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Deke's Techniques is a collection of short Photoshop and Illustrator projects and creative effects that can be completed in ten minutes or less. The series is taught by computer graphics guru Deke McClelland, and presented in his signature step-by-step style. The intent is to reveal how various Photoshop and Illustrator features can be combined and leveraged in real-world examples so that they can be applied to creative projects right away.
Hey gang, this is Deke McClelland. Welcome to Deke's Techniques. This week, we're exploring synthetic weather patterns. For example, we're going to be taking this scene, which is a legitimately stormy photograph, and we're going to be adding completely artificial lightning. Here, let me show you exactly how it works. All right, here are the final lightning bolts, live and onscreen. I'm going to be starting out from this file, which features this dark and stormy background from the Fotolia image library, about which you can learn more at fotolia.com/deke. Now the first step is to paint yourself some lightning bolts, and I now that sounds ludicrous.
After all, what kind of a technique is it if you have to paint in the lightning? But let me show you what I mean. I'll turn on this blobby bolts later and select it as well. So I just created a new layer. I went ahead and grabbed the Brush tool of course. And you'll want to tap the D key to make sure that you'd got your default colors. That is black for the foreground, white for the background. And I'll right-click inside the image window so you can see my Size value is 10 pixels. I'm working in a fairly low-resolution image. If you're working higher res you want a bigger value. And my Hardness value--this is very important--is 100%.
Then you just paint in a herky- jerky bolt of lightning like so. And you can add as many branching bolts as you want. Altogether I have five bolts. Just bear in mind that each one of the bolts is going to make for a little more work. All right, I'm going to press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac to undo that newest bolt. The next think you want to do is create another new layer and fill it with white and then place that layer in back of your bolts later. With white selected, I'm going to Shift+Click on this generator group, and that's just to save us some time, as you'll see. Now to turn these blobby bolts into credible lightning, we need to apply a couple of Smart filters, which means I first need to go to the Layers panel flyout menu and choose the Convert to Smart Object command, so that we combine all of those layers into a single Smart Object.
Now before we apply the Smart Filters we want to edit the object, so double-click on a thumbnail for the Smart Object. If you get the big old alert message, do yourself a favor and turn on the Don't show again check box and then click OK. We can now see a zoomed-out version of the contents of the Smart Object. I'm going to click on the blobby bolts to make it active. The next step is to isolate the main bolt, and in my case the main bolt is the one that's going down and to the right. Now you don't want to harm your original bolt, so press Ctrl+Alt+J, or Command+Option+J on the Mac, in order to make a copy.
And I'm going to call this one "main bolt" and click OK, and then I'll turn off the original blobby bolts. And I'm still armed with the Brush tool, as you can see here. I'm going to Shift+Drag up from the top for the bolt and then Shift+Drag down from the bottom of the bolt like so, in order to isolate the left half of the image from the right half of the image. Then you want to select the left half of the image using, of all tools, the Magic Wand. It works great for this purpose. Now just make sure you're working with the default settings, go up to the Magic Wand icon, on the far-left side of the options bar, right-click on it and choose Reset too.
Then click on the left side of the image in order to select it. Now, that's not quite the selection we're looking for. I'll go ahead and zoom on in by pressing Ctrl+1 or Command+1 on the Mac. What we need is a selection outline that ekes half the way into the lightning bolt. To do that, go up to the Select menu, choose Modify, and Choose the Expand command. And you want to set the Expand value to exactly half your brush size. So because I was working with a 10 point brush, I'll set my Expand by value to 5 pixels and click OK, and notice now the selection cuts right through the center of the lightning bolts.
Press Alt+Backspace or Option+ Delete to fill that selection with black. Then I'll press Ctrl+D or Command+D to deselect the image. If I zoom back out, you can see that I've clearly distinguished the left half of the bolt from the right half of the bolt, and that's what you need for this effect to work. All right, now I'll go ahead and close the Smart Object and click the Yes button here on the PC--that would be the Save button on the Mac--in order to update that layer. Now to apply the Smart filters. I'll go to the Filter menu, choose Blur, and then choose Gaussian Blur.
And you want to set the Radius value to twice the size of your lightning bolts, so because we're painting with a 10 pixel brush, we'll set the radius to 20 pixels, click OK. Now to convert this blurry borderline here to a bolt of lightning, you go up to the Filter menu, choose Render, and you chooses Difference Clouds. And that ends up giving you a black bolt against a cloudy background. Now we really want a white bolt and we want to clean up that background, and we'll do so using a levels adjustment layer. So press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, click the black/white icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and choose the Levels command.
And because I had Alt or Option down, I get the New Layer dialog box. I'll call this layer lightning and click on the Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask check box. Then I'll click OK. Now to invert the layer, we need to reverse the Output Levels values, so change the first one to 255 and the second one to 0. That effectively inverts the histogram, so now this white triangle affects the black point and then the black triangle affects the white point. So if I grab the white triangle and drag it over to the left, I'm actually darkening the image instead of lightening it.
