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Create A Stunning Science Fiction Sky

In this tutorial you will learn how to transform your sky into a scene from a sci-fi film using some very simple techniques in Photoshop.
The images of the planets that were used in this tutorial are taken from NASA’s website. All of the photography they have on their site is available for public use. So for those like me, who get more than a little nervous about accidentally using copyrighted images in their work, there is no need to worry here.
So have a quick browse of their website. It’s not the easiest site to navigate, but their astronomy photos are some of the best you’re likely to find on the net.
So our scene has Mars in the foreground with Earth further off in the distance. Which makes our planet… Jupiter? Well this is sci-fi so we needn’t worry too much about those kind of details anyway. Lets just concentrate on making a beautiful, atmospheric sci-fi landscape instead.
The background used here is a photo that i took during a shoot late in the day when the sun was low and there were very few coulds. If you would like to use this image just click on it below and then download it. Otherwise there are plently of stock photos available elsewhere.
Once you’ve placed your images, and rasterized them, you’ll find you can easily select the black borders with the magic wand tool and then delete them.
To fade Earth into the sky, change its blending mode to Screen.
Mars is a lot closer so we want to keep a little more colour definition. Change it’s blending mode to Lighten.
Now we will give Earth a shadow.
With its layer selected, click the Layer Mask button at the bottom of the layers box. The layer mask thumbnail icon will appear next to the Earth layer thumbnail.
Click on it to select it.
Choose the paintbrush tool and make your brush size about 2/3 of the size of your Earth, with it’s hardness set to 10% and it’s colour Black.
Now press down with the brush at the bottom right edge of the planet to erase this part, creating the shadow.
We will now add the sun peeking out from under Mars. This will be created using a lens flare which is then duplicated.
First create a new layer and fill it with black. Then, with that layer selected, go to Filter>Render>Lens flare to bring up the lens flare box.
Use the settings shown above.
Click the cross to drag the lens flare to the correct position.
Click OK.
Change the blending mode to Screen to hide the black.
You can use the transform tool to scale up the lense flare a little, and position it so it is at the edge of Mars.
Now duplicate this layer and take the duplicate layer’s opacity down to 50%.
Click back on the original 100% opacity lens flare layer, and give it a layer mask.
What we want to do now is erase the area of this lens flare that overlaps Mars, except for the bottom right edge.
So in the layer mask choose a large brush with the hardness set to about 80-90%. Carefully paint in Mars so that you leave only a small band at the edge. Then use a much smaller eraser brush to bring back the area where the lense flare is the brightest.
Finally we will add some stars. I have chosen this beautiful starry photograph from NASA’s website.
Place the photo onto your image, and rasterize it.
Then – you guessed it- change it’s layer mode to Screen to get rid of all that black, leaving just the stars and nebula’s… or nebulae?
Have a play around with the size and positioning of your stars layer. Then, when you’re happy, give it a layer mask. You can now begin to take away the stars that overlap the sea and planets.
To make the stars gradually become visible towars the top of the sky, use the gradient tool with the colour set to black and drag it down from the middle of the image to the bottom. And use the paintbrush as you did earlier, to get rid of any stars in front of the planets.
Your layer mask thumbnail should look like the picture above.
And below is what your layers panel should now look like. You’ll notice I added a Levels adjustment layer to correct the overall contrast of the final image.
And thats it! Your final image should look like the one below.
Here are a few more examples of what you can do with the techniques you’ve learned.

Once you’ve got the hang of this it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to compose one of these, and it’s a lot of fun, so give it a try!
If you have any questions or feedback use the comments section below.