The tutorials google finds are starting, not ending points.

Tonight I wanted to make lightning in Photoshop.  No big deal, right?  There are only half a dozen tutorials like this one already out there giving you the basics on how to do just that, and get more than adequate results.

Looking at that tutorial though, there are a couple of things which still limit your use of the technique.  For one, and more easily addressed, you can improve results and get them faster by tightening the limits of the solid black and white areas when applying the gradient in that step.  Less clean up time all-around, and that  means more time for other things.  But the bigger hold-back is that the technique uses gradients to generate the boundary that ends up forming the path for the lightning and  that means you’re going to be stuck with the relatively few and simplistic gradient options, none of which really gives us that random, zig-zag path that we’re all familiar with and identify with lightning.  The best offered is a straight-line gradient.

We can do this better.

Stop.  Now let’s think outside the box for a moment.  The filter that is responsible for turning the gradient into lightning is the “difference clouds” filter, according to all of those tutorials, right?  And what exactly is the difference cloud filter responding to?  The perimeter of the fuzzy zone that gradients create.  But there are numerous other ways to create that effect, like for example:

Creating a black shape layer...

Rasterizing it, applying a guassian blur filter....

Merging it with the white layer below, and then following the remainder of the tutorial as is...

Much better.

The point here isn’t just to show you a way to make your Photoshop lightning better (though if you found this blog because you were searching for it, well it’s your lucky day too!), but to illustrate why it’s important not to simply take your Google searches for granted.  Yes there are plenty of answers from people who have already tackled the question you’re seeking the answer too, and they may be enough by themselves.  But you can add to the chain of useful information instead of just receiving from it.  Remain inquisitive.  Never stop asking how something might be improved.  Don’t think in terms of following rote instruction, but rather examine the process behind it, much like it’s the mission of this blog to do.

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