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Energize your imagery with trailing light beams

Added on Tuesday 17th of March 2009 12:48 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3/CS4

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Electrifying, glowing lines that energize digital images are all the rage these days, but just how do you achieve that look? We’ll take you step-by-step and show you how you can set your digital images aglow with excitement.




Design trends come and go but when they’re hot, you can bet on what your clients will ask of you. Take, for example, glowing, energetic light beams. Creating this look isn’t as difficult as you might think. We’ll show you how—in just a few simple steps—you can wow your clients and add luminance and energy to your images!


Select an image

You can add light beams to any image but this technique especially complements subjects that display movement. Also, because you will add the light beams both in front of and behind the subject, you’ll need an image with a subject you can isolate easily.

For our example, we’ll add light beams to the image shown in Figure A. As you can see, we’ve already done some of the dirty work and isolated our figure from the background. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article. Extract the file electrify.psd, launch Photoshop, and open the file shown in Figure A. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.) If you’d rather use your own image and don’t want to change the background, see the pullout box in this article titled “Go a different route.”



Go a different route

If you want to keep your image’s current background, here’s how you can put light beams in front of and behind your main subject. First, make a selection around your subject. Next, feather your selection slightly and then press [command]J ([Ctrl]J in Windows) to move a copy of that selection to a new layer. When you add light beams, make sure to put at least one light beam layer above the copied layer (in front of your subject) and at least one light beam layer between the copied layer and the original (behind your subject).



Add a background

We’ve already deleted the white background from our sample image. Now you can add a new gradient background to make it a little more dramatic.


To add a gradient background layer:

1.          Set the foreground color to a dark magenta (R:196, G:26, B:138) and the background color to black (R:0, G:0, B:0).

2.          Create a new layer, rename this new layer Gradient, and move it beneath the Woman layer.

3.          Select the Gradient tool from the Tools palette.

4.          On the tool Options bar, choose the Foreground To Background gradient in the Gradient Picker and select the Radial Gradient button.

5.          Click in the center of the image and drag the mouse outward to create a radial gradient on the Gradient layer, as shown in Figure B.



As you can see in Figure B, the Woman layer has a soft, feathered edge and there are still some white pixels around the hair. But that’s okay because you can cover up those missed pixels with a couple of layer styles.


To add layer styles to the Woman layer:

1.          Select the Woman layer.

2.          Click on the Add A Layer Style button located at the base of the Layers palette and select Outer Glow from the pop-up menu.

3.          Click on the Set Color Of Glow color swatch to open the Color Picker, enter the same RGB values you used previously for the dark magenta, and click OK.

4.          Set the size to 40 and then click on the Inner Glow layer style to select it and make it active.

5.          Click on the Set Color Of Glow color swatch to open the Color Picker, set the color to white and click OK.

6.          Set the size to 40, leave all other values at their defaults, and click OK for results shown in Figure C.



Beam me up!

Next we’ll get to the fun part and add the light beams. You can do this task a couple of ways: by painting brush strokes or by drawing paths and then stroking them. If you have a tablet with a pressure-sensitive stylus—and a steady hand— you could probably just paint the strokes on your canvas. We’ll assume that not everyone has a tablet so, to create precision lines, we’ll draw paths first and then stroke them with white.


To add light beams:

1.          Choose the Pen tool from the Tools palette and select the Paths button on the tool Options bar.

2.          Draw a curved path, as shown in Figure D.



3.          Double-click on the Work path in the Paths palette and click OK in the Save Path dialog box to save the path with the default name Path 1.

4.          Set the foreground color to white and select the Brush tool from the Tools palette.

5.          Choose the Soft Round 35 Pixels brush preset, or a soft round brush with a similar diameter.

6.          Create a new layer in the Layers palette and rename this new layer Beam 1.

7.          Move the Beam 1 layer to the top of the layer stacking order.

8.          Select the new path in the Paths palette and choose Stroke Path from the pop-up menu to display the Stroke Path dialog box.

9.          Choose Brush from the pop-up menu, select the Simulate Pressure check box, and click OK. Then, deselect the path (click outside the path in the Paths palette) for results shown in Figure E.



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