advanced photoshop

Paint portrait lighting

Posted in:
General, by Adam Smith

Master ambient lighting to accentuate delicate skin textures


Before we start, let’s see what happens to the subject under one directional light. Remember, stronger light source will cast deeper shadow. Also, warmer light will create cooler shadow and vice versa.

Choosing the scene- background

I’ve decided to place my character high in the sky amongst the clouds. Considering she is a Goddess, clouds seem a right place to start with. The clouds will be used as a stepping stone for light to bounce off of as well as to give me the richness of hues down the road.

Skin tones

Choose the palette carefully. Consider the environment at this stage. Skin is a very complex organic matter. A little bit of knowledge about what’s going on under the skin will help you determine how to tone it properly under any circumstance.

Facial anatomy

Bear in mind the way human skull is formed, this will determine where to shade and how to contour the shapes the right way. Eye sockets will have deeper shadows as they are inlayed deeper, and nose, cheeks and chin will be exposed more, therefore hues will be lighter.


Shading is important to achieve the feel of dimension as well as determining the light source. Remember, skin will be lighter closer to the light source and darker in places further away from the light source. In this case, values are not as deep as they would be in the dark surroundings.


Always think of their shape. Eyes are not just flat surfaces. Think of them as a round ball and paint them with the darker edges and lighter around the centre. Here I’ve used two tone darker shades to paint the edges.  In addition, I’ve used a very light violet hue over the eye balls to make them glow.


There are few different ways to blend the colour, but I always use the same method – Spatter brush, Opacity set to around 50%. Use Colour Picker to select joining colours and change them simultaneously while in the process of blending.

Developing the skin hues further

The character in this example has light, porcelain like complexion. To visualise this further, I am adding faint bluish –purple hues over her forehead, nose, and portion of her cheeks. In those areas, skin is very thin which will expose some of the blood vessels right underneath the surface.

Bounced hue

The most prominent appearance of the bounced hues will be on the opposite side of the light source. So I paint some nice shades of pink, purple and orange hues on the side of her face shaded from the direct light. In addition, I add a layer of haze (Layer Mode set to Hard Light) to further the effect of daylight.

Skin Highlights

I decided that some of the residual lighting would be instrumental to highlight the right side of the character, considering the ambient lighting I chose for this exercise. So I panted some faint highlights along her chin, ear and portion of her neck.

  • ines

    Thanks! this is very helpful !