How to Create a Sci-Fi Outer Space Scene With Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating
In this tutorial I'll show you how to create a sci-fi artwork with planets, spaceships and nebulae. You'll learn how to create a space background from scratch, make a planet in a simple way, and combine space elements using blending techniques. You'll also learn how to adjust the contrast and color, create lighting effects, and enhance the depth of field. 
The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial:
Make a new 3000 x 2000 px document in Photoshop with the settings below:
space background file
The background color must be black.
Press Control-Shift-N to make a new layer. Activate the Brush Tool (B) with a soft round one, and set the foreground to #8c92ae. Paint around the middle section of the black background:
space background color 1
Change this layer mode to Hard Light 100%:
space background color 1 hard light mode
Create a new layer and use a soft round brush with different colors to make spots on the canvas. You can use colors of your taste, but don't forget that we're creating a colorful background, so pick vibrant colors. Here is my choice of colors: #378c6c,#c20707#cf53c8.
space background colors 2
Remember not to fill the whole canvas with colors—we need some space for the dark shade and depth.
On a new layer, change the foreground to #44595b and use a soft brush to paint on the edges and corners of the canvas. 
space background color 3
Change this layer mode to Hard Light 100%:
space background color 3 hard light mode
Create a new layer and press D to set the foreground/background to default (black and white). Use the Lasso Tool (L) to make a selection on the canvas and set the feather Radius to 60 px:
selection with feather 60
Go to Filter > Render > Clouds:
apply clouds filter
Change this layer mode to Color Dodge 100%:
cloud filter color dodge mode
Use an adjustment layer and set it as Clipping Mask to make the effect more subtle. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels:
clouds filter levels
On this layer mask, use a soft round brush with black color (soft black brush) to reveal the vibrance on some areas as shown below:
clouds filter levels layer mask
levels mask result
Duplicate the clouds layer and move the duplicated one above the first and theLevels adjustment layer. Go to Filter > Render > Different Clouds:
clouds filter layer duplicated and ordered
apply different clouds filter
Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and change the Radius to 35 px:
different clouds filter gaussian blur
Make a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the resulting color a little.
space background color balance
Time to make some stars. Create a new layer and change the foreground to#72c6fd. Use a hard brush to paint random stars over the canvas, remembering to vary the brush size:
paint small stars
Double click this layer, choose Outer Glow and set the color of glow to white:
star outer glow
outer glow result
Create a Curves adjustment layer on top of the layers to change the color of the effect:
space background curves
Open the nebula image. Drag this image into our main canvas using the Move Tool (V) and enlarge it using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T):
add nebula
Change the mode of this layer to Linear Dodge 100%:
nebular linear dodge mode
Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to reduce the effect and make it appear subtle on the existing background:
nebula masking
nebula masking result
Use a Color Balance adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) to alter the nebula effect color a bit:
nebula color balance
space background result
Save the result as a JPG file for your future use.
Create a new 2200 x 1600 px document and set the background color to black. Open the space background created in the first stage and drag it into this new canvas using the Move Tool.
add space background
Add a mask to this layer and use a soft black brush to reduce the image opacity, making the middle section more visible than the rest:
space background masking
To make the middle more visible, create a new layer and use a soft white brush to paint on this area. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%:
brighten middle section
brightening result
Open the planet texture. Create a new layer and use the Clone Tool (S) to remove the four black lines on the image.
planet texture
clone black lines
Press Control-Shift-Alt-E to merge the background and the clone layers into a new one. On the merged planet layer, use the Elliptical Marquee Tool to grab a circle. Go to Filter > Distort > Spherize:
grab a circle
spherize filter
spherize filter result
Click this selection and choose Layer via Copy. We have the base of planet on a new transparent layer (I turned off the background, clone and merged layers to help you see the result more clearly).
planet base
Drag the planet into our main document and scale it down using Control-T. Place it in the center of the image.
add big planet
Make a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (set as Clipping Mask) and bring theSaturation value down to -87:
big planet hue saturation
Use a Curves adjustment layer and decrease the lightness.
big planet curves
On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to erase the outside section of the planet to bring some light to this, and also leave the shadow in the middle.
big planet curves masking result
Make a Color Balance adjustment layer and change the Midtones settings:
big planet color balance
Create a new layer (set as Clipping Mask) and use a soft brush with the color#b68fa4 to paint on some areas around the planet to color it (we've put it on a colorful background). Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.
