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How to Do Lightning Effects in Photoshop

Updated on January 9, 2013
Lightning effects created in Photoshop
Lightning effects created in Photoshop | Source

You can manipulate photo in Photoshop by creating lightning effects. Creating artificial lightning or adding lightning effects in photo is fun. There are number of ways to do lightning effects. Here are some methods I follow, and I believe even the beginners will find these lightning effects tutorials handy. You don’t have to be rigid and follow my settings, you may experiment with tools and presets, especially in the Filter gallery, and get amazing results.

Photoshop lightning effects
Photoshop lightning effects | Source

Photoshop Lightning Tutorial

Create a new document.

Set black as foreground color and white as background color.

Go to Gradient tool, select black and white preset. Make sure you have chosen linear gradient.

Drag the pointers and set the color range. The color range determines the thickness and the curve of the lightning strike. If you are not satisfied, you can always go back and reset the pointers in Gradient bar.

After you have set the gradient, hold shift and drag. Your canvas will be filled with black and white gradient.

Go to Filter→Render→Difference Clouds

Go to Image→Adjustments→Invert (Short Cut Key: Ctrl I)

Go to Image→Adjustments→Levels (Short Cut Key: Ctrl L)

Set Input level to high so that you get a thin strike resembling lightning.

Create a new layer, and select Gradient tool. This time drag the line in different orientation. Click Ctrl F to create Difference Clouds, Ctrl I to Invert and Crtl L for Levels. Go to blending options and choose screen as blending mode.

Click Ctrl T and transform the orientation of the lightning effect so that it blends with the first strike.

Click Ctrl E and blend the layers.

You can create as many lightning strikes as you like and blend with the first lightning effect, but make sure do don’t overdo it.

Select a hard brush and paint black color over unnecessary parts. Choose soft brush to blur the edges of the strike, if necessary.

Go to Image→Adjustments→Hue/Saturation (Short Cut Key: Ctrl U)

Check Colorize and set hue and saturation.

Lightning effects artificially created in Photoshop
Lightning effects artificially created in Photoshop | Source

Adding Lightning Effects in a Photo in Photoshop

Open a photo in Photoshop.

Create a new layer. Make sure your foreground color is black.

Click Gradient tool and select black and white preset.

Hold shift and drag, your canvas will be filled with black and white gradient.

Go to Filter→Render→Difference Clouds

Click Ctrl I to Invert, Crtl L for Levels. Adjust the levels so that the strike you see in the canvas resembles lightning. You can create few other strikes if you want.

Go to blending options and select screen as blending mode.

If you have set the background of gradient layer to transparent, you can simply choose eraser tool and delete unnecessary parts. If not then add a layer mask. You can find layer mask icon on the bottom of layer panel. Now, you can go to the gradient layer, select soft brush and delete unnecessary parts.

Click Ctrl U to set hue and saturation. Check colorize and drag the pointers on hue and saturation left and right to set the color of lightning effect.

You can also go to Color Balance (Ctrl B) to set the color of the lightning.


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    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      Hello Mary

      These days we have find all sorts brush, do work on our photos. But I love to work manually on my photos.

      Thanks for your comment.


    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      I don't know how this one slipped by me but it did. Who would have thought? This is so cool and your directions, as always, simple and direct! Thanks for all the Photoshop lessons, keep them coming!

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      @Mhatter, thanks for always landing on my pages.

      @DDE, I'm glad to be your teacher.

      @MartieCoester, I believe more than the program result is important. Thanks for stopping by.

      @Radha, thanks.

      @fpherj, I've been using Photoshop for a while.Thanks for reading my tutorials.

      @always exploring, thanks for your valuable feedback.

      @Eddy, thanks for stopping by.

      @teaches, I love doing photography and creative retouch in photo. Thanks for appreciating my works.

      @Peggy, thanks for reading my photoshop tutorials, and always leaving valuable comments.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Vinaya,

      Lightening can add such a dramatic effect to a photo and you demonstrated this well with your photos. Someday when I will set aside many hours, I know I will be coming back and trying out all these effects using your tutorials. Up, useful and interesting votes. Great series about using Photoshop!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      Vinaya, this is great information and instruction on capturing the beauty of nature. I do think lightning can be a thing of wonder to capture in a photo. You have done this very well.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful hub Vinaya and thanks for sharing.


    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Something to look into. Amazing what you can do now. Thank you Vinaya..

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Vinaya....You are really living it up with Photo Shop...aren't you? So many things that can be created. Thanks for sharing this great info with us!.....Are you a professional photographer?? .....UP+++

    • profile image

      radhapriestess 4 years ago

      It is a great article on learning how to do this. I like that lightning.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 4 years ago from South Africa

      Amazing! I still have to get on top of Photoshop. I am using PhotoStudio. Thanks, Vinaya, for these instructions. Voted up and useful.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      You definitely taught me something!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

      @Frank, I'm glad that I was able to teach you.

      @Curiad, I hope so.

      Thanks for commenting. Cheers

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      Very nice Vinaya, I am sure many can use these tips!


    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

      thanks again teacher I do learn a lot from your hubs Vin :)