Photoshop Portrait Effects to Create Professional Lighting

photoshop portrait effectsPhotoshop makes it easy to create professional portraits without the expensive photography equipment. The four portrait lighting effects in this article demonstrate how to manipulate lighting patterns, lighting ratios, and views through Photoshop portrait effects.

If you do not already have a basic understanding of Adobe Photoshop, there are many online training options to choose from.  Adobe Photoshop CS6 tutorials provide easy to follow, self-paced instruction in image editing and photo correction techniques. Also consider brushing up on your basic knowledge of lighting in photography. A short online course in digital photography and lighting can turn you into an expert in a weekend.

Before touching up the lighting on your photos, take a quick peak at Adobe’s The Basics of Blend Modes for an overview of how blend modes work. You will use these basic techniques for changing tonal ranges and color balances in all four lighting effects. Do not be intimidated by all the blending modes. Note how the dark and light modes are grouped together. We will be focusing on the Screen blending mode to lighten images. To familiarize with the blending modes, hold down the shift key and use the plus or minus sign to see how the different modes change your image.

If required, clean up your photo before adding professional lighting effects. The airbrush, healing touch and clone stamp tools can remove unwanted blemishes, freckles, and other elements in a zap. After these cosmetic adjustments have been made, create a merged layer and you are ready to add professional lighting effects.

Rembrandt Lighting

Rembrandt is famous for his dramatic moods. The tonal contrasts – the difference between the shadows and light – in the Dutch painter’s works have captivated viewers over the centuries. Rembrandt masterfully imitated the natural glow of candlelight on his subjects. Photographers spend fortunes on lighting equipment to capture this soft luminous glow.  Rembrandt lighting can be created in a few minutes with PhotoShop portrait effects.

Imagine a dark face in a 17th century room illuminated only by candlelight. The light shines down on a slightly turned head and falls on the far cheek while its reflection dances in the eyes. The shadow of the nose and cheek touch creating a triangle of light on the cheek – the signature effect of Rembrandt lighting.

Here is how to create this luminous effect in your portrait. The following Photoshop portrait effects instructions will be used in all four lighting effects.

– Basic Photoshop Portrait Lighting Techniques

Rembrandt PaintingOpen your image in Photoshop. Create a duplicate background layer. Open Blend Modes and select Screen. With the lasso tool, select the portion of the face and body that you want to illuminate. Select Add New Fill and Levels. Levels is a tool that adjusts tonal ranges and color balances.  Slide the bar left to brighten the image. Reactivate the original (Control Click). Inverse the selection, or use the lasso tool to choose a more precise area. Use Add New Fill/Levels and darken the right side of the image. Changing the opacity can also lighten or darken your image. If you need to fine-tune – sharp edges, for example – change your foreground color to lighten (white) or darken (black) specific areas by painting over them.

For the Rembrandt effect, ensure your lasso passes down the middle of the face.

Now for the famous Rembrandt triangle. Click on Layer 0, draw a triangle on the right cheek and brighten as desired. Ensure the shadow on the nose and cheek touch.

Both eyes should reflect light – another signature Rembrandt effect. In the Rembrandt painting below, the eye lighting is subtle.

Split Lighting

For a photo of a rock star, a dramatic effect called split lighting is used. Rock stars like an edgy, do-not-mess-with-me look. Split lighting achieves an edgier effect by splitting the light evenly in two at a 90-degree angle while sharpening the contrast between the two sides.

To create the split lighting effect, follow the Basic Photoshop Portrait Lighting Techniques above. Like the Rembrandt effect, the lasso should divide the face in two, passing down the middle of the nose. Adjust your Levels to create more contrast between the light and dark sides of the face for a more dramatic effect.

As a rule of thumb, we do not want to take more than 10 years off of a model. Note how the brighter effect diffuses light and lessens texture on the left side of the face while on the right side the darker shadow covers the texture. The model’s wrinkles have disappeared!

There is a very important lighting effect in this photo that should not be missed. Be sure to add the lighting reflection in the eyes of the subject if it is not already present. In portrait photography, the photographer tries to capture the light source in both eyes. If she fails to do so, there is always Photoshop. In particular, you want to ensure there is light (life) in the eyes on the darker side of the face. The object is to create a moodier effect not a zombie.

Butterfly/Paramount Shadow

To emphasize youth in models or the elderly, portrait photographers place the light behind the subject to create a more diffuse light that spreads into a butterfly shadow below the nose.

Deciding what tools to use for the butterfly effect is a subjective call. If you have harsh lighting but have captured the butterfly shadows in the photo, use the Soft Light or Screen modes to soften the image. Paint over areas with the white (brighten) or black (darken) foreground activated to fine-tune. If you need to create the shadows, use Levels and the lasso tool to first create shadow and then light where required. Try and achieve a soft luminosity beside the nostrils, under the nose and eyes, and on the forehead, to provide consistency and an overall glow to the face.

The leading fashion photographers know how to create beauty effects that sell magazine covers.  Taking the time to learn portrait and beauty retouching with Adobe Photoshop is the first step to becoming the next Helmut Newton.

Loop Lighting

To capture a mother’s warm glow, loop lighting is placed above the eyes at a 30-60 degree angle to create a slight shadow of the nose. Models love this age-forgiving lighting. Loop lighting is often used in fashion photography to soften the features of the models. The techniques used above to create the Butterfly shadow can also be applied to create loop lighting, although with a different chiaroscuro (shadow and light) pattern.  Ensure the shadow of the nose is subtle but discernible.

Still not completely satisfied? Are the eyes a little dull? The Rembrandt triangle is hard to discern? Take out the sharpening tool. Sharpening is a flexible technique that allows you to separately sharpen skin or non-skin areas.

We have taken a small nibble out of a huge buffet of Photoshop portrait effects that can be achieved. With the ability to customize your lighting palette, the process gets easier as you learn. Once you create a tone you like, you can merge all of the exposures into one image to create and save desired tonal ranges. If your goal is to create professional portraits, take the time to learn amazing retouching techniques in Photoshop.