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Fire It Up!

September 06, 2007 by
ow to set an object on fire in Photoshop Elements

The fun-factor of creating digital fire is vast. Quite simply, it's a rather stupid amount of fun. Happily, you don't have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on the full-blown version of Photoshop to get it done. Every filter you need lives right here in Elements. This tutorial will allow you to set your inner pyromaniac free and experiment with this technique on the most unlikely of photos. Heck, this alone could be reason enough to attend your next family reunion.

And by the way, if you're lucky enough to have a subscription to Elements Techniques, you'll see my feature tutorial on how to create flaming text. Adding flames to an object is slightly more complicated than text because you have to create a selection of the flame area first. However, the rewards are wildly amusing (especially after break-ups!), as you will soon see. Here's how to do it.

Step 1: Pop open a Soon To Be On Fire photo and press L to grab the Lasso Tool. Draw a selection around the area you'd like the flame to live, such as the tail-end of this (soon to be) Formula 1 Scooter.

Step 2: Create a new layer and press D to set the color chips to the default of black and white. Choose Filter > Render > Clouds. Run the filter a couple of times by pressing Ctrl + F (Mac: Command + F). To add a more ferocious look, choose Filter > Render > Difference Clouds and run that one a several times.

Adding color

Step 3: While the flame area is still selected, click the half black/half white circle at the top of the layers palette to create an adjustment layer. Choose Gradient Map from the resulting pop-up menu.

Step 4: In the Gradient Map dialog, click once on the gradient preview to open the Gradient Editor. From there, click the color stop on the far left beneath the gradient preview, then click the color well at the bottom of the dialog and choose a dark brown. Next, move your mouse over about 1/2 inch and click once to add another color stop. From the color well, choose a reddish-orange. Move over another 1/2 inch, click to add another stop and make it yellow. Finally, click the color stop at the far right and make it white. The gradient preview should now show a smooth transition going from brown to reddish-orange to yellow to white. Click OK to exit the Gradient Editor and press OK again to exit the Gradient Map dialog.

TIP: If you don't like the color, just double-click the Gradient Map adjustment layer, click the gradient preview to open the Gradient Editor, and adjust any (or all) of the color stops. Press OK to close both the Gradient Editor and the Gradient Map dialog to take receipt of your changes.

Step 5: When you're happy with the color, merge the two layers together by clicking the More button at the top right of the Layers palette and choosing Merge Down.

Streak it

Step 6: Choose Filter > Stylize > Wind. For Method, choose Blast and—since the direction of the flames will be going the same direction as the motion in the photo—select From the Left as the Direction. Press OK. To add more streaks, run the filter again by pressing Ctrl + F (Mac: Command + F).

Blur it

Step 7: Choose Filter > Blur > Motion Blur and drag the angle dial in the direction you want the blur to go. Enter a Distance of 20 pixels and press OK.

Warp it

No self-respecting fireball has perfectly straight edges, so to fix it you'll need to spend a little quality time with the Liquify filter.

Step 8: Choose Filter > Distort > Liquify. Using the Warp Tool set to a medium size brush, click and drag the flames outward so that they appear more organic. Press OK when finished.

TIP: If you don't like the results, just choose Filter > Distort > Liquify and warp it some more.

Blur it again

Step 9: Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter 2 pixels to soften the flame edges a little more. Here's what we have so far:

Hide bits of the flame

If your flaming area is a bit too large, you can hide parts of it with a layer mask. Here's how.

Step 10: Click the half black/half white circle at the top of the Layers palette to create an adjustment layer. Choose Levels and immediately press OK. Drag the Levels adjustment layer beneath the flames layer. Click once to select the flames layer (it should be at the top of the layers stack) and choose Layer > Group with Previous. The flames layer will slide to the right and have a downward pointing arrow letting you know it's attached to the adjustment layer below.

Step 11: Click the layer mask thumbnail in the Levels adjustment layer and press B to select the Brush Tool. With black as the foreground color chip, paint the areas of the flame you want to hide. If you hide too much, press X to swap color chips so that white is on top and paint that area back in. Be sure to cycle up and down in brush size in order to create (somewhat) natural-looking flame edges. TIP: Press the left bracket key, [, to cycle down in brush size and the right bracket key, ], to cycle back up.

Here's the finished product, along with a few other festive examples:

See what I mean? I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial half as much as I enjoyed creating it. Until next week, may the creative force be with you all!