How to Digitally Illustrate a Camera with Light Streaks

Without a doubt, digital illustration and art is a big part of any Photoshop oriented community. A great way to get started on that road is to create as much as possible using Photoshop’s unique tools. Let’s make good use of them and learn one way of featuring a digital camera with glowing beams of light.


Can you tell the difference between an artist and a designer? Of course you can! And you may even understand the difference between a designer and this new breed of photoshopper. Amazingly, Photoshop has created a whole new creative field – one in which you can use your artistic talent, designer mindset and PS skills for creating professional, commissioned work.
Some of today’s top designers are being asked to create designs based on their personal art and experiments. The truth is that if you identify your own style and polish your techniques, people will do more than appreciate it. They’ll pay for it. I can’t say that I’m at that stage, rather far from it, but I do know that I’m doing my best to get there. And the only way to get to that certain point is to push yourself to new boundaries and find original solutions.
That’s why I love interviews! They not only provide a great source of inspiration, but they also prove that becoming an amazing artist consists in a process. It’s like climbing a mountain; you may want to get to the top, but you can’t skip the climb, nor possibly ignore ways of making the whole trip a better experience. You learn valuable lessons along the way, so why not take the time to study new techniques and apply them in a new and unique style that represents you? Make the best use of Psdtuts+ tutorials by giving them a twist, and don’t only ask yourself ‘what’s in it for me?’ The accumulated knowledge and fresh experience will help enough to make it worth your time. It’s an investment that gives back.


Getting back on track, allow me to share the point of this design. I wanted to create a digital illustration of a real product, in this case a digital camera. It’s basically a personal exercise in using a lot of what Photoshop can do. Here is my thought process in creating this piece:
I analyzed the style of the product. The camera is sleek, dark, shiny and reflective. It also has a very limited color scheme, and it gives a great importance to function. There are no sharp edges, so the camera is comfortable while being held and used for potentially long periods of time. I decided that my illustration should be predominantly dark, but in need of an agent that would create interest and add contrast to the image. That agent would become light painting, a new and exciting style that people are experimenting with around the world. I thought of this because light paintings are normally made using cameras set on low shutter speed. That’s how I would make the piece artistic- by using traveling beams of light. These beams should also be curved, something that harmonizes with the ergonomics of the camera.

Final Image Preview

Video Tutorial

Our video editor Gavin Steele has created this video tutorial to compliment this text + image tutorial.

Step 1

Open a new Photoshop document, 2200 px by 1700 px in size, and at 300 ppi. Create a radial gradient (G) from the center using a dark cyan (203534) as the foreground color and black as the background color.

Step 2

Now you’ll need a digital camera to feature, so get this photo. Cut it out using the Pen Tool (P) and place it in the center of the canvas.
Note: You need to make sure that the orientation of the camera will remain the same from start to finnish. You can’t flip it, because all cameras are made to be held in only one way, with specific buttons on designated sides. And there is some text on the lens too that will obviously look funny.

Step 3

Select the digital camera layer and go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. Add the same colors as the background, but add white at the end and an extra color: f4d597. Make this Adjustment Layer a Clipping Mask by holding Alt and clicking in between the two layers.

Step 4

Now we’re going to begin the more tedious part. Make a new layer underneath the camera’s layer to accommodate them. To create the lines we’ll use the Pen Tool (P), but before we actually stroke the paths we’ll format the brush settings (B). Chose an appropriate width for the first stroke and color (e66663). While in Path Mode, draw a path with the Pen Tool (P) in the desired direction, Right-click and select Stroke Path. Make sure the Simulate Pressure box is unchecked. Once you’ve stroked the first line, transform (Command + T) the path and change it slightly by rotating or skewing it. Then just stroke it again with a subtle difference in width. Repeat the process.
Note: Make new layers for each group of colors and keep the lines relatively close to each other. You’ll also need to picture the general layout of the lines you are about to create. So take the time to imagine where they should be first of all.
Also, there’s no magic trick to getting this done, at least not one that I’m aware of. Yes, you will have to create many of the lines individually… Don’t forget to alter the brush settings for each, or at least every third or fourth.

Step 5

Change your brush preset to Calligraphic Brushes. You can find them by clicking the small arrow in your brush settings. Chose the one shown below. Create a few more prominent ones, as well as smaller ones with variation in color intensity.
Note: These are the only two brushes we’ll use throughout the design. Use the Calligraphic Brush for thicker and larger strokes, and the rounded brush for smaller and thinner lines.

