Creating Faux Fireworks against a Synthetic Sky in Photoshop

The unrelenting number of blog posts every July about how to photograph fireworks on the Fourth has finally driven me to seek relief. Nothing against those writers, I’ve written a few firework photography blurbs myself over the years. But let’s face it, not much changes in terms of strategy from year to year. (In a nutshell: tripod, long shutter speed, low ISO.) If you don’t think you’ve heard every tip or trick, by all means google on. I’ll be over here celebrating my freedom with Photoshop, as the founding fathers intended.

Yep, time for something fresh and fun. In my quest for artistic liberty, I found this delightful tutorial from defender of creative freedom Howard Pinsky, which uses text outlines, some tweaking of standard Photoshop brushes, and some Outer Glow layer effects to create a firework text effect. Howard was kind enough to let us share it here, so I could start slacking off for a long holiday weekend:

But Howard’s approach is so infectious, I forgot to start slacking immediately. I wanted to see how these faux fireworks would work against the synthetic sky I learned to make way back in Deke’s Techniques 15: Building a Synthetic Starfield. With a little tweaking for my own handwriting, fake background, and lack of subtlety, I came up with this:


Here are a few tips for riffing of Howard’s tutorial. (Riffing, the second-most sincere form of flattery after downright imitation).

Any picture of a sky would work, but I wanted to eschew photography altogether and go for a totally fake fourth, so I used Deke’s Techniques 15: Building a Synthetic Starfield to make the background. Like Howard’s technique, it manages to create something great (stars) out of nothing but pixels and Photoshoppery.

synthetic star field created in Photoshop

Instead of using text converted to path outlines, I actually just drew Deke’s name in Illustrator using the Blob brush, to give it that handmade look (and not have to figure out how to make a backwards e in Photoshop). Then I selected the whole thing, copied it, and pasted it as a path into Photoshop. Here’s what it looked like before it got festooned with fireworks:


The size and settings of your brush are going to vary depending on the size of your image and the thickness of your type outline, but Howard’s settings for the Shape Dynamics (maxed out) and the Pen Pressure setting on the Size Jitter are key. The other bits you can season to taste to some extent. Regardless, it doesn’t require you to have impeccable timing or arriving early for a good spot to shoot from.

If you enjoy this tutorial, check out some of Howard’s other coolness at Iceflow Studios. In the meantime, here’s wishing you fun and freedom on the Fourth. Love,

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 238: Colorizing with a Photoshop Layer Effect

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