This post was originally published in 2009
The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.
Starting away from the computer, we’ll use a few household objects to create some photographic resources. Then follow this Adobe Photoshop tutorial to manipulate the images with various tools and techiques to produce a vibrant design made up of intense light streams effect.
My previous How to Create Intense Light Streaks in Photoshop article turned out to become the most popular tutorial here on Blog.SpoonGraphics, so it seems to be quite a hot topic! It makes sense, therefore to take another look at the intense light effects area of design and experiment with a range of techniques to produce our own vibrant artwork.
In this article we’ll be starting from scratch, working away from the computer to gather together the resources which we’ll be manipulating later. If you would prefer to skip straight to the digital techniques, download the ready-made resources from the Six Free High-Res Glowing Light Stream Images post and head on down the page!
To begin, you’d need a couple of items, namely a digital camera some kind of torch. Ideally an SLR type camera would be the better option, as an extremely long exposure time and small aperture setting are required. Torch wise, any household light emitting device will do, but feel free to experiment with various styles of torches, bulb, LED etc.
Find yourself a large space, close all curtains and turn out the lights making the area as dark as possible. Setup your camera on a tripod or sturdily rest on a hard surface, in manual mode set the camera to a high Aperture F value to increase the depth of field, and lengthen the shutter speed to around 20 to 30 seconds.
With torch in hand and camera active, wave your arms around like a mad-man/mad-woman until the shutter closes. Experiment with various camera settings and movement techniques to record a collection of images to choose from.
After a few attempts you’ll have a good selection of images to work with. Here’s my example we’ll be working with in this article. Feel free to download it yourself.
Open up the light stream image into Photoshop, adjust the Levels, Curves and Hue/Saturation to darken out the background and brighten up the light streams.
Import the image into a new document and erase out the edges to blend smoothly into a black background.
On a new layer, use the Gradient Tool to overlay three bright colours from the edges of the document. Change the blend mode to Color.
Press CTRL/CMD + U to open up the Hue/Saturation window and move the slider to adjust the colours to a palette that takes your preference.
Choose a dark purple colour and select a soft brush tip.
Create a new layer and set the blending mode to Color Dodge. Paint over areas of the light stream with the purple brush to intensify specific areas, such as the crossing of two points. The Color Dodge setting burns into the colours producing a vibrant effect.
Create a new 4px by 4px document. Zoom right in and draw a line diagonally across the document with the Pencil Tool. Go to Edit > Define Pattern.
Back in the main document, fill a new layer with the pattern using the Fill Tool set to Pattern from the drop down menu. Change the blending mode to Overlay and reduce the opacity to around 25%.
Create a Layer Mask on this layer and paint areas of black onto the mask to erase out sections of the scan lines.
Create another pattern swatch, this time based on a single square, which will repeat to form a tiny dotted pattern.
Fill another new layer, again set to Overlay at 25% with this new swatch and erase out areas using a Layer Mask.
Draw a large gradient of dark purple onto a new layer, reduce the opacity right down to 15%. This will be needed for the next step, the overlaying technique we’ll be using won’t work on pure black, so the subtle purple is added to allow the effect to shine through.
In the Brush options palette create a custom brush that is made up of multiple particles. Start by reducing the hardness of a standard circular brush to 0, and setting the spacing to 100.
Under Shape Dynamics, adjust the size Jitter to 100%. If you’re using a Pen Tablet the option of Pen Pressure will allow the effect of the brush by manipulated depending on the force used with the tablet.
Under Scattering, adjust the Scatter to 1000%.
On a new layer set to Color Dodge, paint over areas of the light streams to add a range of particles, adding to the vibrant style of the design.
Create a new brush, this time with similar settings but using a larger and harder brush tip.
Sampling a light blue from the design, paint in a range of lens flare style shapes. Use the Blur tool to add depth by blurring some of the flare shapes.
Change the layer style to Color Dodge and reduce the opacity to 60%.
Use the same colour to fill a range of diagonal strips, drawn with the Polygonal Lasso Tool.
Erase out the edges of the strips to blend them into the document.
Change the layer style of these strips to Soft Light to allow the colour mix to add to the vibrant design.
Make any final tweaks and adjust the design into a composition that suits. Here I’ve simply added some text, also using the Color Dodge blending mode to tie it into the design.
Overall, while light streaks can just as easily be created digitally on the computer, I think using hand crafted light streaks from a camera and real light source gives that extra element of detail to the design.