big planet coloring 1
Make a new layer and change the brush color to #b6eadd. Paint on some other areas of planet with the same purpose, and set the mode to Soft Light.
big planet coloring 2
Add two other planets to the sides of the big one, making them much smaller.
add small planets
Select these small planet layers and press Control-G to make a group for them. Change this group mode from Pass Through to Normal 100%. Make a new layer above these planet layers and use a soft black brush with the Opacity about 70–80% to paint shadow in the lower part of the planets.
small planets shadow
Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and bring the Saturation value down to-86.
small planets hue saturation
Use a Color Balance adjustment layer to change the planet's color.
small planets color balance
We'll be coloring the planets and adding more light to the space. Create a new layer above the planets group and use a soft brush with the color #b6eadd to paint on the top center of the scene. Change this layer mode to Soft Light 100%.
space coloring 1
space coloring 1 soft light mode
Use a new layer with the brush color changed to #b68fa4. Paint on the top area of the big planet and alter the mode to Soft Light 100%.
splace coloring 2
space coloring 2 soft light mode
Make a new Curves adjustment layer on top of the layers, and increase the highlight.
space curves
On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reduce the brightness at the bottom of the planets and space as they're hidden from the light. 
space curves result
Open the spaceships image. Select three spaceships which have similar poses and add them to the space. Duplicate them and rotate them towards the big planet. The nearer the foreground, the bigger the spaceship. 
add spaceships
Make a group for the spaceship layers and change this group mode to Normal 100%. Use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer within this group to desaturate the spaceships.
spaceships hue saturation
Create a Color Balance adjustment layer to add some cyan/blue to the spaceships.
spaceships color balance
Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the spaceships.
spaceship curves 1
On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reveal the light on the top of the spaceships because they should be brighter than the bottom:
spaceships curves 1 result
Create another Curves adjustment layer to give more light to the top of the spaceships.
spaceship curves 2
Select a soft black brush and paint on the Curves layer mask to maintain the shade of their bottom.
spaceships curves 2 result
Use a new layer with a soft white brush to paint more highlight for some of the spaceships. Change this layer mode to Overlay 100%.
spaceships highlights
spaceship highlights overlay mode
Open the asteroids images. Select different asteroids to put around the big planet, duplicating and transforming them if needed, and make them very much smaller than the planets. Rotate the bright parts of the asteroids towards the light. 
add asteroids
Add some asteroids to the bottom left and right corner of the space scene, and make them bigger than the existing ones. Blur them to bring some depth to the scene by applying a Gaussian Blur of 8 px to each of these layers.
more asteroids with gaussian blur
Make a group for all the asteroids layers. Use a Color Balance adjustment layer to match the asteroids' color with the other elements:
asteroids color balance
Create a Curves adjustment layer and reduce the lightness:
asteroids curves 1
On this layer mask, use a soft black brush to reveal the luminosity on the asteroids:
asteroids curves 1 masking
Make another Curves adjustment layer to bring more light to the asteroids.
asteroids curves 2
Use this layer mask to maintain the shade of the asteroids, especially the parts which are hidden from the light.
asteroids curves 2 masking
Make a new layer and take a hard brush with the color #eebde2. Add small dots in order to create the lights on the spaceships. The bigger the spaceship, the bigger the dots. 
spaceships lights
To make a glowing trail we often see in space art, make a new layer and use a soft colored brush (#7b3e51) to create a spot on the canvas. Resize the brush size down and choose a lighter color (#d69e96) to put a spot in the center of the existing one. 
light trail making
Convert this layer to a Smart Object and use Control-T to change its perspective and make it look like a trail. Place it at the bottom of a spaceship:
add in light trail
Duplicate it several times and add the trails to other spaceships.
add light trails to others spaceships
Make a new layer and set its mode to Color Dodge 100%. Use a soft brush with the color #eebde2 to paint the lightest part of the trails at the bottom of the spaceships.
lightest part of trail
Make a Curves adjustment layer to brighten the whole scene, especially the top center:
Whole scene curves
Use a soft black brush to erase the sides and the shade on the big planet to create a nice contrast of the final effect.
whole scene curves result
Thanks for following this tutorial, and I hope you've learned something new from it. Feel free to leave your comments in the box below—I'd love to see them. Enjoy Photoshopping!
final result


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