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by Wendi Elizabeth Martha Scarth


Aurora Borealis Sky 
Photoshop Elements


This is a Photoshop Elements Tutorial - Click Here!

Paint Aurora Borealis Skies
 Suitable for Adobe Photoshop Elements Editor
Skill Level - Intermediate

Example using Rainbow Gradients (Instead of Solid Blue and Green)

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This tutorial demonstrates how to create Aurora Borealis effects using the Paint Brush and Smudge Tools. To work along, you are welcome to download the Start Image HereUnzip the file and open your Start Image onto Element’s workspace.

Aurora Borealis is Latin for Northern Dawn, and is otherwise known as the Northern Lights. The phenomena is caused by electrons in the sky effecting the earth’s magnetic field, and the lights emanate from the Polar regions. The “dancing” auroras can be seen in the northern hemisphere between September/October and March/April (around the equinox months). Its southern counterpart, Aurora Australis, has similar properties - Australis being the Latin word for of the south.

Undo Note
You can step backwards at any time by clicking the top menu’s Undo Tool.

Open your Start Image onto Elements’ workspace. Ctrl/Cmd - then O.

To centralise your image - snap it to the top menu’s orange horizontal line by dragging it towards it.

Starry Sky Note
If you prefer, open a Black Canvas, and create star field with the Brush Tool, then paint your Aura Borealis effect onto it. After it is complete, drag your finished Aurora Borealis sky onto another image, then change the Aurora Borealis image’s Blend Mode from Normal to Screen

Click the following Create a new layer icon. This places a Transparent Layer above the Background Layer - as illustrated below.

Then set your Foreground and Background colours to the following. 

Foreground Background =

Elements 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 - Tool Options Palette positioned at the bottom of the workspace. Although the palettes have been redesigned the tools work in more or less the same way.

Then activate the Brush Tool.

And set the following (Soft Round Brush) attributes into its Options Bar.

Decide what shape you would like your Aurora to be - a good way of finding realistic Auroras is via Google. When you see an image you like, try to recreate effect as close as possible.

With the Paint Brush Tool, paint a wavy line in the direction illustrated below; ensuring the Foreground represents the colour you are applying.

Now, press your Keyboard’s X Key to swap the Foreground and Background colours, and paint a second (green) line, parallel to the first. It does not need to be perfectly symmetrical.

Then from the Tools Toolbar, activate the Smudge Tool.

And enter the following Soft Brush attributes into its Options Bar.

Now, hover your cursor over the left-side of your image, as indicated below, and left-click once.

Now, (for a straight smudge application), press and keep pressed your Keyboard’s Shift Key, then left-click once on the opposite side of the coloured lines - illustrated below.

Your line will subsequently warp towards the second click area, as demonstrated above. If you don’t want a straight smudge line, don’t press the Shift Key. Now, continue clicking along the two lines; applying your clicks and warping the coloured lines into a wispy Aurora Borealis effect. If a click produces an unsatisfactory warp; step backwards and reapply the Smudge Tool. 

After you have completed this, you are ready for the next step.

This is a crucial step, therefore, take your time and create a shape you like.

From the top menu, choose Filter then choose Blur then choose Motion Blur. From the subsequent Motion Blur dialogue box, set the Angle so it follows the direction of your Aurora Borealis - whether it is vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. Set the Distance to produce a suitable (motion) blur then click OK. I chose the following settings. Don’t worry if the Aurora transcends the black foreground, this can be removed later.

To produce a brighter result: right-click the Aurora’s Layer, and choose Duplicate Layer from the subsequent drop-down list. Additionally, you can lessen the Aurora Brollies effect by reducing its Opacity using the Opacity slider.

Resize and reposition the Aurora Borealis using the Free Transform Tool, if you wish: - Ctrl then T

If necessary, activate the Eraser Tool.

And with a Small Hard Brush, remove areas of the Aurora that transcend into the black foreground - the silhouetted trees, for example.

Final Notes
Aurora Borealis effects are unique, and they display in various shapes and colours: colour examples include red, green, yellow, blue and purple - therefore, experiment with different colours - taking your inspiration from photographs. Whilst the Layers remain separate, try different positions, perhaps applying Distort effects to the Aurora Layer. 

Virtical Smudging Example

Preserve the Layers by saving your work as a Photoshop Image File: PSD.

When you are completely happy with your result: from the top menu, choose Layers then choose Flatten Image.  

your work is complete and is ready to save.

Wendi E M Scarth. 
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