Recreate The Flash Running Lightning In Photoshop – Copycat Wednesday #3


In today’s Copycat Wednesday, I’m going to show you how to recreate the Flash in Photoshop, with the TV show as the reference.

I got a comment by Kumane who suggested the Flash logo, and although I liked the idea I have already done a Captain America logo which teaches basically the same techniques, except for the lightning.

And that got me thinking, to instead recreate the lightning from the running scenes.

This seemed like a better idea because it gives me the opportunity to share many more techniques that I haven’t really shown before.

By the way, in case you don’t know copycat Wednesdays is my new series where I recreate something using photoshop. 

It could be a movie poster, album cover, a color style, or anything really.
Remember to leave your suggestions for future episodes down below in the comments!

Like everything else, this is my interpretation and how I would go about achieving a result.

Tutorial Assets

Creating a Selection on the Subject

In this tutorial, we will use a product photo of a toy as the main subject. You can name the layer “Barry” after the Flash’s real name.

The first step is to extract the toy from its background. With the Quick Selection tool, click-and-drag over the toy to create a selection.

For 2020 Photoshop users, you have the power of Adobe Sensei, an Artificial Intelligence(AI), at hand. First, make sure that the layer is unlocked. Click on the lock icon on the side of the layer to unlock it.

Go to your Properties panel. Under Quick Actions, click on the Remove Background button. Photoshop then automatically removes the background and places your subject in a layer mask.

Sometimes, the AI misses some parts and includes the bits of the background in the layer mask. 

You can quickly fix this by selecting the Brush tool and setting black (#000000) as your Foreground color and paint on the areas you want to hide. 

To reveal areas, set white (#ffffff) as your Foreground color.

Creating Adjustments to the Layer Mask

Select the Layer Mask thumbnail and on your Options bar, click on Select the Mask button. 

On your Properties panel, you can use the Global Refinements to apply adjustments to your Layer Mask and apply feathering, contrast, and smoothening. 

Press OK to exit the window.

Back to the Layers panel, click on the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Solid Color

This brings out the Color Picker window, which allows me to select the color for the fill background and visibly see the effects of my Layer Mask by placing it below the Barry layer.

With a stark contrast between the background and the subject, you can notice if there are any fringing or white halos around your subject and correct them. 

To remove the fringing, select the Layer Mask thumbnail and go to Filter > Other > Minimum. The Minimum filter allows you to contract the mask based on the pixel radius.

The Preserve drop-down menu helps you to set which to preserve, the roundness, or the squareness of the pixels. Roundness works best with animals and humans. Meanwhile, Squareness works best for human-made objects or infrastructures such as buildings.

Applying a Background

The perfect image for this composite is the street scene with strong, colorful lighting. You can also use the exact image used in this tutorial! 

Then, apply the background image right below the Barry layer and press Ctrl T (Windows) or Command T (macOS) to fix the placing of the background image against the subject.

Select the Background layer > right-click > Convert to Smart Object.  

Note: A Smart Object is a container that can hold one or more layers. It allows you to apply editable adjustments, distortions, filters, and transformations.

Adding Blur to the Background

To recreate the Flash running fast in Photoshop, apply blurring to the Background layer by going to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur

The Amount determines how strong the radial blur is so set it to your preference.

Then, set the Blur Method to Zoom and set the Quality to Best.

The Blur Center allows you to set the blur radiates from by clicking-and-dragging the point around the frame. Just press OK when you’re ready to apply the changes.

If you want to return and edit the Radial Blur properties, just go to your Layers panel, and double-click on the Radial Blur text to bring out the window.

Apply a Levels Adjustment Layer

To unify both images and achieve the same level of contrast, go to Image > Adjustment > Levels to apply the Levels adjustment layer. 

On Input Levels, click the black pointer and drag it inwards to make the dark pixels darker. Click on the white pointer and drag it inwards also to make the bright pixels brighter.

Add Blur to the Subject

Duplicate the Barry layer by selecting it and pressing Ctrl J (Windows) or Command J (macOS). Right-click on the Barry copy layer and select Apply Layer Mask and this deletes the hidden pixels in the layer mask. 

Rename the layer to “Barry Blur” to distinguish it from the original layer. Then, go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Path Blur. An arrow appears on the center of the document that you can click-and-drag to determine the direction of the blur. 

Follow the direction where he is running towards, and for this image, I’ll place the center point around his chest. Then, place the tip of the arrow at the center point of the Radial Blur and double-click to end the path.

You can also create more arrows to make the impression of fast motion truly. Make sure that they all point towards the Radial Blur center for a more uniform, blurring direction. 

Then, set the Speed amount to how strong you want the blur to be. Once you’re done, press OK to apply the changes.

