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Dancing In The Stars Effect With Photoshop

Written by Steve Patterson. Every month, we receive email from photographers asking for more creative ideas for displaying a client’s wedding or engagement photos, similar to our popular Blend Photos Like A Hollywood Movie Poster and Wedding Couple In A Wine Glass tutorials. The other night, I was sitting outside staring up into space, hoping for a glimpse of the annual Perseid meteor shower, when the thought hit me – what if the wedding couple was up there dancing in the stars? Well, so much for the meteor shower (there’s always next year, right?) as I raced back inside to play around in Photoshop and see where the idea would take me. Not surprisingly, creating this "dancing in the stars" effect (no relation to a certain tv show with a similar name) is very simple. In fact, a few of the steps are borrowed from our previous Create A Starry Night Sky tutorial, so if you’ve worked through that one, some of this will already be familiar to you.

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To create this effect, you’ll need a photo of two people dancing close together, preferably a bride and groom but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I’ll be using Photoshop CS5 throughout the tutorial but any recent version will do. Here’s the final result we’ll be working towards:

Photoshop Dancing In The Stars Effect. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The final effect.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Create A New Document

To begin, create a new document for the effect by going up to the File menu in the Menu Bar at the top of the screen and choosing New, or press Ctrl+N (Win) / Command+N (Mac) to access the command with the keyboard shortcut:

Go to File > New. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to File > New.

This opens Photoshop’s New Document dialog box. I’ll enter a standard photo frame size of 8 inches for the Width and 10 inches for the Height (the size you need may be different), and since I’ll want to print the final result, I’ll enter a Resolution value of 240 pixels/inch. At the top of the dialog box is an option for giving the new document a name. Normally, I don’t bother naming documents until I go to save them later, but to make things easier for this tutorial, name your document “Dancing In The Stars” (or something similar). Click OK when you’re done to exit out of the dialog box. Your new document will appear on the screen:

The New Document dialog box in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The New Document dialog box.

Step 2: Fill The New Document With Black

Press the letter D on your keyboard to quickly reset Photoshop’s Foreground and Background colors to their defaults, if necessary, which sets your Foreground color to black. Then press Alt+Backspace (Win) / Option+Delete (Mac) to fill the new document with the current Foreground color (black):

The new document is now filled with black. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The document after filling it with black.

Step 3: Add Noise

Let’s create some stars. Go up to the Filter menu, choose Noise, then choose Add Noise:

Selecting the Add Noise filter in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

When the Add Noise dialog box appears, increase the Amount to around 120% or so by dragging the slider towards the right. Make sure the Gaussian and Monochromatic options are selected at the bottom of the dialog box:

The Add Noise filter dialog box in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Add Noise filter’s dialog box.

Click OK when you’re done to exit out of it. Your document should now be filled with lots of noise:

The Photoshop document is filled with noise. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The document after applying the Add Noise filter.

Step 4: Apply The Gaussian Blur Filter

Go back up to the Filter menu and this time choose Blur, then choose Gaussian Blur:

Selecting the Gaussian Blur filter in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

When the Gaussian Blur dialog box appears, enter a Radius value of about 0.3 pixels, just enough to clump some of the noise together. Click OK when you’re done to exit out of the dialog box:

Photoshop Gaussian Blur filter. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Gaussian Blur dialog box.

Step 5: Apply A Levels Image Adjustment

Go up to the Image menu, choose Adjustments, and then choose Levels, or press Ctrl+L (Win) / Command+L (Mac) to access Levels with the keyboard shortcut:

Selecting a Levels image adjustment in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels.

Directly below the histogram (the area that looks like a black mountain) in the Levels dialog box are three small sliders – a black one on the far left, a white one on the far right and a gray one in the middle. Click on the black slider and drag it towards the right. As you drag the slider, you’ll see more and more of the white noise disappearing in the document. The remaining white specks become our stars. Drag the black slider as far to the right as needed until you’re happy with the number of stars in the image:

Dragging the black slider in the Levels options in the Adjustments Panel in Photoshop CS5. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Drag the black slider towards the right to reduce noise and create the stars.

To brighten the stars, click on the white slider and drag it a short distance towards the left. You may need to go back and forth between the black and white sliders to fine-tune the results:

Dragging the white slider in the Levels options in the Adjustments Panel in Photoshop CS5. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Drag the white slider towards the left to brighten the stars.

Click OK when you’re done to close out of the Levels dialog box. The stars in your document should now look something like this:

Stars added to the image in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The stars have been added to the document.

Step 6: Add A New Layer

Add a new blank layer to the document by clicking on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

The New Layer icon in the Layers panel in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The New Layer icon.

Step 7: Select The Gradient Tool

Select Photoshop’s Gradient Tool from the Tools panel:

Photoshop Gradient Tool. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Gradient Tool.