And I'm going to take that white point value and drag it to 20. Then I'll take the black point value and raise it up to 5, and I'll press Tab to advance the Gamma value and take it to 2. And that ends up sharpening up that lightning bolt dramatically. Now we need to render the lightning bolt to an independent layer, so I'll hide the adjustments panel, switch over to the Channels panel, and Ctrl+Click or Command+Click on RGB. That goes ahead and loads the white area as a selection. Now I'll switch back to the Layers panel, and I'll click on this bolts layer to make it active. These are the final bolts that you'll see, but we'll come back to them in a moment.
I need a little more room in the Layers panel so I'll right-click on the filter mask and choose Delete Filter Mask because I wasn't using it anyway. Switch back to bolts to make it active, turn off the generator layer so that we can see what we're doing. Create a new layer by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N or Command+Shift+N on a Mac. And I'll call this new layer "new bolts" and click OK. Then I'll fill the selection outline with white by pressing Ctrl+Backspace or Command+Delete on a Mac. Now I'll press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect the image.
At this point the lightning descends all the way from the top of the image and it goes all the way down to the bottom of the image. We want to mask it so the lightning is coming from out of the clouds and hitting the ground. If you go over to the Channels panel and click on the mask channel, you'll see it's nothing special. It's just a couple of short opposing black-to-white gradients. Let's go ahead and load it up by Ctrl+Clicking or Command+Clicking on that mask channel, switch back to RGB, switch over to the Layers panel, and with the "new bolts layer "selected, drop down to the add layer mask icon and click on it.
Now it's just a matter or repeating those steps for each and every bolt. Let me show what that looks like. I'll turn the generator layer back on. Double-click on it in order to load the contents of the Smart Object. To save us a little energy, I've gone ahead and generated the other bolts in advance inside this generator group. So I'm going to twirl the group open, turn off the main bolt, turn on bolt 1. That's all there is to it, because I've done the work in advance. So I'll now close the Smart Object. Click the Yes button on the PC--that's the Save button on the Mac--in order to update that lightning bolt automatically. Did you see that? If I press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac, that's the main bolt.
Press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac again and I get the new bolt. Now we need to load it as a selection outline, so switch to the Channels panel. Ctrl+Click or Command+Click on RGB. Switch back to layers, turn off generator, click on the "new bolts" layer to make it active, and now we need to check the top of the image. Go ahead and zoom out a little bit here so you can see that the selection wanders a bit away from the main bolt toward the top of the image. So we need to deselect that region by switching to the Rectangular Marquee tool, and then I'll press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and deselect that top region like so.
All right, everything else looks great. I'll go ahead and zoom in, and I'll press Ctrl+Backspace or Command+Delete on the Mac in order to fill that selection with white. And we end up with this effect here. Just to save us a little bit more time here, because this is a pretty long one, I've created the rest of the bolts in advance on this bolts layer. And you can see that they're quite different. Even if you're working from the exact same rough beginning, you're going to achieve different results because the Difference Clouds filter is random. All right, so I'm going to turn off the "new bolts," go ahead and select the pre-created bolts layer.
And this next step is the easiest one. We're going to add an outer glow by clicking in the fx icon down there on the bottom of the panel, choosing Outer Glow, and for this image a blue glow works best so I'll click on the color swatch and I'll change the Hue value to 210. Then I'll change the Saturation value to 50%. A Brightness value of 100% is fine. Click OK. I'm going to take that size value up to 12 pixels. You may want to take it higher if you're working on a higher resolution image. Let's change the intensity of the effect by switching the Blend mode from Screen to Linear Dodge. And then I'll take that Opacity value down to 66% and click OK.
Now we've got the lightning, but we need the lightning to interact with its environment, which is why I created this flash points group right here. I'll go ahead and twirl it open. You can see that there's three layers in all. I'll turn on the group. And it's a bunch of brushwork. It might look more complicated than it really is. I'll go ahead and click on the impact layer to make it active. Turn off the two layers above it. Each one of these impact points is a single brushstroke created with a soft elliptical brush. So you just click around with white. You can make a brush elliptical by bringing up the Brush panel and then I tap the B key to switch to the Brush tool and you reduce the roundness value.
I took the Roundness value down to 20, I increased the Size value to 100, and I took the Hardness value down to 0. I'll hide the Brush panel, I'll press the X key to switch the foreground color to white, and you can see I click and I get an impact point. All right I'm going to press Ctrl+Z, Command+Z on the Mac to undo that change. Switch back to the Rectangular Marquee. The blend mode is totally wrong, as you can see. Click on the blend mode pop-up menu and change it to Overlay so that we're effectively using the layer to dodge the image.
At this stage, I figure that the impact points look pretty good, but we didn't have near enough brightness coming out of the clouds, so I added this brighter layer as well as this flash layer for a little bit of added effect. And then I changed each one of these from Normal to Overlay as well. And we end up with the final effect that you see here. I'll go ahead and press the F key a couple of times in order to switch to the Full Screen mode. Now here's the thing. This is a pretty intense technique, but you can achieve some great results with it, and those results tend to look especially great when you zoom out from the image.
So I'm going to press Ctrl+0 or Command+0 on the Mac to zoom on out. And we end up, bearing in mind that we started with absolutely the roughest of beginnings, with a credible and high-impact effect.
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