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Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape

Let's start with mountains (though the particular order of steps is not important now). Switch to Pen tool (P), set foreground color to black, and start drawing mountains with short strokes" or pen (click - drag a little - release). "

Continue until the mountains shape is ready.

If you want mountains to look more natural, you can add trees to top of it. Create new layer, switch to Brush tool (B), select very small (2-3px) hard brush, and draw trees carefully with short vertical strokes. I recommend you zoom in while drawing.

This is how mountains look with trees added.

Now let's design the sky in the background. Create new 'sky' layer behind the layer with mountains (it should be  on bottom of list of layers). Fill it with black. Because mountains are also black, they will disappear, just like shown on this preview :-)

Set foreground color to dark blueish-purple, select very large soft brush (B), set brush opacity to 10%. Draw some lights behind mountains.

Change color to lighter gold, make brush size smaller, and add smaller lights just near the right edge of mountains.

Change color to lighter blue, and repeat the same on the left edge of mountains.

Now it  is time for the most exciting part - the Nothern Light! I recommend that you create new layer set for each Light. Switch to Pen tool, set color to black, and make the shape similar to shown here - bottom curve is important, all else will become invisible. It might go outside file boundaries, if you'd like. Let's call this layer Northern Light black shape layer"."

Create new layer, switch to gradient tool (G), open Gradient Editor (to do so, click the gradient preview on top toolbar). Create gradient with colors you'd like. Then, fill the layer with gradient from left edge of image to right.

Go to Layer menu - Create Clipping Mask" (Ctrl-Alt-G)

Select the Northern Light black shape layer. Create a mask: Layer menu - Layer Mask - Reveal all. Make sure layer mask is selected (not layer itself). Switch to Brush tool (B), set color to black, select very large soft brush. Draw on mask with black brush - the layer becomes invisible as you draw, similar to Eraser tool. You should erase" almost everything

To make our lights more realistic, we need to add some vertical shades. The best way to achieve it  is to use Noise effect. Create new (temporary) document, about 20 x 8 pixels. Fill it with grey color, then apply Noise (Filters menu - Noise - Add Noise, amount = 20-30). You should get something similar to shown here (zoomed in).

Select all (Ctrl-A), copy (Ctrl-C), close temporary file, paste into our original file (Ctrl-V), then transform (Ctrl-T) and scale up  so that it covers Northern Light black shape layer entirely and even bigger. Apply some Blur (Filters menu - Blur - Gaussian blur, radius = 10-20px).

Go to Layer menu - Create Clipping Mask" (Ctrl-Alt-G) so that the "noise" layer is only visible within Northern Light black shape layer."

Finally, change layer Blend Mode to overlay". Ta-da! The first Light is ready!"

Repeat these steps for each Light that you want to add. Let me show you quick previews without much comments:







To add more lights, simply repeat the steps above.

Next step is: water and reflections. Create new layer, set foreground color to dark blue, switch to Shape tool (U), select Rectangle tool and draw rectangle where water is supposed to be.

Open Layer Blending Options (Layer menu - Layer style - Blending Options). Add Gradient Overlay (black-to-white), check Reverse (so that black is  on top), set gradient Blend mode to Multiply.

Create new (temporary) document, with width and height 50% of our water rectangle. Fill with grey color, then apply some noise (Filters menu - Noise - Add Noise, amount = 20-30). Then change Image Size (Image menu - Image size) to 200%.

Select all (Ctrl-A), copy (Ctrl-C), close temporary file, paste into our original file (Ctrl-V) so that it covers the water rectangle.

Go to Filters menu - Blur - Motion blur. Set Angle to 0, Distance to 30-50 pixels (please experiment).

Go to Edit menu - Transform - Perspective, drag lower edge as shown here.

Set layer Blend mode to Overlay, and opacity to 15-20%. Now the water is almost invisible, but do not worry! We'll add reflections and it will look better.

Hide all layers except Lights. Select all (Ctrl-A) and copy merged (Ctrl-Shift-C).

Show all layers again. Select the layer with water, paste lights (Ctrl-V) and flip vertical (Edit menu - Transform - Flip vertical). Move lights down inside the water.

Transform (Ctrl-T) and squeeze the layer vertically.

Apply Blur (Filters menu - Blur - Gaussian Blur), radius = 20-30px.

And finally, change layer Blend mode to Linear Dodge and Opacity to 40-50%. Done!

The last step is  to add some stars to top of dark sky. You can read about drawing stars in  my previous tutorials, Making of Rainbow or Making of Christmas Night . Thanks for reading!"

← Quick and easy way to add snowflakes to your design Spotted Eagle Ray - making of →

Comments 118

Jeremy · 5 April 2009
Wow! Awesome~

Nando · 8 April 2009
Body! You are a magician!!! Wonderful! Thanks for share the tutorial...