Step 8: Draw A White To Black Radial Gradient

Back in Step 2, we reset Photoshop’s Foreground and Background colors to their defaults by pressing the letter D on the keyboard, which made the Foreground color black (and the Background color white). This time, press the letter X on your keyboard to swap the colors, making the Foreground color white and the Background color black. You can see what the colors are currently set to by looking at the Foreground and Background color swatches at the bottom of the Tools panel:

Photoshop Foreground and Background color swatches. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The current Foreground color (left swatch) and Background color (right swatch).

The reason we did this is because we need to choose a white to black gradient and by default, Photoshop selects a gradient based on the current Foreground and Background colors, which means we should now have a white to black gradient already chosen for us. You can see the current gradient colors by looking at the gradient preview bar in the Options Bar:

The gradient preview in the Options Bar in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
By default, a white to black gradient should be showing in the preview bar.

If a different gradient is currently selected, simply click on the gradient preview bar, which opens Photoshop’s Gradient Editor, then click on the Foreground to Background gradient’s thumbnail (top left) to select it. Click OK when you’re done to exit out of the Gradient Editor:

Photoshop Gradient Editor. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click on the Foreground to Background gradient’s thumbnail to select it if needed.

Finally, click on the Radial gradient icon in the Options Bar:

Photoshop radial gradient icon. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Select the Radial option.

With a white to black radial gradient now selected, click roughly halfway between the middle and the bottom of the document to set a starting point for the gradient. Then, with your mouse button still held down, drag straight up to the very top:

Drawing a radial gradient in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click and drag out the transition area for the gradient.

Release your mouse button at the top of the document and Photoshop draws a large radial gradient, with white in the center (where you initially clicked) and gradually fading to black as it moves towards the outer edges:

Photoshop radial gradient. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Photoshop draws the gradient when you release your mouse button.

Step 9: Resize The Gradient With Free Transform

Go up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen and choose Free Transform, or press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to access Free Transform with the keyboard shortcut:

Photoshop Free Transform command. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Edit > Free Transform.

This places the Free Transform box and handles around the gradient. Click on the handle (the little square) in the top center and drag it straight down until the gradient covers only the bottom third or so of the document. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) when you’re done to accept the transformation and exit out of Free Transform:

Reshaping the gradient with Free Transform in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Drag the top center handle down until the gradient is roughly a third of its original size.

Step 10: Change The Layer Blend Mode To Screen

To blend the gradient in with the stars behind it so it looks like light shining from a distant galaxy, change the blend mode of the gradient’s layer from Normal to Screen:

The Screen layer blend mode in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Change the blend mode to Screen.

With the blend mode set to Screen, the stars are now visible through the darker outer edges of the gradient:

The stars now shine through the galaxy light. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Screen blend mode makes any areas of solid black on the layer disappear.

Step 11: Open The Photo Of The Dancing Couple

We’re ready to add our dancing couple into the stars. Open your photo that contains the couple. Here’s the photo I’ll be using. The photo will open in a separate document window:

A wedding couple dancing. Image licensed by Photoshop Essentials.com.
The happy couple.

Step 12: Select The Couple

Use the Photoshop selection tool of your choice (Lasso Tool, Magnetic Lasso Tool, Pen Tool, etc) to select just the couple in the photo. When you’re done, you should see a selection outline around them:

Selecting the wedding couple in the photo. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Select the couple.

Step 13: Copy The Selection To A New Layer

Press Ctrl+J (Win) / Command+J (Mac) to quickly copy the couple to their own layer in the Layers panel:

Copying the wedding couple to a new layer. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The couple now have their own layer all to themselves.

Step 14: Move The Layer To The Stars Document

With the couple’s layer selected in the Layers panel, go up to the Layer menu and choose Duplicate Layer:

Photoshop Duplicate Layer command. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Go to Layer > Duplicate Layer.

We’re going to copy this layer over to our stars document. When the Duplicate Layer dialog box appears, name the layer Couple at the top of the dialog box (where it says Duplicate Layer 1 As). Then choose your "Dancing In The Stars" document as the Destination for the layer. Click OK when you’re done to close out of the dialog box:

Photoshop Duplicate Layer command. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Name the duplicate layer "Couple" and set your stars document as the destination.

Switch back over to the stars document (you can close out of the photo’s document at this point), where we find the couple now dancing in front of the stars (we’ll move them into position in a moment):

The wedding couple has been added to the stars document. Image licensed byPhotoshop Essentials.com.
The couple has been added to the document.

If we look in the Layers panel, we see that the couple now sits on their own layer named “Couple” above the other two layers:

The layer has been moved to the new document. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Photoshop placed the “Couple” layer above the original two layers.

