-ins to enhance the image. In this case, we used Selective Focus on the centre and also added a slight vignette. Topaz and Nik Software sell some pretty unique plug-ins built for Photoshop – they are essentially beefed-up adjustment layers. A good way to achieve similar effects is to merge a copy of the image and apply Filter>Other>High Pass at around 20 pixels, set to Soft Light.
To finalise the piece, merge the image again and then apply an Unsharp Mask with settings around 25, 2, and 1. Then, create a new layer right at the top of your stack and do some final painting on the Soft Light or Overlay blend mode. Look over the piece to find any areas that need some additional light and colour. A graphics tablet will really help to finish off the piece because you can use it to subtly accent a few areas with colour and some nice light.