Create a Realistic Outer Space Scene in Photoshop

In this tutorial you’ll learn how to create a realistic looking outer space image with your own home made galaxy. Without using any stock photos or any material at all besides Photoshopís filters, effects, and blending modes you will create a vibrant and lifelike creation you can use for numerous applications. Let’s begin!

Step 1:

Create a new document, this one was done at 1280p x 800p. Start by adding a subtle Circular Gradient for the Background. Keep in mind that wherever you place the center of the Gradient will be the center of your design (Note: When making things in outer space I always fade to absolute black in the background, after all it is outer space right?). For mine I used a dark grey color for the center and black for the outer color. I then placed it in the bottom right corner of the image.


Step 2:

Create a new layer. Make sure your foreground/background are set to black/white. Go to Filter>Render>Clouds. Now to add some color! On the new cloud layer you created go to the layer styles dialogue box. Select Gradient Overlay, when in the Gradient Overlay settings choose a colorful gradient that you enjoy. Next put a slight angle on the gradient effect, I used 100º for mine and scaled it slightly to taste. Though the scaling is not necessary you’ll find it fun to mess with later in this project. The last but most crucial part of this step is to set the blending mode within the gradient overlay settings to Overlay. After this last part you should see that we basically “colored” the clouds with a gradient, while preserving their texture.


Step 3:

In the Layers Palette make sure you have the Cloud Layer still selected. Set the Blending Mode at the top of the Layers Palette to Overlay. This will drastically darken your image but fear not, we’re not even close to done yet.


Step 4:

Duplicate the Cloud Layer you made in Step 2. Bring up the Layer Styles Dialogue Box and in the Gradient Overlay settings of the your copied cloud layer set the angle to something different, I used -140º for mine. What this does it divide the color a little more unevenly so the colors aren’t just divided into straight lines which will make our galaxy look authentic.


Step 5:

Now we’ll create some space dust. On a new layer, fill the entire image with black. Select Filter>Noise>Add Noise. In the Add Noise Dialogue Box choose something between 12% and 17% and make sure that Distribution is set to Gaussian, also select Monochromatic. If it’s not dusty enough for you at this point, bring up the Level Adjustment Dialogue Box and play with the settings until you achieve the dust effect you desire. Set this layers Blending Mode to Color Dodge.



Step 6:

This step is similar to the last one, yet in this one we’re making distant stars as apposed to dust. Follow Step 5 just as you had before, but this time add more Noise and mess with the Levels a lot. I used 115, 1.00, 150 for the setting on my own levels adjustments. Set this layers Blending Mode to Color Dodge.


Step 7:

In this step use a hard edged brush and erase away the stars in the darker areas of the image. Don’t be too uniform though because weíre trying to maintain the randomness and authenticity of the galaxy. You can also take this time to clear away any cloudy areas you may not desire in you image.


Step 8:

On a new layer, create some clouds like we did in Step 2 but without any color or layer styles. Set this layers Blending Mode to Color Dodge. This should intensify the colors and light of your galaxy and you should see it taking form. You can repeat this layer to furthermore intensify the effect if you want. Feel free to trim up this layer as desired. But only in the spots where you want more black void and less galactic dust!



Step 9:

Find a somewhat brightened spot in your galaxy. I usually aim for where I think the center or “sun” of the galaxy will be. Create a new layer, fill it with black, adjust the opacity to you can see through to the galaxy, mark a tiny white spot where you want your sun to originate, create a lens flare centered on this white spot. For galaxies I always use the 105mm Type of Lens Flare because it looks more white than the others, and looks more realistic in an outer space image. A key element to this is setting the Layers Blending Mode to Linear Dodge. This will make our flare dazzle up our image very nicely. Place this Layer right underneath the Cloud Layer you made in Step 8.


Step 10:

Now we’ll create some real stars. In another image on a black background add a tiny Lens Flare. Make it the size of the largest star that you want. Set this layers Blending Mode to Screen. Duplicate the layer and scale it a down a little. Repeat this process a few times scattering different sized stars around your new image. Try and keep the ratios of stars natural, make lots of small stars and only a few big ones. As the size decreases the amount of them should increase. Merge all the layers, then duplicate that layer. Set it’s Blending Mode to Screen. Now scale and rotate it to make it less similar then the copy. Merge Layers. Now you have made some stars!


Step 11:

Copy this stars image to your galaxy and set it’s Blending Mode to Linear Dodge, this will make them glow.  Move the image around a little until it suits your eye. You can add more stars or less depending on how complex you want it to be. Feel free to trim it up a bit in the areas you don’t want stars to appear.


Step 12:

At this point the galaxy is done. You can now add your own touches to make it unique! Enjoy!


Final Image:


Written by Alec Schmidt

Alec Schmidt is a 22-year-old graphic designer from Arizona. He loves typography, color, creativity and also has a real passion for retro graphics. You can follow Alec on Twitter: @anepic.

Join the Discussion:

66 Awesome Responses so far
  1. @ALan, if your Lens Flare cant be used, if you’re working in CMYK you need to change it to RGB. if thats not what you mean… my bad haha.

    @MapieH, you might need to change your document to an 8/bit file.. that might help?

    Great tutorial, thank you. 🙂

  2. Just wanted to say that this tutorial is wonderful. It provides enough information to get stunning results if you follow it to the letter, but by messing with the “gradient” layer I’ve made some really incredible nebula dragons. They’re not the most amazing artwork out there, but I am quite happy with out they turn out. You did a very, very good job outlining the different ways this works, leaving plenty of room for creativity. Thank you, and well done!

  3. Every time i put my clouds to the overlay, they only reach out to the edge of the circle we made, any tips?

  4. Thank you so very much for this tutorial, it has helped me a lot and the result is amazing! Really, thank you a lot!

  5. Oscar Contreras March 13th, 2012

    Hello, this tut is great!. Can I traslate to spanish and upload on other website?

  6. I like this Realistic Outer Space Scene in Photoshop tutorial thank you very much .

  7. hi there.. uhm.. that galaxy thing is aswesome how do u that

  8. Piper Grace April 4th, 2013

    This is amazing! Thank you so much! I am a bit confused about the noise for the stars in step 6. When I try to use the zoom tool, or try to save the image as a JPEG or anything other than a Photoshop image, the noise kind of covers up the whole picture, instead of looking like stars in the background. I’m not sure why this happens, usually Photoshop works for me without any problems :P.

  9. A very nice tutorial with a beautiful result.

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