Ges · 25 April 2009

Kt. Givin my pinion!!! · 12 May 2009
I like the real northern lights. I dont want 2 make one. But, the tutorial is good 2.

me · 12 May 2009

Стас · 19 May 2009
Прикольно, но не слишком ли запарно?

Jota160788 · 22 May 2009
I still work for your time and hope they are all very good things to learn beautiful as you and thanks for the institutes.

agape may · 2 June 2009
awesome!!! thanks for the tutorial, Vlad! great job!

· 12 June 2009

Hub · 23 June 2009
Thankyou, for the tutorial, I really enjoyed, and used the hills that surround my cottage.

· 24 June 2009
From: IndonesiarnGreatfull..... AJAIB..... mantaps.... AWESOME.....rnThank's...

enki · 5 July 2009
realy its nice tutorial....dafinetly i will try it....

EL · 10 July 2009
Vlad, your work is beautiful! Thank you for taking the time to document your methods for the rest of us to learn from, it is most appreciated.

KEISYUU∞ · 11 July 2009
Wow it's so AMAZING!!

sushmita · 20 July 2009
lovely tutorial ...and a beutiful piece of art ! good work

zee xonix · 23 July 2009

M-n · 30 July 2009
i like it it seems cool!

Lucia · 31 July 2009
neuveriteľné javascript:void(0)

Muthu · 4 August 2009
Now a days, i am also a creative graphic designer to my company. but really, creative copy righter...... ha! ha! ha! Vlad Studio, U R MY ROCK!

Mher · 15 August 2009
it's a cool men!

meKo · 20 August 2009
็Ho! this good ดีจังเลย!

Moritz · 9 September 2009
I like the tutorial, i like the way the northern lights fade out.

juunaloke · 14 September 2009
that is really cool

Xercoginqta · 15 September 2009
Mnoo slojno...

· 22 September 2009

wow · 30 September 2009
wow wow

vO · 7 October 2009
what program you used for this?

zur4ik · 11 October 2009
прикольно )) нрайться... ))

· 30 October 2009

moru · 9 November 2009
awesone..!! tranks

wow · 10 November 2009

nobel · 11 November 2009
good...but i need somthing extra...plz i need

kn0wn · 11 November 2009
Nice one!

alkanfe · 1 December 2009
oh~~ thankyou~~~ very very... WoW ooooooops!!!

heathermoor · 15 December 2009
this is more than cool!!!!:O OMG!!! you're got so much imagination:))=)) ...i'll try it right now.....(I'm 12 years old)

Riefvan · 21 December 2009
Very nice, thx for this awesome tutorial

Gyuhun · 24 December 2009
Wow! Grace!

bob billy bob billy billy bob · 4 January 2010
i think it is so cool!!!

lol · 4 March 2010

· 10 March 2010
thats alright .

· 3 April 2010
this tutorial suxxx like shit!!!!!!!!!!

الحوت · 4 April 2010
ارجوا اعتماد اللغه العربيه من ضمن الغات واحترام اللغه العربيه لانها لغه القران الكريم

GiRl · 19 June 2010
It didn't work. Is this ment to be a CS4 Photoshop Tutorial?

Shinan Barclay · 25 June 2010
great tutorial; you are close; i lived in the Arctic and have been attempting to paint the northern lights with watercolor, then acrilic paints; now in my second photo shop class. I want a northern lights image for my memori ARCTIC JEWELS AND DENALI GOLD

Thaís · 7 August 2010
WONDERFUL! I did but it was not the same... Still it was very good.

Desk · 10 October 2010

Dark Angel · 16 November 2010
Great Job!!

Yosua Michael · 7 December 2010
Terima Kasih buat tutorialnya.... :)

Vlad Gerasimov · 27 January 2011
Brandon: I realize that :-)

erick · 14 March 2011
just amazing!!

sutonuka · 7 April 2011
its a very nice romantic night scene.but i cant do properly the water reflection.will u help me a lil bit?

· 15 May 2011
Wow!... Awesome.. Simple,Beautiful and really useful :O :O :-O

sddfcf · 16 May 2011
Wow!... Awesome.. Simple,Beautiful and really useful :O :O :-O

Eveysy · 22 July 2011
is kinda hard for me to learn how made it ==

· 14 September 2011
nt satisfied

WA · 10 February 2012
Thanx lot..Excellent work..

eklotan · 4 April 2012

Noname · 17 April 2012
mannn,im getting real dizzy and confusing..

Ed · 22 April 2012
Well done, looks great.... apart from the lower side of the lights, just to sharp and unnatural. A bit of blurring of those harsh lines might do :-)

mcchuggin · 21 January 2016
i love it its really great to see someone finaly acnolagaising the gods light

Cat cat cat · 25 May 2016
This is the best. I was drawing a fox spirit, you gave me the PERFECT background!

Cavell · 6 April 2009
Great tutorial!

Kurt Lorenz · 8 April 2009
You make it look so easy.

foxtrot · 25 April 2009

yasin · 4 May 2009
Wonderful. Thank you for sharing..

