Chrissy's Easy Lightning Photoshop Tutorial

Ever wanted to shoot lightning from your fingertips? Want a sweet backdrop for that epic battle scene? Try this tutorial on for size.

Step One:

Use the Gradient Tool to fill in your background. If you can't find the gradient tool in your tool bar it's because it's hidden behind the paint bucket. Click and hold on the paint bucket to bring up a mini tool list where you can select the gradient tool. Make sure to use black and white for this. It doesn't matter how you angle the gradient.

Step Two:

Now to add your lightning streak. Go to Filter > Render > Difference Clouds. You may not get a streak you're happy with on the first try so you might want to try again. Hit Step Backward to undo the Difference Clouds Ctrl + Alt + Z and try again until you get a black streak you're satisfied with.

Alternativly doing the Difference Clouds over and over will add more black streaks all over the page or in circular patterns if that's what you're looking for.

Step Three:

Next you'll want to invert the colors on the image to make the black streaks turn into white lightning bolts. Go to Image > Adjustments > Invert. Now the image will look mostly white with your lightning bolt in the midst of the clouds.

Step Four:

Time to edit the levels to bring down the white cloudy areas and make the lightning bolts stand out. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and adjust the input levels. Here I used 180 and 0.20. Don't edit the 255 or the bolts will get all fat and ugly.

This is where my lightning tutorial differs from others. They require you to use the Hue/Saturation instead of Color Balance. However, the glow you get with Color Balance looks better because of the Highlights setting!

Step Five:

Now that you have pretty lightning bolts you'll want to add some color to really bring them to life. Go to Image > Adjustments > Color Balance.

It also gives you control over what color your lightning is just like the Hue/Saturation. but unlike Hue/Saturation you get a larger variety of colors.


If you do decide to Render the Difference Clouds multiple times you can create some unique effects. Something worthy of the twilight zone. You can make backgrounds and other elements for any image you want.

Step Six:

Take your layer with the lightning or electricity and put it over a layer with your original image.

Right click the lightning layer in the layers window and select blending options.

In the menu under Blend if: choose Gray. Hold down the ALT key on your keyboard and select the black arrow under This Layer. Holding the ALT key causes the arrow to split. Drag half the arrow to the right until the background around the fire is gone and the lightning fits nicely in your image. Move the lightning bolts around until they fit where you want them on the layer below.

Model: Chris Greco

Play around with it!

You can move and rotate the lightning bolts yourself to have them shooting from someone's finger tips. Or you can have a background full of a massive lightning storm. Play around with it and have fun!

Luv, Chrissy!