Step 6

Create more thick lines. It’s easiest to create about four or five, and just duplicate them (Command + J).

Step 7

Continue creating some more thin ones, but that break the typical pattern. You can do this by repositioning the ends, and by making sure that they end inside the canvas area. Also, use the Smudge Tool (R) to smear some of the ends and sides of the lines. Don’t overdo it, though.

Step 8

Add some more thin lines near the background, also by using the actual background colors.

Step 9

Now that you’ve grouped the strokes in separate layers, select similar lines and duplicate them. If this consists in more than one layer, Merge them (Command + E). After you’ve duplicated them, go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. Add a value of about 30 pixels. This amount should vary, according to where the lines are positioned. Don’t smear the whole collection, just alter it slightly and position it under the current strokes.

Step 10

Repeat the process to some other groups. Create smaller groups as well, and keep their layer above all others. Set these layers’ blending mode to Lighter Color, and alter the opacity. You may need to cut back on it a little, so that the lines don’t become too smeared.
Note: Some of the thinner lines may look better by adding a Lens Blur instead. Add a subtle one to these by going to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur.

Step 11

The next thing that we’ll do is add a Lens Blur only to portions of certain lines. Make a layer above the camera and draw some more lines. Enter Quick Mask Mode and create a black to white Gradient (G). The red portion will remain untouched, while the empty region will be blurred. Make sure that the empty region is generally smaller. Then just go to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur, and add a blur with about 10 pixels in value. Below is an example of how to do this.

Step 13

Again above the camera layer, create some more lines, and don’t forget to add a duplicated version with a Lens Blur. Since this one is above, I added a more prominent blur, with a higher value.

Step 14

Duplicate these lines and reposition them by rotation. I also added a couple more blurred versions of these lines on top. Feel free to erase portions that become too obvious.

Step 15

Now use a two pixel sized round brush and create small lines that follow the general pattern of the existing lines. You can use a mouse to do these, or pen tablet.

Step 16

Well, I could pretend that everything went according to plan, but it didn’t… It’s a bit too messy now. Aren’t you glad you made individual layers for groups? It’s time to clean up the image by hiding some unnecessary layers.

Step 17

Better, isn’t it? It’s a good time to add the flash too. Just paint a regular soft circle with a light yellow, and skew it (Command + T). You’ll get an elongated light. Play around with the opacity too, so that it does not become bothering. Position it on top of the camera’s flash unit.

Step 18

We’ll now add a Lens Flare, but in order to make sure it’s very subtle, we’ll create it in a new document that is considerably larger. I say larger because, that will make it easier for you to decide how to position it on top of the camera. Then just drag it into your main project file and resize it.

Step 19

And here it is, positioned and modified. In order to limit its colors, I created a Gradient Map. Just as you controlled the colors of the camera, do the same to the lens flare: add an Adjustment Layer, specify a similar color scheme and make it a clipping mask for the lens flare. Also, set the flare’s Blending Mode to Screen and Opacity to 80%.

Step 20

Naturally, all these lights will glow. Get a soft Brush (B) and paint underneath groups of lines. I’ve isolated them, in order to make them easier to spot.

Step 21

To complete the next step, you’ll need to grab this photo. I scaled it down and Clone Pasted (S) portions of it.

Step 22

Now set the layer’s Blending Mode to Screen and erase (E) the middle part that covers the camera.

Step 23

Enter Quick Mask Mode (Q), drag a Reflected Linear Gradient (Black and White) from the center-out, and exit (Q). You should have the extremities selected. Blur them out by going to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur. Depending on how much you have selected, adjust the strength.

Step 24

And to finish editing the stars, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map and create a similar color scheme.

Step 25

Let’s adjust the contrast and saturation. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves to increase the contrast and Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue & Saturation to cut back on the color intensity.

Step 26

In this step, we’ll add an effect that will not only give the lines a more intense glow and 3D look, but that will also cast light on the camera edges.
Flatten the project (Command + Shift + E), select the entire canvas (Command + A) and copy it (Command + C). Check your History Panel and go back a few steps, right before merging all the layers. Paste (Command + V) the flattened image, and go to Filter > Stylize > Glowing Edges. Use the standard settings as a reference, but increase the Smoothness by a couple of points. Apply the effect.

Step 27

Set the layer’s blending mode to Screen. You’ll notice how all the edges are now highlighted.


Well, that’s enough path stroking, line blurring and light casting for now… Hopefully you’ll find this technique useful and applicable to your projects. Have a great day! You can view the final image below or view a larger version here.

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