Kt. Givin my pinion!!!( again.) · 12 May 2009
Not good. :( Hate it! :P (=^..^=) bunny! (short attention span.)

Ryan · 17 May 2009

Esben - a norse · 20 May 2009
That does not look at all like northern light, it may be pretty, but it's nothing like northern light

· 23 May 2009
wonderful job minunat tutorial :X

Talha · 15 June 2009
Vlad Rocks again!

SK · 16 June 2009
Nice one!!

sally · 23 June 2009

Smyrna · 30 June 2009
Kesinlikle süper,yüreğinize ellerinize sağlık..

fahmy · 6 July 2009
man, if you could just give me just a little single drop of your talent I'd be a happier man

Jana · 8 July 2009
Je to fakt dodrý. Is it very good.

gomail · 11 July 2009
very nice job.javascript:void(0)

Mr A · 17 July 2009
YOU are a GENIUS Vlad! Now, I will try to figure this out, thanks. Have you ever used Blender to do 3D designs? I have a feeling you would be good at it too.

NReing · 24 July 2009
I love water reflection, anyway great tutorial. It's really helpful, thanks!

· 31 July 2009
i LOVE this one. i just moved from ALASKA and it looks like i WONT be missing the northern lights after all!!!! whew LOVE LOVE LOVE IT thanks thanks thanks and thanks for the tutorial~! you are amazingly talented!

· 11 August 2009
thats no mountaines thats are some lightn colorfull lines with some crazy curves ;) 1/10

srinivas · 17 August 2009
superb tutorial

· 26 August 2009

PS-Newbie · 12 September 2009
wow so cool! but it`s too hard for me, I`m newbie :D

· 14 September 2009

· 17 September 2009

Anvesh Bandi · 29 September 2009

a.b. · 1 October 2009

vO · 7 October 2009

cham · 21 October 2009
wow.. amazing

rvd · 8 November 2009
cool ich habisch gimakt

San Tigi · 9 November 2009
Guy,people like you make the world a better hope for the hopeless and brings the smile when miserable. Thank you and keep on keeping on.

Rosalind · 11 November 2009
Greetings from Australia, Vlad, and thank you so much for your wonderful, wonderful tuts. I am a PS novice and this took me 3 days, but I got there hehehe!!!!

Saimaginative · 6 December 2009
how do u make the "noise layer" preserve the gradiant color without changing its physics? creatin a clipin mask cant be done becuz under it theres another layer thats clipped to the "northern black shape" layer...anyone help? and thanks for the tut its sweet im havin fun!

Tobin · 14 December 2009
Ha! I think it is MORE beautiful than actual photos of northern lights, it's a killer rendition...especially from scratch, you are awesome with the pen tool (which I avoid more than cookies hehe), and want this for a wallpaper for after the holidays!! I like rabbits too but still stayed, looked, will link, will come back, and who knows...maybe I will look at a pen tool tutorial (which will be the first in my 11 years of owning PS lol!). Maybe this will inspire you to do some rabbit goin' down the bunny match the cheshire cat?!

Zach · 4 March 2010
looks cool but not like northern lights.

I see girls everywhere ! · 6 March 2010
So the Northern Lights, just happen to look like a naked woman lying on her front ?

· 3 April 2010
Wow.... Good!

· 3 April 2010

Julio Baptista · 22 April 2010
That was cool I loved every thing about it good job

basha · 19 May 2010

E · 20 June 2010
Nice one! Really fun to do xD

haze · 17 July 2010
wow .. that was amazing .. fantastic awesome ..

JS · 22 July 2010
You are very talented! Thank you for sharing your work!!

dakoda · 6 October 2010
those were AWESOME lol i think the colourful 1s were the best =P =P =P

J.L. · 16 November 2010
I'm a College Student and I followed your tutorial and I got about to the middle of the project and I'm stuck? very well done tutorial though.

Brandon · 27 January 2011
As someone who sees them every night, I can tell you that they're not quite that straight on the bottom.

Bani · 6 March 2011
Thank you so much it's Great, fantastic, awesome :D

ForeveR LaGGit <3 · 23 April 2011

· 15 May 2011
Wow!... Awesome.. Simple,Beautiful and really useful :O :O :-O

Constructor · 16 May 2011
Hello, nice tutorial, but a word of advice: Blur the base of the northern lights to chieve the actual look.

· 8 June 2011

· 3 August 2011
coole its Awesome one

Gags · 12 November 2011 nice ..

Roxxi · 16 April 2012
This is a really bad tutorial... awesome product, but the way you make it is completely wrong... I don't know if it's just my version of photoshop, but gaussian blur doesn't give me the same result... and i had to work around this tutorial. -___-

DM · 9 September 2012
Awesom tutorial. Thanks

seelu · 3 February 2013
amazing......... :)

alkione · 30 January 2016
Awesome tutorial..

secret person · 12 October 2016

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