It’s not so easy to find a perfect photo for a photo manipulation we have in mind. Sometimes, for example, we want to create a night scene, but the available photos are either too dark or already heavily edited. What do to in such a case?
Well, you can always turn a day scene into a night scene with the power of Photoshop! In this tutorial I will show you how to play with the brightness of the scene, how to add stars to the sky, and how to add new light sources with convincing effects.
What You Will Need
You can use any photo you need for this exercise. If you want to follow my steps directly, you can find the same photo I use here:
In short, when you paint on a mask, you define the transparency of the layer: black makes the layer transparent, white makes it opaque, and the shades of gray become the states in between.
Click the mask to make it active.
Take the Gradient Tool (G) and click the gradient in the upper panel.
Change the gradient to very bright gray-white.
Apply the gradient to the mask from top to bottom. This will make the upper part “white” (opaque), and the lower part “bright gray” (slightly transparent).
Click the background layer now. We need to darken it too! In the Adjustments panel, find Photo Filter.
Change the color to dark, desaturated blue.
Uncheck Preserve Luminosity…
… and make the effect very intense.
The sky could use some blue tint as well! Add the Photo Filter adjustment to it, too, this time using a brighter, more saturated shade.
Normally, the night sky is brighter than non-illuminated buildings below, so let’s darken that lower layer some more. Duplicate (Control-J) the Photo Filter adjustment and lower its Opacity to adjust the intensity.
3. How to Create the Stars
Create a New Layer on top. Use the Paint Bucket Tool (G) to fill it with black. Then go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Add a maximum amount of black-and-white noise.
Now go to Filter > Filter Gallery and select Sketch > Stamp. Play with the settings to create an optimal effect. The sky is not perfectly clear, so we don’t want too many stars.
Use the Move Tool (V) to move the stars up, over the sky.
Right click the stars layer and select Blending Options. Drag the upper black marker to the middle, to make the dark part of the layer transparent.
Add a Layer Mask to this layer. Use a black-and-white gradient to make the lower part transparent, gradually turning opaque towards the top.
4. How to Illuminate the Windows
Let’s pick some windows in the background—the farther they are, the harder it will be to notice the little imperfections. Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select the panes. Hold Shift to keep selecting after closing one selection.
Click the background layer and duplicate the selection (Control-J). Move the duplicated part to the top.
Right click the layer and select Blending Options. Check Color Overlay and change the color to bright orange.
Click the Blend Mode and scroll through it until you find the effect you like. I’ve decided to use Hue, as it adds the color without concealing the details.
Check Outer Glow.
Change its color to bright orange.
Play with the Blend Mode again…
… and adjust the sliders to the effect you want.
The effect should be quite subtle.
5. How to Add a New Light Source
There’s something resembling a lantern on the side of one of the buildings. Let’s use it to add some interesting light to the scene! Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to select its shape.
Click the background layer, duplicate the selection (Control-J), and drag the new layer to the top.
Right click the layer and select Blending Options. Check Color Overlay and make it white.
Check Outer Glow and make it bright orange.
Experiment with the settings to get the best result.
Create a New Layer and drag it right below the lantern. Pick bright orange and use a soft brush to paint the light around the lantern. You can lower the Flow to make the brush even softer.
Go to the Blending Options and drag the lower black marker to the right to remove the bright orange from the shadows.
Hold Alt to split the marker to make the effect more transitional. If you want to learn more about this technique, check out this quick guide:
Scroll through the Blend Modes of this layer to find the best effect.
Add a Layer Mask to this layer and paint the shadows on it. Nothing detailed—just make sure the light doesn’t reach to the parts blocked from it. Use black to paint the shadows and white to remove them, until you are happy with the result.
Create a New Layer and take a bright orange again.
Subtly paint some highlights on the protruding elements of the building to keep them 3D.
Change the Blend Mode and add a Layer Mask to make the effect more subtle.
Finally, duplicate the glow (Control-J) and change its color to white.
Then remove it from the darker parts, leaving it only on the bright elements of the building. They should reflect more light and shouldn’t be so vividly colored.
Change the Blend Mode and lower the Opacity to adjust the intensity of this effect.
6. How to Add a Late Dusk/Early Dawn Effect
Let’s adjust the final brightness of the scene now, since we have it all together. Go to the top of the layers and add a new Adjustment Layer: Levels.
Drag the white marker to the left to increase the amount of bright shades in the scene.
Create a New Layer. Fill it with black, and then go to its Blending Options and add Gradient Overlay.
Give it the colors of a low sun.
Hold Control and click the sky layer to get its outline.
Click the gradient layer and add a Layer Mask. The selection will be automatically applied to the mask.
Paint on the mask to reveal the mountains in the background.
Duplicate the sky (Control-J) and drag it to the top. We’re going to add special effects to the clouds.
Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment.
Clip the Adjustment Layer to the duplicated sky, desaturate it, and make it slightly brighter.
Add a Levels adjustment, clip it, and add more contrast to the sky with it.
Select all three layers (the sky and its Adjustment Layers) and Merge them (Control-E). Then go to the Blending Options of this new layer and remove it from the bright parts of the sky using the lower white marker. Change its Blend Mode to Soft Light and lower the Opacity.
Duplicate (Control-J) the layer and play with its Blending Options too, this time removing it from the dark parts of the sky (the lower black marker). Change the Blend Mode to Soft Light as well, but leave the Opacity at 100%, adjusting it with a layer mask if needed.
Time for some final adjustments. Add an Exposure adjustment on top to play with the overall brightness.
I’ve also decided to drag the sky slightly down to make the change of the colors more gradual (you can do it with a smart use of Layer Masks).
The background seemed a little too bright, so I darkened it too using a Hue/Saturation adjustment with some masking.
When you’re done, merge all the layers (right click > Flatten Image) and go to Noise > Add Noise. This will add some realism of a photograph taken in low light.
If you liked this tutorial, you may also be interested in our other guides on photo manipulation: