Create an incredible cosmic effect in Photoshop

In this lesson, we will show you how to create an incredible composition on a space theme using elements taken from images published by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Skillfully using a variety of methods, such as imparting depth to an image through the use of multiple layers, applying transparency, as well as deft manipulation of tools such as: Twistinge (Twirl), Spherization (Spherize) and filters Plastics (Liquify filters), we will demonstrate to you that achieving the desired result is much easier than you thought. In the course of the workflow, we will also show you how to create a custom star brush using a method that you can later adapt to create your other custom brushes.

This tutorial uses gorgeous images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. This is an excellent resource for images, even for creating works on non-space themes. Always select the highest quality image downloads and use TIFF images.

Note: The source of the lesson is missing some images. In the archive you will find an alternative version of the materials for the lesson..

Step 1

We begin our work by creating a new document size. Width (Width) 1500 pixels and Height (Height) 2000 pixels. Fill our base layer with black: Editing – fill (Edit> Fill) or Shift + F5 and select black in the dialog box. Now use the tool Ellipse (Ellipse Tool (U)) to draw a circle approximately in the center of our document. It does not matter what color it will be, since this circle will only serve as a guideline for the first steps of our work, in the future it will need to be removed, so you can make it the same as in the screenshot.

Step 2

Download the Carina Nebula ‘Mystic Mountain’ image. Next, use the selection tool. Oval area (Elliptical Marquee tool), install for it shading radius (feather radius (shift + f6)) 100 pixels to soften the edges. Click on the image and drag to select a fragment of the image similar to that shown in the screenshot. Copy (Ctrl + C) and paste (Ctrl + V) this fragment into your main document over the created circle.

Step 3

Transform the inserted image fragment with the tool Free transform (Free Transform tool (Ctrl + T)), squeezing the width of this fragment approximately three times. Then place what you got to the left of our landmark circle. Next, use the command Filter – Distortion – Spherization (Filter – Distort – Spherize), followed by the command Filter – Distortion – Twisting (Filter – Distort – Twirl) to create a ripple effect. Experiment with these filters until you get something like a curved flash on the border of your landmark circle, as shown in the screenshot below.

Step 4

Download images of other nebulae from On these images, repeat steps 2 and 3, using several selected fragments of different sizes from these two images. The basic idea is to use a curved flash to create a shape that looks like a ring. As soon as you manage to form this ring-shaped structure, you no longer need the layer with the reference circle, and accordingly you can delete it.

Step 5

Now, we will add more of these same flashes so that we can already have something more like a nebula. We will do it all with the same methods, simply repeating steps 2 and 3, but this time, styling our new flashes in such a way that it would seem as if they were breaking out of the ring and crossing it.

Step 6

To add a depth effect, work on each layer with the flash separately and try adjusting the opacity level for each layer. Lowering the opacity will create the effect of falling flash fragments in our black background. Next try mixing the intersections between the flashes using the tool. Eraser (Eraser tool (E)) and a soft brush for each layer to make it all look more natural. The main goal here is to create an organic sense of movement.

Step 7

Now, we will proceed to processing our background layer, adding to it what I call “cosmic particles.” Create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + N) on top of the black background layer (background), then take soft brush (soft brush (B)) and pick up the blue color, as shown in the screenshot below, setting it as the main (foreground color). Using alternately high or low opacity (opacity), paint over the entire document, but mainly focus on the upper right and lower left corners.

Step 8

Add another layer above this, set as background colors (background color) black. Then use the command Filter – Rendering – Clouds (Filter – Render – Clouds). Next, adjust the Levels (Ctrl + L) in such a way as to make the effect easier. Then add an adjustment layer. Layers – New Adjustment Layer – Hue / Saturation (Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Hue / Saturation). Saturation (Saturation) set +6, Brightness (Lightness) -15.

Step 9

Decrease opacity (opacity) of the layer that you created in step 7 to 10%, thereby creating a very light effect for the background layer. Now let’s create something like a vapor trail in the lower left section by duplicating one of the most obscure and transparent of the flare fragments you created earlier, and move it away from our created ring nebula. Move this layer down under all layers, but so that it is directly above the layers with “cosmic particles”.

Step 10

Select Plastic filter (Liquify filter (Shift + Ctrl + X)). Apply the settings below:

  • Brush size (Brush size) 300
  • Brush Density (Brush Density) 0
  • Brush pressure (Brush pressure) 100
  • Brush rate (Brush speed) 0
  • Turbulent jitter (Oscillations) 50
  • Reconstruct Mode (Reconstruction mode): Revert (recovery)

Next, work with the tools. Pucker tool (Wrinkling / S key), Bloat tool (Blistering / “B” key) and Turbulence (Turbulence / T key) in our created steam trail until you reach a result that satisfies you. A graphics tablet would make this task much easier for you, as it allows you to much better control the brushes you work with.

Step 11

To organically combine the vapor trail with our background and cosmic particles, discolor it by pressing Ctrl + Shift + U, then set blending mode (blending mode) for this layer Screen (Screen), and level opacity (opacity) reduce to 20%. Repeat steps 9 through 11 several times to create many such steam trails around our composition.

Step 12

For this composition, since it is on a space theme, we need to add a few stars by creating a star brush (“star brush”). Upload an image and edit it. height (height) up to 2500 pixels (Ctrl + Alt + I). Next, invert the image (Ctrl + I) and discolor it (Ctrl + Shift + U).

Step 13

Adjust the Levels (Ctrl + L) as shown in the screenshot. Select the entire image and apply the command Editing – Define a brush (Edit – Define Brush). Name your custom brush ‘Star Brush’. Now it should appear at the very bottom of the brush palette.

Step 14

We return to our composition, choose our newly created brush, preliminarily setting as foreground colors (foreground color) white. Now, add a new layer on top of all the others. To quickly change the size of your brush when working, use keys with square brackets, in the Russian layout these are the letters X and b. Then click once in different places to place our stars. Also, if suddenly you did not like the location of the stars somewhere, you can use the tool Eraser (Erase tool (E)) with a soft brush to remove these unnecessary fragments.

Step 15

Our nebula still looks slightly muffled, so let’s add a new adjustment layer. Layers – New Adjustment Layer – Brightness / Contrast (Layer – New Adjustment Layer – Brightness / Contrast). Brightness (Brightness) +60, Contrast (Contrast) +10. Create another new layer and paint it in different colors across the entire document using a soft brush, as shown below. Install opacity (opacity) of this layer is 70% and blending mode (blend mode) Overlap (Overlay). This will improve the overall color of the image. All is ready. My congratulations!

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