Step 15: Move And Resize The Couple With Free Transform

Press Ctrl+T (Win) / Command+T (Mac) to quickly bring up the Free Transform box and handles around the couple so we can resize them if needed and move them into position. To resize the couple, hold down your Shift key and drag any of the four corner handles. Keeping the Shift key held down as you drag constrains the aspect ratio of the couple so you don’t distort the overall shape of them. To move them into position, click anywhere inside the Free Transform bounding box and drag them around inside the document with your mouse. Move them so it looks like they’re standing directly on the center of the "galaxy". Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) when you’re done to accept the changes and exit out of Free Transform:

Resizing and moving the wedding couple with Free Transform. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Move the couple directly above the center of the gradient.

Step 16: Add A Layer Mask

Click on the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a layer mask to the “Couple” layer:

Photoshop Add Layer Mask icon. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click the Layer Mask icon.

A layer mask thumbnail appears to the right of the main preview thumbnail:

Photoshop layer mask thumbnail. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.s
The layer mask thumbnail.

Step 17: Draw A Linear Gradient On The Layer Mask

We’re going to use the layer mask to blend the lower part of the couple into the gradient, as if they’re being engulfed by the light from the galaxy. Select the Gradient Tool once again from the Tools panel. Then, up in the Options Bar, click on the Linear gradient icon:

The linear gradient icon in the Options Bar in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Click on the Linear gradient option.

To blend the couple into the gradient, I’ll click somewhere just below their knee level to set a starting point for the gradient, and with my mouse button still held down, I’ll drag down to just above the groom’s feet. Hold your Shift key as you drag, which will limit the direction you can drag in, making it easier to drag straight down:

Drawing a linear gradient on the layer mask. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Dragging a short vertical gradient on the layer mask.

Since we drew the gradient on the layer mask, not the layer itself, when you release your mouse button, the couple blends nicely into the “galaxy” below them:

The couple is now blended into the galaxy. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The image after blending the couple into the gradient.

Step 18: Colorize The Image With A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer

Let’s give the galaxy some color. Click on the New Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Photoshop New Adjustment Layer icon. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The New Adjustment Layer icon.

Select Hue/Saturation from the list of adjustment layers that appears:

Selecting a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Choose Hue/Saturation.

If you’re using Photoshop CS5 as I am here, the options for Hue/Saturation will appear in the Adjustments Panel, new in CS5. In Photoshop CS4 and earlier, the Hue/Saturation dialog box will pop open. I’m going to give my galaxy a nice blue color. First, select the Colorize option by clicking inside its checkbox. With Colorize selected, if you want to use the same color I’m using, set the Hue value to 240 and increase the Saturation to 50% (if you want to try a different color, simply drag the Hue slider left or right):

The Hue/Saturation options in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The Hue/Saturation options.

If you’re using Photoshop CS4 or earlier, click OK when you’re done to exit out of the dialog box. There’s no need to close out of the Adjustments Panel in CS5. The color will look too intense for the moment, but we’ll fix that next:

The image has been colorized in Photoshop. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The color is currently too intense.

Step 19: Change The Blend Mode To Color And Lower The Opacity

Change the blend mode of the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer from Normal to Color so that only the colors in the image are affected, not the brightness values. Then, to reduce the intensity of the color, lower the Opacity of the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to around 60%:

The blend mode and opacity options in the Layers panel. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Change the blend mode to Color and lower the opacity.

The colorizing effect is now much more subtle. Still one last thing left to do:

The image after lowering the opacity. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The image after reducing the color.

Step 20: Draw A Linear Gradient On The Hue/Saturation Layer Mask

To finish things off, let’s make it look more like the light from the galaxy is reflecting off the couple rather than having the entire image colorized in blue (or whichever color you chose). This will bring back the original skin tone in their faces. With the Gradient Tool still selected, I’ll click around the bride’s waist to set the starting point for my gradient and, with my mouse button still held down, I’ll drag up to her shoulder, holding my Shift key down as well to make it easier to drag straight up:

Dragging another linear gradient. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
Make sure you end your transition area before reaching the couple’s faces.

Once again, since we drew the gradient on a layer mask (the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer’s mask, which was already selected for us by Photoshop), we don’t actually see the gradient in the document. Instead, the color from the galaxy now extends only up to the bride’s waist and then begins to quickly fade away to reveal the photo’s original colors, completing our “dancing in the stars” effect:

Photoshop Dancing In The Stars Effect. Image © 2010 Photoshop Essentials.com.
The final result.

And there we have it! That’s how to create a “dancing in the stars” effect with Photoshop! Check out our Photo Effects section for more great Photoshop effects tutorials, or see below for other tutorials you may be interested in!

Download our tutorials as print-ready PDFs! Learning Photoshop has never been easier!

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