In just a few simple steps, you can turn an average looking night sky into a dazzling starry display. 🙂
Step 0: Download the Images
For this tutorial, we’re going to use these images of an Italian village and stars.
But the technique we’ll learn today can be used with any night sky, and with any photo of stars. If you want to use a different photo, I recommend you take a look at Pixabay, where there are tons of free images you can use.
In addition to this written tutorial, you can also watch our video tutorial on creating a starry sky in Affinity Photo.
Step 1: Stack the Images
After opening both images inside of Affinity Photo, we need to copy and paste the star photo into the village photo. To do this, just press Command C (Mac) or Control C (PC) to copy the star photo.
Then go to the village photo tab, and then press Command V (Mac) or Control V (PC) to paste.
Now we need to resize and position our stars. We’ll use the Move Tool to do this. You can select the Move Tool from the Tool Panel, or just press V on your keyboard. Now we can move the star image however we want.
Step 2: Blend the Images
Next, we’re going to change the star layer’s Blend Mode from Normal to Screen. Changing the Blend Mode to Screen will hide all of the dark parts of our star layer, making it so only the bright stars shine through.
However, we still have part of our star photo being shown on top of the mountains.
To fix this, we need to make a selection of the sky, and mask the star layer to our selection.
Before we do this, I’m going to turn off the star layer, so we can see the original photo more easily. Then I’ll click on the village’s layer to select it.
There are many ways to make a selections in Affinity Photo, but to select a sky, you’ll generally want to use the Flood Select Tool. This tool allows us to select areas of a photo that have similar colors, which is perfect for selecting a sky, which is all relatively the same color.
Then in the Context Toolbar, we’ll change the Mode from New to Add. This allows us to make multiple selections, and they will all be combined together.
If we kept the Mode set to New, then every time we made a selection, it would erase our previous one.
You also want to make sure Contiguous is checked on. This makes it so the Flood Select Tool will only select similar colors if they are touching each other.
We can also change the Tolerance of our selection in the Context Toolbar, which affects how similar a color must be to the one you click on before it will also be selected. There’s really no way to know how high of a Tolerance you need for any given photo, but fortunately, we can easily change our Tolerance while making our selection.
All you need to do is click somewhere in the sky, and then while holding down your mouse you can drag to the right.
As you drag farther to the right, the Tolerance will increase in the Context Toolbar. As the Tolerance increases, more of the sky will be selected. However, you don’t want to increase it too high, or the mountain will start to be selected as well.
If this happens, just drag to the left to decrease the Tolerance. I’ll set mine to 5%.
We still have parts of the sky that haven’t been selected, but we can easily add these to our selection by clicking on those parts of the photo. Because our Mode is set to Add, these new parts of the sky will be added to our selection.
And don’t worry if you still have a few speckles of sky that haven’t been selected. You won’t be able to notice these spots in the final image.
Now we can turn our star photo back on, and then select its layer. Then we can apply a mask to it by pressing on the Mask icon.
With a mask applied, our stars will only be visible where we made our selection.
Now we can press Command D (Mac) or Control D (PC) to deselect.
We’ve now added stars to the sky! However, there are still a few more things we can do to really polish our work.
Step 3: Fade the Stars
The first thing we’ll take a look at is the horizon in our photo.
Normally, stars that are closest to the horizon aren’t as bright as stars in the middle of the sky. To replicate this, we can partially mask out our star layer near the horizon.
Just press B for the Paint Brush Tool, click on the Mask layer to select it, and have your paint color set to black.
Make sure that your Hardness set to 0%, and your Opacity set to 10%.
Then, you can paint along the horizon line to mask out 10% of the star layer. If some parts are still too bright, you can paint again to mask out another 10%.
Now that we’ve made the stars near the horizon less bright, let’s see if we can make the rest of our stars more bright. To do this, select the star layer, and then duplicate it by pressing Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC).
Now we’ve doubled the strength of our stars. If this is too much though, you can always lower the Opacity of our duplicate layer.
To make our stars pop even more, we can add a Levels Adjustment to them. To do this, we’ll come to the Adjustments icon.
Then select Levels. Or you can press Command L (Mac) or Control L (PC) to apply a Levels Adjustment.
Right now our Levels Adjustment will effect the entire photo, but we only want it to affect our stars, so I’m going to make it a child layer by dragging it down and to the right of our star layer. This makes it so our adjustment layer will only affect its parent’s layer, in this case, the star layer.
Now we can increase the Black Level of our stars, removing the haziness in our star photo. I’m going to increase mine to 5%.
If you want, you could also add a Levels Adjustment to the duplicate copy of our stars, but I’ll leave mine as it is.
Step 4: Color Correct the Mountain
Now let’s fix the coloring of our mountain village, so it matches the coloring of the sky. To do this, I’ll add a Lens Filter Adjustment.
We need to place this adjustment layer at the top of the Layers Panel, because it was placed as a child layer to the sky by default.
Since our sky looks purple, I’m going to change the Filter Color to purple as well. Then we can increase the Optical Density until the mountain’s color matches the sky’s color. I’ll set mine to 85%.
Our lens filter has successfully made our mountain purple, but it’s also made our sky more purple. This isn’t what we wanted. Unfortunately, we can’t just make the Lens Filter a child layer to the original photo, because that will still make the sky more purple.
Remember, the original sky is still there, it’s just had stars placed on top of it.
Instead, we need to mask the adjustment off of the sky. Luckily for us, we don’t need to be very accurate with this, so we can just use the Paint Brush Tool. Remember to set your Opacity back to 100%, and then you can paint in black to mask the adjustment out of the sky.
Now our Lens Filter is only affecting the mountains, helping its color match the new stars in our sky.
If you want to learn more about adjustment layers, I recommend you check out our beginner’s guide to Affinity Photo, where we cover each adjustment layer in much greater depth.
Finally, let’s see a before and after of all of our work. To do this, I’ll select the original photo and duplicate it with Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC).
Now I can place this layer at the top of the Layers Panel, and turn the layer on and off to see the before and after.
Great work making that sky look dazzling!