Adding Fireworks To A Night-time Photograph With Photoshop

This is an article I originally wrote for PhotographyBB magazine. Getting a good shot of fireworks can be tricky, and getting good fireworks with an interesting foreground is even trickier. So here’s a method for combining one or more fireworks photos with another night shot and have it blend beautifully in Photoshop.

As with many retouching jobs, we’ll use the layer mask to achieve the effect we want.

1. Open up the image that you want to add fireworks to. I’m using one of London Bridge at night.


2. Open the fireworks pictures you want to add. In this case I’m using three photos, but you might have one good shot that you can use.


3. Select the Move tool (V) and drag a fireworks image onto the London Bridge pic. As you can see, the fireworks image is swamping, so we need to reduce it in size.

4. Hit Ctrl+T (Win) or Cmd+T (Mac) to use the Free Transform tool. A bounding box appears around the fireworks image. Hold down the Shift key and click and drag one of the corner handles to reduce the scale down the image to an appropriate size. (Holding down Shift, constrains the proportions of the image.) Hit Enter / Return to commit the transformation.

You can see there are two problems here.
a) The fireworks image is covering part of the bridge
b) The sky is a different colour in each.
We’ll fix that now.

5. To get a nice blend of skies, make sure your Fireworks layer is selected in the Layers palette. Then on the bottom of the layers palette, click on the Layer Effect Button and choose Blending Options from the drop down menu.


6. The Blending Options dialog box opens. At the bottom of the box, hold down the Alt / Option key and click and drag the triangle to the left. It will look like the triangle is split in two.
As you drag, notice how the fireworks start to blend into your background image. Click OK to apply the blend.

By holding down the Alt / Option key you get a very nice blend here, otherwise it tends to look quite jaggy. Try it without holding down Alt to see the difference.

7. So we still have the problem that part of the firework is visible on top of the bridge. This is where a layer mask comes to the rescue.
On the Layers palette, make sure the Fireworks layer is still selected. Then click on the Add Layer Mask icon.


8. Lower the opacity of this layer to about 50% so that you can see the bridge behind the fireworks. Then click on the on the Layer Mask thumbnail on the Fireworks layer. Choose a small round, soft-tipped brush. Make sure that your foreground colour is set to black, then start painting. As you paint, you erase the fireworks from on top of the bridge, but importantly, you are not damaging either photograph. If you make a mistake, switch you foreground colour back to white and paint back over the error.

When you’re finished painting, push the Opacity of the Fireworks layer back up to 100%


To make the fireworks appear more colourful, duplicate the layer.


9. I repeated the process twice more with two different shots of fireworks to produce this image.


10. The only thing that’s missing here is a reflection.
Because I have my fireworks on three separate layers, I want to make one extra layer containing a duplicate of all three. Select the layers and hit Ctrl + Alt + E or Cmd + Option + E. This shortcut will retain your three layers and make one new layer containing the contents of all three.
11. Select the new duplicate layer and hit Ctrl + T or Cmd + T to bring up Free Transform. Right Click or Ctrl Click in the bounding box to bring up the Transform menu. Choose Flip Vertical.


12. Drag the duplicate (and now upside down) Fireworks layer down onto the water.

13. Choose Filter > Gaussian Blur. In this case I set the blur to be about 9 pixels. The final step is to set the blending mode of that layer to Colour. And this is how my final image looks. Voila!


Image Credits:






Hot Black

How To Quickly Create A Partial Colour Effect In Photoshop

This is a popular effect, that’s really easy to create. By using only a small block of colour in a black and white image, you can create an interesting focal point. Some photographers feel this look is overused, and maybe it is, I suppose like any effect applied to an photographic image, the key to using this is moderation. There are numerous ways to partially colour an image in Photoshop, but in this case I’m using an adjustment layer and a layer mask.

So here’s how to do it.
1. Open up the image you want to apply the effect to.


(This is a picture I took recently at an event with jousting knights. If you’d like to see more photography from the event, check out my photography on

2. We’re going to add an adjustment layer now, to convert the image to black and white. Click on the Add Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette and choose Black & White.


3. The Black & White dialog box opens, and from here you can play around with the sliders to get the kind of contrast you like. Click OK, to close, you now have a nice black and white image, and importantly by using an adjustment layer you haven’t harmed any pixels!

