Tutorial: Lighting Effects with Brushes in Photoshop

There are several ways to add a glow to lighting and adjust the intensity. Each method below shows different ways to do . Practice a little and mix and match the techniques to make your own custom lighting!

These screen shots are from Photoshop CS, but are almost identical in lower versions.
This tutorial should follow the previous tutorial on Sparkle Trails. In this tutorial we’ll use the Brushes Palette, Layer Styles, Stroke, and Blur Filters.
Use some photographs of real lighting, of sunsets, galaxies, flashlights, etc, to get an idea of what you’re trying to copy.

Preparing an image
1. Open a new document, at least 200 dpi for good printing, and make a new layer. Fill the background with a daker color or gradient so you will see the lighting, or start with a photo with a dark background.
2. We’ll start with a photo as a subject, or extract the subject as seen here. To make the lighting look believable emitting from the subject, the subject can’t be dark, so we’ll apply a Distort>Diffuse Glow. To decrease the intensity, either decrease Glow, or increase Clear Amount.
3. If using the background already on the photo, you’ll still need to extract the image onto its own layer so we can put the lighting behind the subject as well as on top.
4. This is the image I’ll use to start painting my lighting. Save this file, as I will go back to this state to start all the various lighting effects.

Soft Halo
1. Make a new layer under the photo and name it Light.
2. In your brushes menu select a large, soft airbrush, color white.

3. Begin painting the halo around the subject with low opacity and flow settings. The Mode is variable, experiment to see which mode you prefer.
a. With each pass of the brush, you only paint with one opacity. Release the mouse button and paint again to paint over the area to increase opacity.
b. Make the white more intense closer to the subject and fading out away from it.

4. Apply Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur value about 4, or the amount you like to really soften the edges.
5. The blur will soften the edges, but also the center. Go back with the brush if needed to intensify the lighting close to the subject.
6. While on the Halo layer, click Edit>Stroke, and add a bright yellow, 2px, Center stroke on 20% opacity.

7. Add another Stroke in bright orange, 1px, outside, 15% opacity. An orange Outer Glow Layer Style works as well. Double click on the Light layer icon in the layers palette to bring up the Layer Styles dialog box and change the color to orange, lower the opacity, and increase the spread.
8. Experiment with all the Mode and Opacity settings as well as Blur amounts to make this effect as intense and concentrated or as soft and spread as you like.

Colored Light
1. Go back to original state, and paint on your Light layer with color instead of white. Most light will be white right in the center, so paint a little intense white near the subject
2. Stroke with various colors, or just apply an Outer Glow Layer Style in whatever color you like. Here is pink light with a green Outer Glow.
3. Adjust the Hue to change to color. Ctrl-H or Image>Adjustments>Hue and move the sliders until you find what you like.
4. You can always paint on a little more white to intensify the center or apply a Gaussian blur to soften the edges.

1. Go back to original state and click on the Light layer
a. Use the brush to paint beams of light. These should have more distinctive edges than the halo, so lower the setting when you Blur. And still focus the brightest white around the subject.

b. Use the Polygonal Lasso to create triangular selections, using high Feather. The higher the feather, the softer the edge. Fill selection with a white to transparent Radial gradient, with the white near to subject and the transparent away from it. Deselect. I prefer this second method as it gives more distinct and smooth beam lines. Choose what works best for you .

2. Apply multiple Strokes of gradiating colors and opacities. If the effect is too intense, click Edit>Fade and lower the opacity or change the Mode.

3. You can also add gradient Outer Glow Layer Style instead of a single color.
a. Open the Layer Styles dialog box and click the gradient bar.
b. Choose a preset, or customize the colors and color stops. Click OK and adjust the effect in the Layer Styles dialog box.
4. To add more brightness to the ends of the beam near the subject, right click on the Light layer icon in the Layers Palette, and click Select Layer Transparency. Ctrl-H to hide the lines so you can see what you’re doing, or click View>Extras. Use your large airbrush to paint on a little more white at the base of the beams. Deselect.

5. Continue to apply Gaussian Blur or adjust Levels to increase or decrease intensity. Ctrl-L or Image>Adjustments>Levels and move the right slider up to increase brightness, or the center slider up to decrease contrast. The amount of light you needs depends on the mood you want and the background you choose. This shot is a lot more intense that what I would actually use in a layout, it’s for demonstration purposes only. I would lower the opacity and increase the center brightness with a brush for actual use.

1. The same principle as the other lighting effects by painting on soft white and applying one of the edge glow methods. The key to good explosions is the right brush and bright glows.
2. Go back to the original state, and choose a rough, irregular brush from the brush menu. Different brushes will give different effects, but the best is something with sparkles or an edge that’s scattered. Try making your own brush or downloading some free ones. As always, click on the brush palette to adjust the size, spacing, angle and size jitters, colors, etc, or add a Dual brush to get a setting that works for you. The brush is the key to making this look good, so play around!

3. Apply the light with a scrubbing and circular motions, keeping the focus around the subject and letting beams shoot off. Here are examples with two different brushes.

4. Add an edge glow with either multiple strokes as discussed above or add an Outer Glow. This effect should be more distinct and brilliant than the other techniques, and the glow effects should be bright.

5. This effect usually looks better on a lighter colored and textured background as shown. Choosing the subject for an explosion effect is critical to the realism. This isn’t a good example of that that: there wouldn’t be an explosion this close to a baby, and she certainly wouldn’t have this expression on her face if there was!

Now you should be able to add lighting to many layouts. This takes practice, so don’t get frustrated! Add a little lighting here and there until you improve and can start making more dramatic effects.


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