Create a Colorful Space Scene in Photoshop

I recently watched “Moon” and although I didn’t like it that much it inspired me to create a space scene. In this tutorial we’ll create a colorful illustration that includes the Earth, the Moon, a starry sky and some beautiful light effects.

Final result

Here’s the finished illustration. You’re on the moon, or orbiting it, and you get a glimpse of Earth, our pale blue dot. Whatever those light beams are they’re begging for some spaceship to be placed right among them. It was only fitting that I’d put the awesome space rocket from my own tutorial.
Space scene final

Soundtrack: Space: 1999 Black Sun

To put you in the right mood for this tutorial I’ve uploaded a moody, relaxing space theme from the cult TV show Space: 1999 called “Black Sun”.
Put your headphones on for maximum effect:

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Step 1: The backdrop

Create a new RGB document and make the canvas square, I used 500 pixels on each side. Fill the canvas with an intense blue gradient (1a). Add variation with darker and lighter brush strokes (1b) then introduce new colors like purple and light blue to create depth. Leave a lighter aura at the bottom right corner (1c).

Step 2: The Moon

Create the Moon by selecting a light blue color (2a) and creating a large circle. Place it at the bottom right corner so it matches the aura you painted in the previous step (2b). Add a blue gradient (2c) to darken the side facing us (2d).

Step 3: The Earth

Grab a picture of the Earth seen from space, like this one from Stock.Xchng.
Make a selection with the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) (3a) and hit Command+J to create a new layer from it (3b). Place the planet into our scene at the top left corner. Scale it down as needed (3c). Let’s take a look at our layers to see what we have so far (3d).

Step 4: Adjust the Earth’s colors

Grab a strong blue (4a) and paint the Earth with a light brush using transparency (4b). Add a few layer styles (4c, 4d) and use a Curves adjustment layer (4e) to enhance the planet (4f).

Step 5: The sunburst

Let’s create a sunburst to place behind the Earth.
Create a new document, 300×300 pixels and Paint a vertical gradient from white to blue (5a) then go to Filter > Distort > Wave. Refer to image 5b for the settings. The filter produces vertical bands (5c). Go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates (5d) and voilà, a nice sunburst (5e).

Step 6: The light rays

Place the sunburst in the space scene (6a) and get rid of the white rays with the Magic Wand (W) and the goold old Delete (6b). Move the sunburst behind the sun and scale it down. Set the blending mode to Linear Dodge (6c) then erase the hard edges with a soft brush tip (6d).

Apply a Motion Blur filter (from Filter > Blur) (6e) to stretch the rays towards the moon (6f). Apply some Outer Glow (6g), fade the rays where they meet the moon and finally duplicate them to increase their impact (6h).

Step 7: The stars

Hit B to select the Brush Tool and F5 to open the Brushes palette. Select a 5px soft brush and set the spacing to 500% to change the solid stroke into a series of dots (7a). Turn on Size Jitter to vary the diameter of the dots randomly (7b). Enable Scattering (7c) and Opacity Jitter (7d). I’m using a tablet so I set it to Pen Pressure. Alternately you can set it to Off and increase the value to about 50%.

The following images show how you can build a convincing starry sky by painting on different layers, changing the size of the brush and the opacity. In the last image you can see star clusters with an outer glow to suggest the presence of nebulas and galaxies.

Step 8: The Moon’s craters

Create a bunch of dark beige ellipses on the surface of the moon, varying their diameter wildly but moving them closer together as they approach the moon’s outer edge to simulate perspective (8a). Merge the craters together and use the Dodge Tool (O) to brighten the farthest craters (distant objects are always brighter) (8b). Working on the moon layer paint shadows behind the craters so they look raised from the surface (8c). To finish brighten the bottom edge and darken the inside of the crater for better depth (8d). The moon is finished (8e).

Step 9: Color adjustments

Adjust the moon until it’s blue-green using an Adjustment Layer (Hue/Saturation or Color Balance) (9a). Add a Selective Color adjustment layer to the light rays (9b) to make them greener (9c) then using Curves (9d) to enhance the sky’s contrast (9e).

Step 10: Completion

With the same brush we used to create the stars paint some dirt on the moon (10a). The illustration is almost finished (10b): we need to add our favorite space rocket (10c).

I hope you had fun doing this tutorial and learned some cool tricks. With these techniques you can create an infinite number of space scenes, I’d love to see what you come up with.
As always tweet and share the post if you enjoyed it and please comment, I love getting feedback from you.

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