Photoshop tutorial: Create dynamic art using glows and lighting effects

Kervin Brisseaux gives a sports illustration a futuristic sci-fi look


In this tutorial, New York-based illustrator Kervin Brisseaux shares his techniques to create a super-powered athlete within an atmosphere that draws on the traditions of sci-fi art, as well as religious iconography such as stained glass windows. 

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Some of the key techniques we will be using include adjustment layers, blending modes, and even Illustrator to create some key elements (though it’s possible to follow this without using Illustrator). Feel free to be experimental with your colour values and hues to amplify the overall mood and depth of the piece. 

Kervin has kindly provided both an Illustrator file of radial lines and a layered version of the final artwork. This is for your reference only and shouldn’t be used in any other way. You can find these in this tutorial’s project files on our website.

Time to complete 

3 hours


Photoshop, Illustrator


Download the resources for this tutorial here.

Step 1


First, get a stock photo of a high jumper going over a bar. You’ll need to cut her out. I find Illustrator’s Pen tool (P) is much better than Photoshop for cutting out photos, so use this if you have it. 

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Use the Pen tool to put a path around her. Only roughly round the hair in a block for now. We will refine that in Photoshop.

If you don’t have Illustrator, just cut her out in Photoshop as normal and skip to Step 3.

Step 2


Copy and paste the athlete into Photoshop. Cmd/Ctrl + click on the photo layer to create a marquee selection around her. With the Quick Selection tool (W), Alt + click to refine the selection around the hair. 

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Step 3


With the marquee selection still around the athlete, create a layer mask. Select the mask in your layers and press Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + R to bring up the Refine Mask menu. Adjust each of the settings until you’re happy. 

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Step 4


Select a white brush and use your layer mask to remove some of the soft edges around the athlete. Don’t pull it in too tight though, otherwise it will be obvious that your photo has been cropped. 

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Next, use the Clone Stamp (S) to remove the bar and its shadow on the athlete’s hips and legs.

Step 5


Open the Adjustments panel and add a Gradient Map adjustment layer to apply a black-and-white gradient map. Press Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + G to apply a clipping mask to it based on the photo below it in the layer stack. 

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Step 6


Before you start adding details, it’s very important to determine the mood of the piece. Once you’ve established this, all the other elements will only help accentuate what’s already there. 

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To do this, first create a Gradient fill layer above the background, using a Radial gradient as shown. Next, add a Levels adjustment layer with a clipping mask to the athlete layer, to accentuate the shadows on her.

Step 7


Now that you’ve established some atmosphere, it’s time to add some colour. Double-click on the Gradient icon on the Gradient Fill layer, and click on the Gradient Editor. Use the sliders to add some different hues. 

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Add some Gradient Map adjustment layers and Solid Color fill layers to the photo to create some complementary hues, using a blending mode of Color so only the athlete’s hue is adjusted.

Step 8


Create some thin, angled gradients using thin and largely transparent Gradient fill layers like those shown here. This should create a kind of beam that zooms into infinity. If necessary, use a layer mask with a black brush to mask some parts of the photo.

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Step 9


It’s now time to indicate some movement, so add some Radial Gradients and mask the superfluous parts.

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Step 10


Add some glows, sparkles and other details around the athlete. First, draw round the outline of your high jumper – including the outlines of her limbs, clothes and clothing detail – with a thin white brush. Then rough out some sparkles. Next, apply an Outer Glow layer style from the bottom of the Layers panel. 

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Step 11


Next, go into Illustrator and create a series of radial lines (if you don’t have Illustrator, go to Step 12 and use from the project files).

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To do this, use the Line tool (/) to create a cross. Select both lines, right-click and go to Transform > Rotate. Set your angle to 45° and click Copy. Repeat this step and rotate by 22.5°, 11.25°, 6.25°, and so on. Make sure you reselect your original lines each time you rotate. 

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Step 12


Copy and paste the radial lines and place them to your liking (or import Add a layer mask, then Outer Glow and Color Overlay layer styles to create shimmery pink lines. Remove parts of the lines with a black brush on the layer mask. Repeat this using different a yellow Color Overlay style to enhance the effect.

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Step 13


Now we are going to add a simple star field. Select a hard brush and create some dots on your canvas in a new layer. Once you have a decent amount start duplicating, scaling, rotating and applying different levels of opacity to cover most of the canvas in a way that’s visually interesting.

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Step 14


With your brush tool, create some more details to accentuate movement and atmosphere. Use Adjustment Layers such as Color Balance to tweak your hues.

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Step 15


Save your creation as a Jpg. Open the file and Apply some light noise. This makes the project feel a little less ‘digital’ by giving the whole image some extra texture. 

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