View Full Version : Planetary night view [WIP]

10-19-2009, 08:04 AM
Hello there,

The following is a study. I never gave a try at representing planets and stellar bodies so I'm posting here for critics and advices.
I'm using Photoshop.


The purpose is to represent the night side of a planet. I was always amazed by how Earth can look from space, night side.

My difficulty is here to have the lights from civilization/settlements being a prominent feature. Yet not end being "too bright".

The other difficulty I have is to represent clouds. I've tried adding a layer of white dots on which I applied a motion blur but it just make "clouds" hazy, more like a fog.
So if anyone has suggestions... :)

as a reference, here follows the work without the "lights" and shadow


Edit : the final purpose is to include the view into a "LCARS-style" (from Star Trek) with notable places being zoomed in.


10-19-2009, 03:17 PM
For the clouds, try using an actual clouds filter (Filter --> Render --> Clouds (--> Solid Noise on gimp) ), then doing a select by color with a high fuzziness/threshold on the black so that you only get the white parts (alternatively you could use the Screen layer mode). You wouldn't get great weather patterns, but it should at least look like clouds.

10-19-2009, 03:52 PM
For large scale planetary cluds, here's a few resources i use:


noirextreme and oera.net might be particularly interesting since they have a night-side earth view to use as reference as well :P

10-20-2009, 05:31 AM
Nice images. :)

A lot depends on how densely populated your world is and whether the map is meant to be a photographic image or an enhanced map.

A photo would have much less land detail:


and clouds wouldn't be seen, they would simply mask the lights.

If your map is an enhanced representation, rather than a photo, then you can have as much land/cloud detail as you want.

Some of your brighter areas of light seem to be too big and too bright in comparison with the Earth at night images I've googled, and your light distribution suggests that your continent interiors are uninhabited, despite the coastlines being very well populated(and perhaps too clearly delineated) the bright spot near the centre seems strangely isolated - no roads or towns linking it with the coast.

Hope that helps. :)

10-20-2009, 06:28 AM
The clouds rendering gives a rather hazy fog over the surface.
So, as suggested, I went (for the daylight view) with a photo of Earth clouds (now I found them, at some places, a bit "dirty grey").


I dropped the idea to include clouds on the night view. Yes, it would just hide the civilization lights.


(I've added a field of stars, picked from internet, for the best or the worst. But now I believe it's quite the worst :)
I also worked a bit on the gaussian blur to make the transition from lightside to darkside better looking)

The distribution of light was quite problematic to me.
The planet is completely fictionnal. I tried "extracting" a distribution of settlements (generating light) from the intermediate "lowland" layer.
(I have a base layer, which served for the oceans, tinted in blue, a "lowland" layer, tinted in shades of green and a "highland"/mountains layer tinted in white).

It's a selection by pixel color. The result excluded the oceans (which weren't on the layer) and the mountain (same reason).
Because settlements tend to be coastal, I picked a color by the "coast".

The end result was a rather large selection of pixel. When "illuminated" it made the whole planet rather luminous with much more lights, including inner lands.
But I found it being quite "too much" to my taste so I progressively excluded the darker (dimmer) pixels which led to the concentration we see now.

it would probably be better with another pass at population/light distribution, removing or lessening some bloats of light (they have an inner and external light), especially when there are lone and long luminous strings by coasts.

I'm also undecided on the final opacity of the global shadow. A darker shadow makes lights the obvious feature. On the other hand, it makes the whole... just dark :)


10-20-2009, 05:33 PM
I like what you've done so far. The planet looks good, I think you need to mess with the filters a bit more to give it the look you're going for, but I have to object to the background.

There's no way that you'll ever see galaxies like that in the background at the same time you are seeing the planet. The light from the planet would completely washout the faint light that the galaxies would give off. That's assuming you could find a distance to image this planet at which would also give that magnification to the galaxies anyway.

I know galaxies and nebulae look cool, every "syfy" image out there has them, but you're far better off realism-wise if you can find a starfield where all the stars are just pin pricks and if there are any nebulae they are about the size of one of those galaxies in the background. If you have a nebula that fills up the background it would be so faint and diffuse that you'd never be able to image it except with time lapse photography.

Basically, if you want a background to put a planet on, it should probably look a lot like what you can see from the earth without a telescope.

10-20-2009, 08:21 PM
Actually, I just put one background to fill up the black area :) But it doesn't look good.
Pinpoint stars would be far enough.


10-21-2009, 04:53 AM
This sounds like an interesting technique. Worthy of a tutorial when you've perfected it. :)

10-21-2009, 09:18 AM
I edited the nightside view, adding a new field of stars, toned down seriously the "glowy" (external light) effect of the civilization lights, edited manually the lights distribution (less on coast, more inland).


The source from which I extracted the pixel distribution to be illuminated can't easily give me more distribution (there aren't that many different color tones).
So I went for manual edition (my original idea was to rely only on filters, rendering and pixel selection).

It would probably be better with a source with more contrasts and numer of tones.
Something to remember for me :)

10-22-2009, 05:15 AM
Looking good.

A couple of other 'brightness' issues, if I might suggest?

Maybe the starfield is still overbright and distracts the eye from the planet, the stars should fade near the planet, and there would be no stars at all showing through the atmospheric glow.

The circular atmosphere glow is a bit too bright. I think it was better in the first image.

10-22-2009, 02:52 PM
I tried my hand at this a while back (using Gimp). I used a Sparks brush with the paintbrush tool at a relatively low opacity to paint in the city lights. I can't actually find the original picture but I'll post it if I come across it.

I like how yours is coming out kridenow. I will be watching with interest.

10-23-2009, 08:58 AM
Well, I moved to another office and went from Photoshop CS3 to an older version.
And the .psd file doesn't open correctly (all layers are fused into one).

So I guess the work on this will have to wait until I find a way to get back all my layers :)
(as well as the world map of the planet Andoria from Star Trek I just started to work on...)

I was considering darkening a bit more the shadowy region and lessen the stars brightness (and remove the brightest, large, one at the bottom).


10-23-2009, 04:32 PM
Save each layer as a png, or something like that which supports transparency, and then put it on a disk or email it to yourself. When you open the new layer in the older version the transparency might still be there but if not it'll probably be a solid color that you can easily delete. Also, write down if the layer has a blend mode.

10-24-2009, 01:42 PM
That probably woul d be what I should do... however.... accessing my former office place is a tad... difficult :)

So I guess this work is lost anyway, unfortunately.
And time to restart my map of Andoria (I'll post early work soon I hope)


10-24-2009, 04:00 PM
Very nice, but you should add some lights further inland.