4. Click once on the new adjustment layer mask (it’s the white thumbnail on the left). Then select the Brush tool (B).


5. Select a small, round brush tip and make sure that your foreground colour is set to black and your background colour is set to white. The shortcut for this is to hit D, followed by X.

6. Start painting on the parts of the image that you want to leave in colour. By painting with a black brush on a white mask, you are basically cutting a hole in the mask, which allows you to see through to the layer underneath.

Don’t be afraid to zoom right in so that you can see individual pixels when you’re painting the mask.


7. If you make any mistakes, just hit X again to swap your foreground and background colours. When you paint with the white brush, you can cover up any errors.

And my final image looks like this … ta, da!


So what do you think of this effect? Is it overused these days?

Photoshop Tutorial – Removing Gordon Brown’s Bags

Gordon Brown’s been going through the mill a bit recently and his undereye bags are getting bigger. Here’s a quick method of retouching any photograph in Photoshop to reduce or remove undereye bagginess. Now if I could just do this permanently to myself …

  1. Open the portrait that you want to retouch. I’m using this portrait of the British Prime Minister. Before doing any retouching, it’s always a good idea to make a duplicate image on a separate layer. To do this press Ctrl+J /Cmd+J. You’ll now have the same pic of Gordon Brown on two separate layers. Select the top layer to work on and keep the bottom layer in case of accidents.


  2. Select the Patch Tool (J), which is hidden under the Spot Healing Brush tool.


    The Patch tool works like a combination of the Lasso tool and the Healing Brush tool.

  3. Zoom in around the eyes so you can clearly see what you’re doing. Drag an area around the one of the eye bags and release the mouse button. You’ll see the dancing ants around the selection you’ve just made.


  4. Now, with the Patch tool still selected, click and drag that selection to another part of the face that is nice and smooth, a cheek for example.


    You’ll see that once you start dragging, you’re taking a copy of your selection and pulling it to another part of the image. Your original selection is going to look quite strange and the skin colours will look completely wrong. That’s ok. Keep dragging to the smooth part of the face with no wrinkles, then release the mouse. Your original selection will now be replace with smooth(ish) skin! Photoshop will replace the old bags with the smooth skin of the cheeks, but importantly, it attempts to keep the same skin tone of the original area. Pretty amazing really.


  5. Ok, that’s one eye done. Now repeat steps 3 and 4 on the other eye.


    You should end up with a fairly, youthful, well rested model.


6. Now if you think that your model is looking too youthful, this is where our layers come in. Simply reduce the opacity of the top layer that you’ve been working on, so that you can see some of the wrinkles showing through from underneath. This will give a more authentic look to your retouching.


And our completed retouched Gordon Brown, looks like this:


Before (Left) and After


Inspiration: Ten Travel Sketchbooks

There’s nothing quite like viewing other artists or designers sketchbooks to help you feel inspired. Whether it’s a sense of guilt because you haven’t been doing as much drawing as you would like to, or maybe it’s seeing a little bit of the world through someone else’s eyes that gets you excited, or maybe (as in my case) you would just love to be able to draw like this. And it’s nice to look at something NOT created in Photoshop or Illustrator. (Only for a little while though!)

There are tons of lovely sketchbook sites on the web but this is a list of 10 sites dedicated to the art of sketching while travelling or on holiday, in cities and the country. Some of these sites are collaborative efforts so you get to see lots of different styles. All images are copyright the artist.

1. Urban Sketchers


2. Trumpetvine Sketchblog


3. Travels With A Sketchbook


4. Sketchcrawl


5. Craftmonkeys


6. Marcellus Hall


7. Jane Tomlinson


8. Michael Kluckner


9. Roland Lee


10. Taccuino di Viaggio


Please feel free to add your own favourite travel sketchbook sites. I’d love to see them.

Offset Design Conference Comes To Dublin

Saw this very exciting news this morning, Offset 2009 will take place in Dublin from 6 – 8 November. It sounds like there will be some pretty amazing speakers including Chip Kidd, Dave McKean, Tara McPherson and a personal hero of mine, Oliver Jeffers.

Offset 2009

Early bird tickets are on sale now until the 30th of May for €120 handling fee or €150 after that date. I bought my ticket this morning. The conference has been organised by The Small Print and it is really fantastic to have an event of this calibre happening in Dublin.

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