Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 

Mere human pinpricks living on the face of planet Earth; we’re often in awe with the spell-binding ways of the universe, particularly light shows from the natural phenomenon Aurora Borealis.

In this tutorial, we’ll be showing you how to mimic a stunning landscape with Northern Lights using a photo of a lake, blending in a couple of images with Aurora skies, and applying a range of adjustment layers.

This takes roughly an hour to complete in Photoshop CC.

What You’ll Need

Step 1

From Photoshop’s menu, open File > New and create a new document with these settings:

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 

Step 2

Go to File > Place Embedded and place the lake image onto your artboard.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Step 3

Remove the background of the lake using Channels.

Switch to the Channels tab. If you don’t see the Channels tab, open Windows and choose Channels from the drop down menu to make them visible.

In the Channels tab, choose the blue channel as it has more contrast between the background and foreground.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Tip: You can use different channels, but it really depends on the image you’re working with.

To make a copy, right click on the blue channel and choose Duplicate Channel. Don’t worry, this will not make any changes to the lake image.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Step 4

Use Channels to fully whiten selected areas which you don’t need (like the background of the lake) and to darken certain areas that you want in your final image (trees, the water). Leave out the sky’s reflection in the lake.

Choose Image > Calculations and make the following settings:

Source 1: Aurora.psd (document name you are currently working on)
Layer: Merged
Channel: Blue Copy

Source 2: Aurora.psd (document name you are currently working on)
Layer: Lake
Channel: Blue Copy

Blending: Overlay
Opacity: 100%

By choosing Overlay in the blending menu, you get a higher contrast between the lake and the background.

Tip: Try experimenting with other blend modes.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Hit the Ok button and check if your image resembles the one below.

In your Channels tab, you might notice you have a channel named ‘alpha 1’ right underneath the ‘blue copy’ channel. Alpha 1 is the result of blending two blue copy channels which you’ve merged using a technique called Calculations.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Step 5

Use the Brush Tool and paint white on the sky area to omit it. Opt for a soft white brush for this. Then, switch the color to black to darken the lake.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop
Once done, click on the load selection icon to load the selection.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Head back to the Layers tab. While the selection is active, click the second icon at the bottom of the layer panel to add a mask to the lake layer. Here, you can see the results after extracting the sky:

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 6

Place the sky image under the lake layer to add the new sky.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 7

Now add the aurora 1 image to the main document and move it under the lake layer but above the sky layer using the Move Tool (V).

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Change the blend mode to Screen.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 8

Convert the aurora 1 image into Smart Objects. Go to Edit > Transform > Warp and warp the image as shown below.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Here’s what your image should look like:

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 9

It’s time to place the aurora 2 image.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Change its blending mode to Soft Light.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 10

It’s time to change the colors of the sky. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Color Balance. Adjust the midtones and highlights of the properties below.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

After changing colors:

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 11

Switch back to the lake layer. Use a Curves adjustment layer to decrease the brightness.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 12

Adjust the midtones on the Color Balance adjustment layer according to the properties shown below to match the color of the lake with the sky.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

After adjusting the properties:

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Step 13

Here’s where you create the reflection in the water.

Create a new layer (Windows: SHIFT + CTRL + N / Mac: SHIFT + CMD + N).

Create a new layer containing your merged layers with this shortcut: (Windows: SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + E / Mac: SHIFT + CMD + OPTION + E)

Name this layer ‘reflection‘.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

In Photoshop’s menu, click Edit, choose Transform > Flip Vertical to vertically flip the reflection layer.

Try moving the layer down a little to ensure you’re only reflecting the sky’s section onto the water, and not anywhere else.

Tip: You can also choose Soft Light in blend mode to see through the layer to better position your reflection layer.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 14

As you only need the sky’s reflection, let’s get rid of the rest by hiding the unwanted parts. Add a layer mask to the reflection layer and then mask the parts (highlighted in red) using a soft black brush of your choice.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Voila! Reflection created on the water:

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 15

Next, open a Curves adjustment layer to reduce the brightness of the reflection.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Tip: If the image is too dark, try lowering the opacity of the Curves adjustment layer to 60%.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 16

In the adjustment layer menu, choose Curves and place the layer on top of all layers. Experiment with the adjustments (or follow the image below) to increase the overall contrast.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 17

Tweak the colors using a Color Balance adjustment layer according to these properties below.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Looking good!

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 18

Open a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer with these properties.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

Check out the overall contrast here:

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 Step 19

With the following properties, set the Selective Color adjustment layer as below, to remove the Red colors from the composition. To add more contrast to the shadows, change the properties on Black colors.

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop

 And you’re all done!

123RF Blog tutorial Create A Landscape with Northern Lights in Photoshop
Here’s what the final image should look like. Keep experimenting with other images and applying different color adjustments.

If you tried this tutorial, let us know how you fared in the comments below!

Wanna keep flexing your Photoshop muscles?
Check out similar tutorials here:

How To Create A Misty Atmosphere In A Landscape Shot

Convert A Landscape Photo To 3D With Photoshop

Learn To Paint a Beautiful Fantasy Landscape in Photoshop

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