Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape

 
Tips about how I made the Northern Lights wallpaper ( see wallpaper).

Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 1

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).
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 1

Continue until the mountains shape is ready.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 2

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.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 3

This is how mountains look with trees added.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 4

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 :-)
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 5

Set foreground color to dark blueish-purple, select very large soft brush (B), set brush opacity to 10%. Draw some lights behind mountains.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 6

Change color to lighter gold, make brush size smaller, and add smaller lights just near the right edge of mountains.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 7

Change color to lighter blue, and repeat the same on the left edge of mountains.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 8

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".
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 9


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.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 10

Go to Layer menu - "Create Clipping Mask" (Ctrl-Alt-G), so that the gradient layer is only visible within Northern Light black shape layer.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 11

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, keeping the area near bottom curve. Continue until the shape starts to look like northern light.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 12

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).
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 13
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).
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 14

Go to Layer menu - "Create Clipping Mask" (Ctrl-Alt-G) so that the "noise" layer is only visible within Northern Light black shape layer.
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 15

Finally, change layer Blend Mode to "overlay". Ta-da! The first Light is ready!
 
Design a colorful Northern Lights landscape - Step 16

   


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