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How to Create Lightning in Photoshop

How to Create Lightning in Photoshop

How to Create Lightning in Photoshop

I just love the elements. What other element is more exciting and electric than lightning? Because of it’s nature lightning is very difficult to capture with our cameras. You literally have to be in the right place, at the right time. But, this tutorial will teach you How to Create Lightning in photoshop. I remember years ago, hearing about Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. A place where there is a constant lightning storm because of its geography and surrounding landscape. I later learned that this was a slight exaggeration, as it only has lighting storms for approximately 150 days per year for 10 hours a day. Still, that’s very impressive. I’ve always wanted to go there, maybe one day.

The above royalty free stock images are courtesy of pixabay

Photoshop: How to Create Realistic LIGHTNING!

Our Review

This tutorial has been created by Blue Lightning TV Photoshop who has been around for a long time. The content is useful, as this is a sure-fire way to completely make lightning from scratch. From the making and placing of the lightning to the techniques used to illuminate the lightning source, by following this tutorial you will get the job done. 

I do like it when tutorials share their source images so you can follow along. Sadly though, the tutorial misses out on some key elements. These are mentioned in the video’s description. However, it frustrates me to think this tutorial was edited and those bits were simply cut out.

  • 2:39 – At this stage, you need to select three layers: (1) The Layerayer that you put the difference clouds filter on. (2) The Levels Layer (3) The layer on top.  Now that you have these three layers selected, merge them by right-clicking, and select Merge Layers.
  • 4:35 – Press B to select your brush tool. Before you paint on the clouds, you need to first press the Q key to enter Quick Mask Mode. 


How to Create Lightning in Photoshop


1. The first thing we need to do is copy our base image by pressing Crtl+J on a PC or Cmd+J on a Mac.
2. Add a new blank layer by clicking on the New Layer icon.
3. Select the Gradient tool, making sure you have a Black foreground and White background colour selected.
4. Ensure you have the same setting selected as we have here, Gradient fill should be linear, and Fill should be Black and White.
5. Go to the top of the image and press and hold the left mouse button. Now, press the shift key and drag a line down to the bottom of the image and release the mouse button to fill this layer with a gradient fill.

6. Add a new filter to the gradient layer. Go to Filters>Render> and choose the Difference Clouds filter.
7. Now that we have applied the Difference cloud filter we need to Invert it. We can invert the layer by pressing Crtl+I on a PC or Cmd+I on a Mac.
8. Add a new Levels Adjustment Layer by pressing Crtl+L on a PC or Cmd+L on a Mac. Righ-click on this layer and select Create Clipping Mask. Adjust the Levels properties so that your settings are the same as ours.

9. Add another New layer.
10. Select your Brush tool by pressing B on your keyboard. Choose Black as your foreground colour, the opacity should be set to 100% and the Blend mode should be set to Normal.
11. Identify a good part of lightning to use and with your black brush tool selected paint over any unwanted lightning.
Create Lightning in Photoshop
12. Select the top three layers which should be your lightning layer, levels layer, and the layer you have just painted on. Merge these layers by right-clicking and select Merge Layers. Then, select the Lasso tool.
13. Draw around the lightning with the Lasso tool and release the left mouse button to make a selection.

Create Lightning in Photoshop


14.  With the lightning bolt selected we need to make a copy. We do this by pressing Crtl+J on a PC or Cmd+J on a Mac. This will copy the Lightning into it’s own layer. We can now go ahead and delete the previous lightning layer underneath (Layer 2).


15. Change the lightning layer blend mode to Screen, this will remove the Black background from this layer.


16. Press Crtl+T on a PC or Cmd+T on a Mac to transform the lightning. The first thing we need to do is rotate it, then shrink it to get it in the correct position. 

Create Lightning in Photoshop


17. We can add a colour hue to this layer by adding a new Hue/Saturation layer and creating a clipping mask as we did with the Levels layer.


18. Because the lightning is white, we need to tick the colourize box first to add colour. Now adjust the Hue, Saturation and Brightness sliders until you get the correct colour tone that you want. 


19. Once you have added your colour to the lightning, hide the lightning layer and make the layer below your active selection by clicking on the layer thumbnail.


20. Press the Q key to enter Quick Mask mode. Now press B to select your brush tool and paint above the area where the lightning seems to originate from. Once you have painted the area above the source of lightning click the Q key again to exit quick mask mode. This will make a selection of the area that was not painted.


21. Choose the Quick selection tool. Pressing left mouse button while holding down the Alt or Opt key will remove areas from the active selection. In this demonstration, we have removed the ground and trees in the foreground.


22. You should have an active selection of the sky which excludes the area that we painted while we were in quick mask mode. With this active selection click on the Add a Mask icon to make a mask from your selection.


23. Press B to select the Brush tool, Change the Blend Mode to Colour Dodge, set the brush Opacity to 10%. 


24. Making sure that the brush colour is white use your paintbrush to paint in your highlights.

Create Lightning in Photoshop


25. You can add colour to these highlights by using the same method as before when we added colour to lightning. By adding a Hue/Saturation layer and creating a clipping mask.


26. After you have given your lightning some highlights and added colour, we need to clean up the edges. Copy the mask from the layer below by holding down the Alt or Opt key and dragging it onto the layer above, as in the picture below. Release your mouse button to add the same mask to the lightning layer.


Look at the transformation in these images, Now you can Create Lightning in Photoshop


Create Lightning in Photoshop

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Additional Resources

Here’s a similar, but a more basic tutorial on how to make Simple Lightning in Photoshop.

How to Create Lightning in Photoshop
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