Layers of Lightning

By | 2017-12-05T10:23:19+00:00 August 29th, 2011|8 Comments

Last night I photographed a beautiful electric storm from my balcony. I got some really great bursts of lightning, and while analyzing them I realized that three of them would work perfectly as a composite. I haven’t had a huge opportunity to photograph lightning since I was a kid living at home, and actually got one of my best lightning photographs in my backyard with my Nikon F4 film camera. (Here’s the link to that image in my archives if you want to check it out:

The composite was relatively simple to put together, the only tricky part was blending the main “bolt” and its surrounding clouds in with the rest of the sky (the layer called “lightning strike”) because it was a different color of light. I ended up just adjusting that layer so that it had some massive contrast (with a levels adjustment), and then changed its blending mode to “screen” so that only the lighter parts showed through. Then, I added a solid color fill layer that was the same color of the sky, change the blending mode to “color”, and masked it in around the bolt.

You can click on the image to see a larger preview, and feel free to ask questions in the comments if you’re curious about any other methods I used to photograph or put this image together in Photoshop.

About the Author:

Nicole S. Young is a professional photographer and published author whose love of photography and teaching has grown into an online business where she creates training materials and resources for other photographers. Nicole is best known for her books on food photography, but is widely versed in a variety of photographic genres, including landscape, travel, lifestyle, and even underwater photography. You can learn more about Nicole's work on her website,


  1. Squeamish Ossifrage August 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    I’m not normally the correct-spelling/grammar at random websites kind of guy, but it’s spelled “lightning,” not “lightening.”

    Nice photo, but the repeated misspelling bugged me.

    • Nicole August 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm - Reply

      Oh, thanks! That’s what I get for rushing a blog post and multi-tasking … :)

  2. Tim Buckner August 29, 2011 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    I tried photographing the lightening last night and did not do to good of a job so well done. It was hard to have the camera in the right place at the right time.

  3. Anonymous August 30, 2011 at 6:54 am - Reply

    Great shot Nicole. I think your blending worked really well. I recently blended two images of lightning ( Into the Storm by Leigh Catley ). I am okay with my results, but I see how your approach results in a higher quality final image. Thanks for passing along the process you used.


  4. Mark September 4, 2011 at 1:06 pm - Reply


    Can I ask why you didn’t simply use the “lighten” blending mode for the additional layers of lightning? That blending mode effectively says to apply only the pixels that are brighter than the background layer, which usually makes for a great and simple addition of lightning or other light effects. You could even apply a curves adjustment to the lightning layer itself to make sure that the surrounding clouds are darker (and hence invisible) than the background layer.

    Anyway, it’s really simple… but if the “screen” blending mode is a better way to do it, I’d love to hear more about it.


    • Nicole September 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm - Reply

      I used the “Screen” blending mode because it just worked the best when I jumped through all of the blending modes. I used the keyboard shortcut “SHIFT +” while in the MOVE tool to cycle through them and just ended up with the one I liked most.

  5. Thomas Emmerich September 8, 2011 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    This would make for a great 2 minute tip video, wouldn’t it? Nicole? Yes?

  6. Tessie September 16, 2011 at 6:42 am - Reply

    The gneuis store called, they’re running out of you.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.