Photoshop Lighting Effects: Adding Focus with Light

photoshoplightingeffectsThe lighting effects built into Photoshop can completely transform your image into something much more interesting. Even a simple portrait can be turned into a genuine work of art by playing around with the various lighting effects within Photoshop.

In this article, you will learn how to use lighting effects to add focus to a particular part of an image. For example, if you have a portrait of someone holding an object in front of them, you may want to draw your viewer’s attention to the face of your subject and the item they are looking at; not the rest of the image. Fortunately, this is easily accomplished using lighting effects. Photoshop Photographic Effects explains the concept of lighting in more detail.

Selecting an Image

Lighting effects can be used with any photograph you have, but this tutorial focuses on a simple portrait where the subject is holding an object in front of them. The object could be anything, but for the purposes of this tutorial, assume the picture is of a child holding a Christmas present.

Maybe the picture looks a little plain as is, but don’t worry – lighting effects will completely transform this picture into something you can be proud to show off to friends and family.

Open your photo in Photoshop and as always, create a duplicate layer to work with so you are not modifying your original picture file.  The Photoshop CS6 Crash Course does a good job of explaining layers if you aren’t familiar with them yet.

Photoshop will automatically name this new layer “Layer 1.” Normally, it’s a good idea to rename your layers with something more descriptive so they are easy to keep track of but in this case, you are only going to be using a couple of layers so there’s really no need to worry about proper naming conventions.

Using the Lighting Effects Filter

Making sure that Layer 1 is selected in the Layers palette, go to the Filter menu at the top of the screen, choose Render, and then choose Lighting Effects. The Lighting Effects dialog box should pop up displaying a preview of the layer on the left-hand side and sliders and other controls on the right.

If you have never used Lighting Effects before, the dialog box can seem intimidating. The good news is that most of these features are not needed to create the basic lighting effects needed to draw focus to a particular area of an image.  You can learn how to master the Lighting Effects Filter in the Adobe Photoshop CS6 Tutorial.

At the very top of the dialog box is a drop-down menu called Style. Select this drop-down menu and choose the Flashlight option from the list. Once it has been selected, notice that the image preview in the dialog box automatically updates to reflect changes created by the new lighting style.

By default, the Flashlight style simulates what you would see if you shine a flashlight directly at your subject. The rest of the image becomes dark and the only area that is illuminated is the area where the Flashlight effect is focused. This is probably a little bit too dramatic for most of your photos, so you will need to modify the style properties slightly to get the desired effect.

You should notice that the light source is currently located in the center of the image. You can tell exactly where the light source is located because it is surrounded by a thin circle with square handles on the top, bottom, left, and right. There is also a small circle in the center which indicates the exact center of the light source. To reposition the light source, all you need to do is click on the small circle in the middle and drag the light source to the location where you want it.

You can create a dramatic image by repositioning the light source to look like it is coming from the gift the child is holding. Next, you need to resize the light source if necessary. To resize the Flashlight effect, simply grab one of the four handles around the perimeter of the light source and drag to resize. Since the Flashlight tool is completely circular, it doesn’t matter which handle you grab. Other lighting effects in Photoshop may produce various results when different handles are dragged.

With any luck, it should look like the present is emitting a light source, but you may notice that it is not illuminating the child’s face enough to be believable. This is easily overcome by simply making a copy of the light source and positioning this on the child’s face. Somewhere around the nose of the child should be a good place to give the appearance that the gift is illuminating his or her face directly.

You could always create a separate layer for this, but it is much quicker to simply copy the existing light source and reuse it on the child’s face. You  want to resize the second light source so you do not wash out the entire face of your subject, but this is easy to do by dragging the handles on the outer perimeter of the light source.

Once you click “OK” in the Lighting Effects dialog box, Photoshop applies these changes to your image and you’re done. Feel free to experiment with different angles and various lighting effects until you find the desired result. The Flashlight tool is one of the easiest to use but can significantly alter your images by directing focus toward a specific area of the picture. Adobe Photoshop for Photographers offers some great tips about using other lighting effects in Photoshop.

As long as you make a copy of your original image layer, feel free to experiment with various lighting techniques. Although tutorials are great, the exact effects that a particular lighting tool will have on your image varies so it’s in your best interest to become comfortable with lighting effects in Photoshop so you are ready to add light whenever you need to.