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How To Add A Digital Rainbow With Photoshop

How to use the gradient tool to add a digital rainbow to shots in Photoshop.

|  Adobe Photoshop
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Words and Pictures Peter Bargh of ePHOTOzine

Article updated May 2012.

Choose a landscape photograph with a moody sky. In this photograph of Trethevy Quoit I first added a grey gradient to darken the clouds.

Trethevy Quoit

Step 1: Open Your Photo

Open the photo and create a new layer: Layer>New>Layer (Shift+ctrl+N). You can rename the layer if you wish to.


Step 2: Select The Gradient Tool

Select the Gradient tool (shortcut key G) and click on the Transparent Rainbow gradient and the Radial gradient option.

Step 3: Edit The Gradient

Now we need to edit the gradient to give us a thin rainbow. Click on the rainbow in the tool bar. This opens up the edit box. Click on the small green marker on the gradient scale.

Set the location to 50%. Then click on each of the markers to the left and set each one at a single percentage smaller. So yellow on 49%, Red on 48%, Black (above scale) set to 48% too, Grey 47%, white 46%. On the other side set light blue to 51%, dark blue to 52%, pink to 53%, Black (above scale) set to 53% too, Grey 54%, White 55%. You should now have a gradient pattern looking like this.

Give it a name, I called mine Pete's Rainbow, and click New and it will appear at the end of the presets. Then click OK to close the window.

Create A Gradient

Step 4: Shrink The Photo

Make the photo small in the window (Ctrl + minus key) and make sure the new blank layer is selected.

Step 5: Create The Gradient

ReverseWith the gradient tool still selected, check that reverse is ticked as we need to flip the colours of the rainbow then click and hold down on the mouse outside the photo area and drag to a lower position and let go. Use the screen grab as a starting point. The idea is to end up with a semi circle rainbow over the photo. You may need to do this a few times until it looks right.

Create A Rainbow

Step 6: Move The Rainbow

Use the Move tool to reposition the rainbow so the bottoms are on the horizon. You can also Use The Free Transform tool to adjust the size of the rainbow. 

Step 7: Add Blur

Add a Gaussian blur filter Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and set the pixel radius as high as you can before the colours start to merge into one. About 70 pixels should be okay.

Add Blur

Step 8: Adjust The Rainbow's Size

At this point your rainbow should be starting to look realistic. You may want to repeat the process with a slightly different gradient, buy going back and giving more space to certain colours at the gradient edit step 3. If you're happy you can use the transform tool to pull the rainbow to exactly where you want it to start and end. Edit >Transform>Distort. Click on the lower markers at the edge of the fram and pull the rainbow into position. I stretched both the left and right to take the rainbow into a better position.

Transform the rainbow layer

Step 9: Add A Layer Mask And Tidy Up The Shot

Last thing to do is tidy up the shot. Add a Layer mask on the rainbow layer and erase areas where the rainbow looks unnatural. On my shot it's where it goes over the quoit and trees. The Brush tool can be set to black or white to paint back or remove the mask. You may also want to lower the opacity of the layer. I set mine to 25% to make it look more blended into the clouds.

Layer Mask

Step 10: Save The Image

When you're happy either save the file as a PSD so you can work more on it in the future or flatten and save as a jpg for upload to your web page or printing out.

Image with a rainbow

Words and Pictures Peter Bargh of ePHOTOzine

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mcgovernjon 12 138 United Kingdom
26 Jan 2010 9:46PM
Looks pretty realistic, I'll have to try that.
User_Removed 18 2.8k 11 United Kingdom
24 May 2012 9:22PM
You're having a laugh.
You'll be designing images from the arm chair next.
Why take up photography if you're going to make it up as you go along?
Pete Plus
19 18.8k 97 England
25 May 2012 9:37AM

Quote:Why take up photography if you're going to make it up as you go along?

Image creation is an active part of digital photography.
pulsar69 16 1.6k 6 United Kingdom
28 May 2012 11:05AM

Quote:You're having a laugh.
You'll be designing images from the arm chair next.
Why take up photography if you're going to make it up as you go along?

A quick look in your PF Laurel at your use of Colour-Popping and I wonder why you ask , scenes dont appear naturally in black and white with red phone boxes do they ?

I think this is a great tutorial and will be trying it out myself , another tool for the box as they say ...

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