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Light up the sky with a photo-realistic lightning effect

Added on Friday 5th of August 2016 01:35 am EST

by Michelle Dick

Lightning is a powerful way to set your images apart from others and demand a viewer's attention. You can punch up the drama in any foreboding sky with our electrifying lightning creation. Here's how to do it.

Storm on the horizon

Let's begin by selecting a stormy photo that lends itself to our electrifying effect, as shown in Figure A. To follow along with us, download the file from the URL at the beginning of this article and open the file storm.jpg in Photoshop. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images have been modified for educational purposes.) With the image open, it's time to create a new layer to house the lightning bolt effect.

Figure A:  

Article figure image

To create the lightning layer:

1. Click the Create A New Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel (Window > Layers).

2. Double-click on the layer name to rename the new layer Lightning.

3. Select the Gradient tool from the Tools panel and choose Foreground To Background from the Gradient Picker on the tool options bar.

4. Press D to revert to the default black and white swatches (in case they aren't already set to the default colors).

5. Draw a short gradient diagonally in the middle of the sky, as shown in Figure B. Your Layers panel should look like Figure B.

Figure B:  

Article figure image

To add clouds and a bolt:

1. Select Filter > Render > Difference Clouds and a jagged line appears through the layer of clouds.

2. Choose Image > Adjustments > Levels to display the Levels dialog box.

3. Drag the center gray slider (below the histogram) to the left until the bolt is a defined jagged line within the clouds, as shown in Figure C.

4. Click OK.

5. Select Image > Adjustments > Invert or, press [command]I ([Ctrl]I in Windows) to change the lightning bolt from black to white.

Figure C:  

Article figure image

To give the bolt more definition:

1. Choose Image > Adjustments > Levels to display the Levels dialog box.

2. Drag the center gray slider to the right this time until most of the clouds have disappeared, as shown in Figure D.

3. Click OK.

4. Set the Blending Mode pop-up menu to...


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