Anything Photoshop or Photography

Faking Fireworks!

Since the Fourth of July is just around the corner, I thought I would create a blog for making some of your beautiful night images into spectacular holiday images. Just to get you in the mood, here is a link to Stunning Fireworks Photos from Smashing Magazine. This was helpful to see the colors needed to get a realistic look on some of the fireworks.

As far as I can tell, there are two major ways of making images look like a fireworks celebration: either by adding fireworks images to a nighttime image or painting in the fireworks with brushes. This blog will address both types.

Creating Fireworks with Images

The above image used five different fireworks – old jpg images (from a 2 megapixel camera taken 8 years ago so don’t delete those old images, you may use them years later) brought into the original nighttime photo of the Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. The basic steps are as follows:

  1. Do correction to your original image. A really dark scene is helpful.
  2. Go into Adobe Bridge and just drag the first image into Photoshop (does the same thing as File -> Place an object).
  3. The new image comes in as a Smart Object (right click and your will see the Free Transform choices) and can now be moved and sized (adjust by just dragging in the handles). Click Enter. I usually rasterize to get rid of the Smart Object as it makes the file bigger and is not needed for this workflow – just right click on the fireworks layer and select Rasterize layer.
  4. Double-click on the fireworks layer to open up the Layer Style and go to the “This Layer” slider near the bottom of the dialog box. Since the fireworks images have dark backgrounds, move the black tab right to get the correct effect. Then hold the ALT key to split the tab, click on the left side of the tab and drag it back to get a smooth the transition. If your image has a white background, move the right tab left, hold the ALT key and drag the right portion of tab back for the desired look.
  5. Add a layer mask to the layer and paint out any areas that are covering up part of the background image to make the fireworks look realistic. May need to lower the opacity of the level to see where to mask and then bring it back up to 100% when finished.
  6. Keep adding in more fireworks.
  7. Use a Basic Soft White Cloud Brush (download here) to paint in the soft black smoke coming from the fireworks. Set layer opacity to around 5-10% – do not overwhelm the image with smoke.

This basic workflow is from Scott Kelby’s book, Classic Photoshop Effects, “Adding Fireworks to Nighttime Photos,” one of the few nice fireworks tutorials I could find. Also, the Basic Soft White Cloud Brush was created by following the video “Brush Dynamics and Fluffy Clouds in Photoshop” by Ice Flow at PictureSocial.com.

Several beautiful fireworks images were downloaded for free from Stock.xchng and can be added to your images following the above workflow. They were moved into a black background. Here is a link to the Fireworks images – there are 46 pages of them so have fun finding some nice ones! Once you log in and download an image, you need to right click and select the Save Image As to your computer.

Painting Fireworks into your Images

Here is an example of Fireworks brushes that can be downloaded from the internet. After trying many fireworks brushes, the best are once again from Obsidian Dawn’s Fireworks set. (There are also jpg’s of these same brushes for download – to use follow the steps in the next section.) Obsidian Dawn had some great tips on how to use her great brushes so I thought I would share:

  • Can use as just a solid color and they look great but to make them more colorful, apply a Radial Gradient to the layer. This is pretty easy – just follow these steps:
  1. Create a New Layer above your nighttime image.
  2. Click to make just one brush stroke – choose a bright color.
  3. On the brush layer, double click the layer to open the Layer Styles dialog and go to Gradient Overlay. Change Style to Radial and select any Gradient. A new group of gradients may be added by clicking the drop down arrow and clicking on the right pointing arrow in the top right corner. Try clicking Reverse checkbox to change color order. Change the scale to adjust which colors go where and try different blend modes and opacity.
  • Remember some fireworks are brighter in the center – some the outer edges. To get this effect for using only one color, use a basic Black and White gradient in the Gradient Overlay Layer Style and set the blending mode to Screen. Set the Gradient opacity to 50% so it is not too bright. Use the Reverse checkbox to toggle where the darker and light colors show up.
  • Try an Outer Glow Layer Style to make them more luminescent – try a different color too. Also try Color Overlay in a different color at a very low opacity to add some new color.

The Fountain above was created by using Photoshop Free Brushes Firework’s Brushes no.3 – placed on its own layer, duplicate it, Free Transform (CTRL+T) and flip Horizontal. Add a Linear gradient to get the effect. This set of  brushes were created from clip art so most of them are not so realistic looking but nice if you want a more graphic look.

Some great resources for gradients that for fireworks are: Gorgeous Gradients (the one called Preppy give a nice result), Warhol gradients from Graphix1 (check out all their gradients), and Mellow Yellow Gradient from Photoshop Daily.

There is another way to get some interesting fireworks results that was posted as a comment on Photoshop Daily blog by Jo Cole that you might want to try. Once a fireworks brush is selected, here is what Kazzie said in her comment about creating a new brush to get a really nice fireworks:

“Shape Dynamics: size jitter – 75-100%.  Color Dynamics: foreground/background 75-100%, Hue – 50-100%, Saturation – 100%, Purity – (+100).  Brush Tip Shape: spacing = 1% or OFF. I set the foreground/background colors to bright colors in the main menu. Then I just clicked in the same place to achieve glorious fireworks using basic white color in between clicks.”

I tried this and it creates some very nice results that look similar to the orange and yellow fireworks above, but you must be careful not to click too much or you lose the effect. Go in and try different Hue settings. Once you get some settings you like, be sure to save as a new brush so you do not have to keep resetting it every time you try a different brush. (See my blog on “How to Create Photoshop Brushes from Objects or Text.”)

Combining the two processes



For the above image, both fireworks brushes and several jpg images from Obsidian Dawn were used. Since the fireworks are on a white background, I used the free Adobe Pixel Bender filter and my favorite filter for it, the free Kill White filter (it works better with Pixel Bender than just as a Photoshop plug-in) to delete the white areas – can get some very interesting effects using Kill White so I recommend downloading it. (Note often an error warning comes up when applying Pixel Bender – just say OK.) Below is the workflow used for the jpgs.

  1. Open up your base nighttime image.
  2. Drag over one of the jpg from Adobe Bridge – comes in as a Smart Object so adjust the size and position. The right click on the layer and choose Rasterize layer to remove Smart Object.
  3. Go to Pixel Bender and select MikeYael_Kill White.
  4. Double click on the fireworks layer and open the Layer Style. Choose the Gradient Overlay and set the Style to Radial. Open up the different Gradients and load any new ones you want to try by clicking the popout at the top right and appending them. Then adjust the Scale, try reversing the colors and changing the blend mode.

To get the reflection on the water, after making all your fireworks, put them in a group named fireworks. Next right click on the Layers Panel popout and select Merge Group to create just one layer of the firework objects. Free Transform (CTRL+T) and select Flip Vertical. Hold SHIFT Key and drag straight down to a point. Enter. Go to Filter -> Blue -> Gaussian Blue and select a Radius between 3 and 10. Add  a layer mask to mask out anywhere the reflection should not be or to tone down some of the brighter colors with a 20% opacity soft round Brush. Can add in some smoke with the Basic Soft Cloud Brush and set to a very low opacity – usually between 5 to 10%.

I guess you can tell that an image which may not be that great can take on a really nice look with the fireworks. This has once again been a lot of fun to explore and try. It is really worth your time to play around with some of these effects – you can learn a lot! Hope everyone has a very happy Fourth of July celebration!…..Digital Lady Syd

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One response

  1. Pingback: Playing in Photoshop! « Syd Johnson's Blog

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