photoshop creative

How to create amazing light trails in Photoshop

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by The Photoshop Creative Team
February 4, 2014

Light trails can be easily created with paths and outer glows. Here we used light trails on a highway shot to mimic a long exposure effect

Start with Levels to darken the scene. Make a duplicate and apply a 70-pixel Motion Blur at a 35-degree angle.

Add a layer mask and fill it with black, then selectively apply using white and a soft brush.

Duplicate the background again and use a similar process, this time applying a 12-pixel Gaussian Blur to obscure the landscape.

Set the Brush to 3px Diameter, 100% Hardness, and 100% Opacity. Using the Pen tool, create a path for the first white light trail, naming it in the Paths palette to save it.

Make a corresponding layer, set the foreground colour to white, and then click ‘Stroke path with brush’ at the bottom of the Paths palette. Finally, apply a white Outer Glow to complete the trail.

Create the other light trails using the same steps, making each with a new path on separate layers. For the red lights, set the foreground colour and Outer Glow to red.

To introduce some yellow, add a yellow Fill layer set to Overlay, filled its mask with black, then selectively apply with white. A Vibrance adjustment layer can help make the colours pop.

  • Jeff

    Selectively apply? Please expound.

  • 70-pixel Motion Blur ? please, i do’nt understand ? it’s u brush ? ty vm

  • socialblogsite

    It’s good you explain why you need and how to use every effect/trick, but the angle and brush-size, or pixel radius or colors… those are specific for THIS photo. Following your directions for any other photo other than this would be a waste of time.
    Remember to either describe why, or using relative sizes, e.g. “a brush twice as wide as this or that”.
    I understad “selectively apply” (maybe because I speak another language and my understanding skills are wider than americans – which shuts down when something is not worded the way they expect it) but you should try to avoid using book lingo (that sounds like the way the user’s manual describes a layer mask: i.e. “…to selectively apply the layer’s content…”) if you learned it in another language, because book translations have lots of errors and are not really translated by an expert in the subject (so the translator makes up the terms, resulting in something hard to understand by those in the field)