Lighting and Shadows for Photographers

Lights and Shadows in Photoshop

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This tutorial is not too advanced but mostly to help to understand the power of shadow and light in short terms! There’s no “boring” text here. So if you are not used to Photoshop, do yourself a favor and read it all before continuing to the next step! You might learn something!

The thing about a good picture is to give it a feel of depth. You need not to give the receiver any reason to speculate whether a shadow is placed weird or a light source is coming in at a wrong angle. Often I can even find shadows and light sources in non edited pictures that look . That is mostly in very poorly illuminated pictures.

In this picture you have an idea of where the light source comes from. Still it could handle a bit more tension and depth!

lights_and_shadows_nonedThe initial picture

To bring the picture to life, we will add some depth and sharpness. Too much editing can destroy a picture as well, so be careful not to gaze too long at your editing. Your effects and layers could end indifferent to others!

Let’s see if we can end here:

The final pictureThe final picture

The retouching gives the receiver no reason to doubt as to where the light source is coming from.

Let’s get to it!

And don’t worry about naming the layers. We’ll not end up with more than 5 or 6 of them. I’m usually really sloppy when it comes to naming layers. It’s the last thing I do so that I can jump right into it if need be later on.

Step 1

Open your picture.

Open your picture in Photoshop
Open your picture in Photoshop

Step 2

Take your clone stamp tool (hotkey s). Now hold down the alt key and choose a suiteable area of skin you want to clone from. Run the mouse over the part you want to edit and click. We don’t ”clean” up the impurities in the skin because they’re ”unnatural”, but because they will end up standing out too much at the final outcome if we don’t.

las_4Use the clone tool to remove impurities

Step 3

Now take your dodge tool (hotkey o, the black lollipop) and remember to set your range to midttones and your opacity to somewhat in the 60’s (in this example). Gently affect the eyes where the light would hit them. Most often in the lower part or the whole eye. Remember not too much, even if it looks cool. We want it to look natural!

Use the dodge tool to simulate lightUse the dodge tool to simulate light

Step 4

Press the New ajustment layer button or go Layer » New Ajustment Layer » Curves . Now go 1/6’th up the curve and drag it down until the result is pleasing. Fill the layer with 60% black. Choose a brush with opacity of approximately 25% and a flow of about 60% and go easily around the dark areas with a reasonable large brush for the cheekbones and neck. Use a smaller brush for the lines at the eyes, the mouth, the nose etc.

Create a new adjustment layerCreate a new adjustment layer

Step 5

Now repeat Step 4. But this time with lights instead of the shadows. That means make a new Curves layer, fill with 60% black, go 1/6’th down the curve from the top, and pull it up until the result is pleasing. For the brush part, just repeat step 4. If you need more with the brush choose a higher opacity setting.

Create another adjustment layerCreate another adjustment layer

Step 6

Now the more fun part. The ”effect”. Go Layer » New Ajustment Layer »  Map. Select Dither and make sure you set the Layer setting to overlay and approximately 35-50% opacity, but again, that depends what picture you are working on, how dark the colors are, how big the picture is, etc. Play around with the gradient a little to find out which one matches your picture the best. (Look at the eyes popping out now. If you brought them out too much at the beginning they would look surreal by now, and we don’t want that.)

Let's start making the actual effectLet’s start making the actual effect

Step 7

Select the all layers (except you source picture) and group them  Cmd+G (Ctrl+G on Windows). Right click and duplicate group. Next you need to merge the new group, so go Cmd+E (Ctrl+E on Windows).

Now go Filter » Other » High Pass and set it to about 4 and a layer setting of overlay. Again, that setting depends on the size, content, quality etc. of the picture. This High Pass filter is to sharpen up the image. This will do a lot to the eyes for example, but you can see for yourself.

Step 8

With the High Pass layer now selected I would, no matter what picture you are retouching, go Layer » Layer Mask » Reveal All. Get the with 60% opacity and 60% black and go over the largest areas. In my picture it would be the cheek, grass and the shirt. Go over the things that should not be striking to the eye at first when looking at the picture.

Step 9

Clean it up, maybe add some more light or shadow if your image can handle it.

That’s it

The final pictureThe final picture

Hope you learned something! Take care!

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