Some of the lightning photos I shot recently didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. Lightning photos are usually hit or miss, and it takes a bit of luck to get a really nice fork or a perfectly exposed or composed photo. Nature will do as it pleases and you just have to hope your camera is pointed in the right place when it does!
So here is a quick tutorial detailing how I took a lightning photo and applied some post processing to make an ordinary shot look extraordinary.
Step 1. The original
I’m using my lightning photo, but a long exposure of the night sky, or some clouds will work equally well for this exercise. Depending on your camera’s white balance, try to neutralize the coloring. The glow of external light sources (eg town lights) or your camera’s compensation your image might be overly purple or red so bring the color back to a cool blue / grey as we will be adding color later. A good starting image will have some texture, and some light and dark areas in the sky or clouds.
Step 2. Add New Layer
In the layers window, create a new blank layer on top of the original.
Step 3. Select a spectrum gradient using the gradient tool, then draw the gradient horizontally in the new layer.
Photoshop comes with many gradients predefined, and one of the groups is called “spectrums”. You can add those types to your gradient selections by using the small arrow on the right and selecting “Spectrums”. This loads the rainbow style gradients pictured at the end. I chose the brightest one for this example as we can change its intensity later in other ways.
Now in your new layer simply add the gradient from left to right :
Step 4. Set the Blending Mode to “Soft Light”
Once you’ve set the blending mode to “Soft Light” you can also reduce the opacity of the new gradient layer to reduce the intensity. In this example I’ve set it to about 75% for a more natural look. Thats it! Of course you can try other gradients drag them vertically or diagonally to get a variety of effects like this. Click on the image for the final product!