Apply a Layer Mask to Select Blur

Select the Barry Blur layer and hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you click on the New Layer Mask icon to create a black layer mask and hide everything in the layer.

Select the Brush tool and set white (#ffffff) as your Foreground color. Start painting around the subject to reveal the blur hidden by the Layer Mask. Strategically paint on parts of his body where there are movements such as his arm and legs.

To hide the blur effect, simply change the Foreground color to black (#ffffff).

You can also dictate how strong the blur appearance you want to reveal by adjusting the Opacity rate back on the Layers panel.

Placing the Subject in a Group

To organize your layers, select the Barry Blur and hold the Shift key as you click on the original Barry layer. Then, press Ctrl G (Windows) or Command G (macOS) to place them in one group and rename the group to “Flash.”

3 Ways to Create Lightning

There are three ways to recreate the Flash lightning in Photoshop.

In the film version of The Flash, starring Ezra Miller, an electric blue color represents his lightning. But for this tutorial, apply the DC series version, which is the yellow lightning. 

The fun part of applying lightning is that there are 3 ways to achieve them! 


Using a Photo

Open a photo of lightning and use the Move tool to drag it towards the working document’s tab and release the mouse to place it over the image.

On the Layers panel, change the Blending Mode of the Photo to Screen as this hides the dark pixels and only reveals the bright pixels, therefore, revealing the lightning.

Transform the lightning image by pressing Ctrl T (Windows) or Command T (macOS) to fix its placement on the document. If you can’t see the transformation handles, press Ctrl 0 (Windows) or Command 0 (macOS) to see the entire photo, and from there, you can click-and-drag the handles to scale the lightning.

If you want to highlight the lightning, then it’s necessary to hide the background by darkening it. To do that, go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and click on the dark pointer and drag it inwards to darken the dark pixels. 

You can also increase the intensity of the lightning by clicking the white pointer and dragging it inwards to brighten the bright pixels further.

Colorize your lightning by going to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation

Check the box for Colorize.

Then, adjust the Hue slider to change the color of the lightning, adjust the Saturation slider to determine the intensity of the color, and adjust the Lightness to dictate the luminosity of the color.

If you can still see the edges of the lightning photo, you can hide it by using the Burn tool to darken the pixels and hide them with the blending mode.


Creating a Lightning

You can’t recreate the Flash in Photoshop without its actual lightning.

If you want to start creating lightning from scratch, you can borrow the technique that a good friend, Bert Monroy, uses. 

Start by creating a new layer and going into the Gradient tool on your Toolbar. On your Options bar, select the Black to White gradient and also select the first icon.

Then, hover your mouse on the working document then click-and-drag to apply the gradient onto the new layer. 

Set white(#ffffff) as your Foreground color and black(#000000) as your Background color.

Go to Filter > Render > Difference Clouds.

At first glance, you have a blurry silhouette of lightning that you can reveal by pressing the Ctrl I (Windows) or Command I (macOS) key on your keyboard to Invert. 

That step reveals the lightning streak that we can enhance by going to Image > Adjustment > Levels. Click on the black pointer and drag it to the right to make the background completely pitch black and only leaving the lightning streak.

Back to your Layers panel, set the Blending Mode to Screen and adjust the placement of the lightning streak accordingly.

Add a twist to the technique by creating a New Layer and pressing Ctrl Alt 2 (Windows) or Command Option 2 (macOS) to load the bright pixels into a selection. 

Since white(#ffffff) is set as the Foreground color, press Alt Backspace (Windows) or Option Delete (macOS) to fill the whole selection with white. That means in the new layer, it only contains the lightning streak. 

Select Layer 1 and Press Ctrl D (Windows) or Command D (macOS) to deselect the selection. Then, press Ctrl Backspace (Windows) or Command Backspace (macOS) to fill the whole layer with the black(#000000) Background color.

Select Layer 2 and press Ctrl J (Windows) or Command J (macOS) to duplicate the layer. 

Select Layer 2 copy, and on the Options bar, check the box for Show Transformation Controls to see the transformation handles.

Then, click-and-drag on a handle to scale down the duplicate lightning and adjust its placement of the lightning to create forks into it.

Merge them all the lightning layers by pressing Ctrl E (Windows) or Command E (macOS) to apply transformations and adjustments to it as a whole group.

Colorize your lightning by going to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. 

Check the box for Colorize.

Then, adjust the Hue slider to change the color of the lightning, adjust the Saturation slider to determine the intensity of the color, and adjust the Lightness to dictate the luminosity of the color.

Then press OK to add the changes.

