Best of the Tetons

Lights with Stars

Christmas Lights on the Moulton Barn

A Step By Step Using Photoshop and Topaz Star Filters

Final Image

I created this image for our virtual Christmas Card this year using a few basic Photoshop techniques and one third party filter from Topaz. Obviously, I didn’t go out and staple lights all over the historic barn! A couple of people asked about the steps, so here goes!

Base Image

Base Image: The clouds pulled away from the peaks for a few minutes one night last month. I managed to get a few shots at the John Moulton Barn before they clouded back over. I was there a little while before the full moon actually rose, so the sky lacked most of the normal night stars. The light of the moon lit the distant mountains and peaks. I used a 2 million candle power flashlight to add a little light to the barn, fence and snow. (click on these images to see them quite a bit larger)

Light Detail

Light Detail: This is a tight crop to show the steps better. I created a New Blank Layer above the Background Layer, then adjusted my brush to create small white dots around the edges of the barn. I did this manually by just clicking where I wanted a dot.

Outer Glow

Outer Glow: I did this step quickly by double clicking on the “fx” icon at the bottom of the layer tab for the Lights layer.  I chose the Outer Glow style.

outer glow

Outer Glow Layer Style: This screen grab shows my settings. I changed the original pale yellow color to a soft red color. When satisfied, I click the OK button.

Lights with Stars

Topaz Star Effects Screen GrabPreparing for the Topaz Star Effects: After hitting the OK button, I had a soft glow of red around my original white centers. I tried applying the Topaz Star Filter on the layer with the white dots and glow, but the filter had to be applied to an image with full data. There are several ways of merging all underlying layers to a new layer. Here’s one: Select All (control A), click on the top layer, then go to Edit>Copy Merged. Then hit Control-V to paste the merged layer to a new layer. In my case, I did a keyboard shortcut: Control-Alt-Shift-E. With that new merged layer selected, I clicked the Filter Pull Down menu and chose Topaz Star Effects. I chose Starry Night 1, then adjusted the settings to four points, angle to 45°, and varied the size and luminance in the Main Settings for Starry Night. When satisfied, I hit the Apply Button. (Note: the actual settings I used might be different than what you might use). The final results are shown in the image above. Also, this filter will add a star to any white object. In my case, I had a few specular highlights in the snow. I created a “Layer Mask” for the star layer and painted out the stray stars.

lights, glow and star effect

For some purposes, this might be the completed image.

with text

I added a few lines of text with a drop shadow. Each line was added as a new layer with it’s own drop shadow layer effect. I saved the layered image for the future in case I wanted to make changes, then flattened the entire image to create a 1400 pixel wide image for web purposes, saving it with a new JPG file name. I was happy enough with it initially, but decided to add a star in the sky a day later.

Lens FlareI made a copy of the new flattened layer, then used a filter included in Photoshop to create the star. This one is slightly hidden. I went to Render>Lens Flare. I tried all of them, but ended up using Movie Prime at about 53%. There’s no telling where the initially flare will be located over the thumbnail image. I just dragged the X to the spot I wanted it to hit in the image before hitting OK.


Lens Flare

The lens flare added a couple of extremely long blue horizontal lines and a couple of long diagonal lines. Again, I created a layer mask for the lens flare layer and painted them away using black in the layer mask.

Layers PanelFor anyone familiar with Photoshop’s layers and layer masks, this screen grab will tell you a lot about the steps. For most people reading and trying to decipher these steps, they may sound like a lot of work and would take a lot of time, but in fact the whole thing took less than 15 minutes and part of that was experimenting the the various options for some of the filters.

Schwabacher Lights

Same Effect: Different Spot! For the reflected bulbs, I did a lasso selection around the tree, then hit Control J to copy them to a new layer. I transformed that layer, flipping over the horizontal axis and moving it into position. I created a layer mask to cover up the bulbs over the land. I did a motion blur on the reflected bulbs. The bright star in this case is a single white dot run through the Topaz Star Effects filter. Note: It would be easy enough to do a multi-colored set of lights by making several different layers with a different color outer glow on each. You could also vary the size and intensity of different lights using different layers. There are usually several ways of achieving similar effects in Photoshop. Using Outer Glow in the fx layer styles made sense. Lastly, I could have make “Smart Filters” for the various filters to recall them and adjust the effects. On a real project, I probably would take the extra (quick) step.

Power User? I didn’t do it on either of these two images (mainly trying to keep it simple), but you can make a custom brush that fluctuates in size with each click. The amount of fluctuation is controlled by a “jitter” command—something you have control over. The adjusted custom brush can be saved for future use, too.  Also of note, once a layer has a Layer Effect applied to it, any object added to the layer will get the same effect. Knowing that, all I really needed to do originally was to make one dot (white light), apply the Layer Effect (red outer glow), and the start adding dots. Each one would then have the red glow. You can edit a Layer Effect by double clicking it in the layer tab. Lastly, you can copy a Layer Effect to another layer by Alt-clicking it and dragging the effect to a new layer. When on that new layer, all you’d have to do is double click the Layer Effect (outer glow) and change the color of the glow. I mentioned it earlier, but there are almost always several ways of achieving the same or similar results in Photoshop.

Beautiful lighting effects with Topaz Star Effects

Click the link above to see Topaz Star Effects. You can try it for 30 days and buy it for $29.99. There are several tutorials on using the filter at their site, too. MJ

Chapel with Star

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Comments (4)

  1. Merry Christmas Mike. Always enjoy your post…

  2. Ron Case

    Great article (as usual)! Thank you for taking the time to show us how you made the picture.

  3. Gary Langley

    Wow beautiful image and great tutorial, don’t have topaz but may just try it, Thanks and Merry Christmas !

  4. Lowell Schechter

    Hi Mike
    Its amazing what you can do in the digital darkroom. Really enjoyed how you made the Mormon Barns have Christmas lights. I myself do use Photoshop but another simple program. Have a great Christmas and Happy New Year to you and family.

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