Add realistic lightning to a photo

In this tutorial, we will show you a simple technique to add realistic lightning to a photo in Photoshop.
Step 1.
Open a suitable photo in Photoshop, e.g. one with a dark cloudy background. Press Ctrl-A to select the entire photo, press Ctrl-N to open a new image. Press Enter and press Ctrl-V to paste the photo. Rename the Layer to Main Photo by double clicking the Layer. I’m using the following photo of Kobe by night.

Click the image for a larger view or to save the image.

Step 2.
Next, find and open a photo of real lightning that suits your main photo. This lightning photo will be used as a reference, but you can use the freehand method if you like. I will use the following photo as a reference, because it will fits nicely between the two towers:

Step 3.
Press Ctrl-A to select the entire lightning photo. Press Ctrl-C to copy to lightning photo. Select the Kobe at Night file and press Ctrl-V. Lower the opacity setting of this new Layer to 50% and rename it to Lightning Ref.

Your Layers palette should look like this:

And your image like this:

Step 4.
Select Free Transform by pressing Ctrl-T. Scale the lightning so it fits nicely in your image. Press Enter to apply the transformation. If you get a pop-up Press Apply.



Here is my result after using the Free Transform Tool:

Step 5.
Create a new Layer by clicking the Create a new Layer icon and rename it to Main Beams by double clicking the Layer.

Your Layers palette should now look like this:

Step 6.
Select the Brush Tool from the Tools palette and set the foreground color to # FFE1FA (light pink, almost white).

Step 7.
Select the Zoom Tool and zoom in to 300%. Start tracing the main lightning beam(s) using the appropriate brush size (use [ or ] to decrease or increase the size of the brush). If you are using a tablet to be able to create straight lines, this is a good time to switch back to the mouse. ;) In other words, the lines don’t have to be neat and straight. Make sure you make some light spastic moves with your hand while tracing the beams.

Here is my result:

Step 8.
Add a new layer, and rename it to Small Beams. Decrease the size of the brush, and trace the smaller beams. Decrease the brush size again for the smallest beams.

Your Layers palette should now look like this:

Here is my result:

Step 9.
Select the Zoom Tool and zoom in at the light beams. Select the Smudge Tool and stretch the light beams a bit at the end.

Step 10.
Create a new layer and rename it to Cloud Light. Increase the size of the brush and set hardness to 50%. Draw the white lit part of the cloud (not the glow, we’ll add that in a bit). You don’t need to be very precise either because we will smudge the cloud light after we have added the Glow.

Here is my result of the of the light beams with the Smudge Tool and the Cloud light:

Step 11.
Hide all layers except Main Beams, Small Beams, and Cloud Light by clicking on the eye in front of the Layer. Press Ctrl-A to select the entire image. Press Shift + Ctrl-C (copy merged) to copy the three visible Layers and press Ctrl-V to paste them in a new Layer.



Step 12.
Move this new Layer under the three lightning Layers. Change the name of the new Layer to Copy cloud/ beams by double clicking the Layer. Make the Main photo layer visible again and keep the Lightning ref Layer hidden.


Your Layers palette should now look like this:

Step 13.
Make sure you have the Copy cloud/ beams layer selected. Place this layer exactly on top of the Lightning ref Layer. Go to Layer styles by double clicking on the Copy cloud/ beams Layer. Enable the Outer Glow effect for this Layer and use the following settings:

Color: FFDEF9
Spread: 3
Size: 3

Play a bit with the settings until it looks good for your image.

Step 14.
Copy and paste the Outer Glow effect to the Cloud Light layer and increase the spread setting to 5 % and the size setting to 40 px. Set the range to 100% and use the following color for the Outer Glow # D636B9.

To Copy the Layer style click your right mousse button and select Copy Layer Style. To paste the Layer style, select the Cloud light Layer, click your right mouse button and select Paste Layer Style.

Step 15.
Copy and paste the Outer Glow effect to the Main Beams layer and use 3 for the spread and 15 for the size setting. Use # D636B9 for the color.

Step 16.
Copy and paste the Outer Glow effect to the Small Beams layer and decrease the spread setting a bit and use # D636B9 again for the color.

Your Layer palette should look like this:

Step 17.
Enable the Inner Glow effect on the Small beams Layer. To do this double click the effects Layer and enable the Inner Glow effect by clicking your mouse button on the effect. Use # FCB9F0 for the color and set the size to 5 pixels.

Step 18.
Copy and paste the Inner Glow effect to the Main Beams and Cloud Light layers, just as we did before with the Outer Glow effect.


Your Layers palette should now look like this:

Step 19.
Select the Smudge Tool
again and zoom in at the Cloud Light, make sure you also have this Layer selected. Use the following settings for the Smudge Tool:



Step 20.
Start from the middle of the Cloud Light and stretch it outside, not to much but just make it a bit larger. Here is my result:

Step 21.
Create a new Layer by clicking the Create new Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Name this new Layer Sky. Set the Opacity of this Layer to 10%.


Your Layers palette should know look like this:

Step 22.
Zoom in at the cloud light to 200%. Select the Brush Tool
Set Brush size to 19 and the Opacity of the Brush to 10%.

Step 23.
Select #EC008C as foreground color and give the sky around the Could light a light pink touch. Increase the opacity of the brush a bit when you get closer to the cloud light nut never go above the 50%.


Step 24.
Here is my final result:

This tutorial is created originally for 3Dvalley.com. You are not allowed to redistribute this tutorial in any form.

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2 Responses to Add realistic lightning to a photo

  1. bob says:

    thats so cool but it didnt work for me!! :( maybe i missed something??

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