Another technique of colorizing your lightning streak is by applying the Outer Glow. Double-click on the side of the layer to bring out the Layer Style window. Then, check the box for Outer Glow

Click on the color thumbnail to bring out the Color Picker window and change the color of the lightning. Feel free to adjust the Structure and Elements to change the appearance of your lightning.


Create Lightning with Adobe After Effects

You can also use another application outside of Photoshop to create your lightning, and Adobe After Effects can do an excellent job. 

On Adobe After Effects, create a New Project and a New Composition

Right-click on the Render Queue > New > Solid and press OK to exit the Solid Settings window.

Next, go to Window > click on Effects & Presets to enable it.

When it is enabled, you will see it on the right side of the window and on the search bar, type “Lightning.”

Under the Synthetics folder, you can choose between Lightning – Horizontal and Lightning – Vertical and double-click on your chosen option to apply it on your solid color layer.

Choose Lightning – Horizontal, and it now appears with two points on each of its ends. 

Click-and-drag on a point to expand it, and it automatically creates several branches of the lightning streak. 

On the left side of the workspace shows the settings you can adjust and experiment. 

For example, set the Lightning Type to Direction. You can also change the color of the lightning under Core Settings

If you want to have multiple lightning streaks, adjust the percentage of Forking. Meanwhile, the Decay dictates how long the lightning streaks are. 

Since After Effects is a video application, you can see the animation of your lightning on the timeline. 

If you prefer multiple layers of the lightning, you can duplicate a lightning layer, play with the timelines to mismatch them, and 

To export this into Photoshop, go to Composition > Save Frame As > Photoshop Layers

Enter a name for your new Photoshop layer and click Save

Open the file in Photoshop. Since you created 3 layers in After Effects, it also opens in a new tab with 3 different layers of the lightning and select the Move tool to bring all of these layers into your working document and transform the layer to fix the layer’s placement in your composition.


Using Puppet Warp to Distort the Lightning

With the different techniques on how to apply lightning to your image finally shown, here are ways on how to distort them. 

The Puppet Warp tool comes in handy in distorting the lightning streak around the subject even though you may use the photo technique, the difference clouds, or creating a new layer in After Effects.

Go to Edit > Puppet Warp.

If you like working with a mesh, you can keep it. You can also disable it on the Options bar and unchecking the box for Show Mesh

Click on different parts of the lightning to add the pins from which you can anchor and transform the lightning. 

Click-and-drag on these pins to distort the lightning around the subject.

If you hold Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) as you click-and-drag on the pins, it rotates the lightning.

With the lightning layer selected, click on the New Layer Mask icon to create a layer mask.

Select the Brush tool and set Foreground color to black(#000000) and brush areas of the lightning to hide them and create a “source” of a lightning streak.

To add glow to the lightning, double-click on the side of the layer to bring out the Layer Style window. 

Check the box for Outer Glow and adjust the properties of the Structure, Elements, and Quality to achieve unique effects to the added glow of the lightning.

Keep on adding each of the lightning layers to the working document and repeat the process above. You can also make it look realistic by creating a variation to the effects.

Additional Enhancements

Another exciting enhancement you can add to the composite is a source of the glow to his body. Use the Brush tool and set the Hardness to 0% to achieve very soft edges. 

Double-click on the side of the layer to bring out the Layer Style window. On the Blending Options, set the Blending Mode to Color Dodge.

Under Advanced Blending, uncheck the box for Transparency Shapes Layer to reveal an electrical zap effect.

If you want to adjust the intensity of the glow, refrain from adjusting the Opacity value. Instead, adjust the Fill Opacity value and notice how authentic-looking the lightning shines on the Flash’s suit. 

To add an overall glow, double-click on the side of the Flash folder to bring out the Layer Style window and apply the layer style to the entire group. 

Check the box for Outer Glow and play around with the properties of the Structure, Elements, and Quality.

You can also brighten the subject by checking the box for Inner Glow and experiment with its opacity, noise, and blending mode. 

Merging All the Layers

Along the way of adding more lightning streaks in the composite, a rim light effect was added. It is a technique emulated from a friend, Lisa Carney, who creates movie posters for Hollywood’s biggest films.

With all these additional layers, edit them in a single layer.

Select all the layers and press Ctrl Alt Shift E (Windows) or Command Option Shift E (macOS) to merge all layers.

Now that you have everything in a single layer, rename this to “Final Image.”

Right-click on the layer and select Convert to Smart Object.

Then, you can go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter to add enhancements to the image.


That is how you recreate the Flash running lightning in Photoshop using a Flash toy photo and creating your own lightning!

Final Image

Drag The Slider To See Before & After

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Joel Rogde

You are amazing! Such a wonderful teacher and I just love your Youtube channel.