How to Create a Tornado in Photoshop

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The swirling menace of a tornado's rotating column of air embodies one of the extremes of nature's destructive power. Recreating the appearance of a moving funnel in Adobe Photoshop poses the challenge of capturing a 3-D phenomenon in a program that creates 2-D artwork, but you can emulate the appearance of this violent weather phenomenon with a handful of Photoshop's filters and features. If you're new to Photoshop, this process may challenge your knowledge of the application.

  • Press "Ctrl-N" to open Adobe Photoshop's New dialog box. Set up a new document in RGB color mode at 300 pixels per inch with a transparent background. Size your file in portrait mode -- with a height greater than its width -- and click on the "OK" button to create the document.

  • Click and hold on the Tools panel icon for the Brush tool to switch to the Pencil tool nested with it. Click on the "Brush" drop-down menu in the Options bar to access brush presets for the Pencil tool, and set Pencil diameter to 35 pixels. Press "D" to set the foreground color to black and the background color to white.

  • Press and hold the "Shift" key and draw a horizontal line approximately 1.5 inches wide near the top of your document. Release the pointing device and the "Shift" key to end the line. Continuing drawing line segments parallel to each other, leaving space between them, until you fill the height of your document.

  • Press "Ctrl-T" to enter Free Transform mode. Hold down the "Shift" key and drag inward and down on the control point at the top right corner of the transform area, scaling your artwork to approximately half its original size. Press "Enter" or click on the check mark in the Options bar to complete the transformation.

  • Press "V" to activate the Move tool. Hold down the "Alt" key, click on the artwork and press and hold the "Shift" key. Drag your scaled artwork vertically to create a duplicate below the original.

  • Press "F7" or open the "Window" menu and choose "Layers" to open the Layers panel. Click on the name of the original layer in your document to select it and "Shift-click" on the layer that contains the duplicated artwork to add it to the selection. Press "Ctrl-E" to merge the two layers or open the fly-out menu at the top right corner of the Layers panel and choose "Merge Layers." This process combines the original and duplicated artwork on a single layer.

  • Press "Ctrl-T" to enter Free Transform mode again. Hold down "Shift-Ctrl-Option" and drag inward on the control point at the bottom left corner of the transform area, narrowing only the bottom end of the artwork. Press "Enter" or click on the check mark in the Options bar to complete the transformation.

  • Open the "Filter" menu's "Distort" submenu and choose "Twirl." Set the filter angle to 50 degrees and click on the "OK" button to apply it. This process reshapes the artwork into the twisted curve of a tornado funnel.

  • Open the "Filter" menu's "Noise" submenu and choose "Median." Set the radius to 20 pixels and click on the "OK" button to complete the process. This filter eliminates abrupt changes in brightness and smooths out the transitions between the lines you drew with the Pencil tool.

  • Open the "Filter" menu's "Stylize" submenu and choose "Wind." Set the method to "Wind" and the direction to "From the Right." This filter creates a stylized smudging that simulates fast-moving air's effects.

  • Press "Ctrl-T" to enter Free Transform mode again. Hold down the "Shift" key and drag inward on the control point at the top right corner of the transform area, scaling the artwork to roughly half its original size. Press "Enter" or click on the check mark in the Options bar to complete the transformation.

  • Enter Free Transform mode again. Hold down the "Shift" key and drag outward on the control point at the top right corner. Scale your artwork up to larger than its original size. This downsizing and upscaling operation softens the artwork, taking advantage of a byproduct of resizing operations that otherwise degrades artwork appearance.

  • Open the "Filter" menu's "Blur" submenu and choose "Motion Blur." Set the angle to -60 degrees and the distance to 75 pixels. This blur accentuates the illusion that your artwork defines a moving twister.

Tips & Warnings

  • When you click with the Pencil tool to start drawing a line that you complete using the "Shift" key to maintain a perfectly horizontal or vertical orientation, the tool creates a dot of digital "ink" that becomes the starting point of and disappears into the rest of your line.
  • The impact of tool diameters and filter settings varies depending on the size of your artwork and the resolution of the Adobe Photoshop document in which you create it. The zoom level at which you view your work also can influence your creative decisions.
  • Press the "]" key to enlarge any brush preset and the "[" to reduce its diameter. Each press changes brush-tip size by a variable amount that depends on the starting diameter. For example, if you begin with a brush tip that's smaller than 10 pixels, the bracket keys add or subtract a single pixel from the size of the tool. As brush size rises, each key press changes the diameter by five, 10, 25 or 100 pixels.
  • Activate the "Preview" check box in Adobe Photoshop filter dialog boxes to view the effects of your settings within the live area of your document as well as in a preview area built in to the filter's interface.
  • Information in this article applies to Adobe Photoshop CC 2014, Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Photoshop CS6. It may differ slightly or significantly with other versions or products.

References

  • Photo Credit andreusK/iStock/Getty Images
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Resources

  • Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book; Adobe Creative Team
  • Adobe Photoshop CS6 Classroom in a Book; Adobe Creative Team
  • The Photoshop CS3/CS4 WOW! Book; Linnea Dayton and Cristen Gillespie

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