advanced photoshop

How to create HDR lighting effects in Photoshop

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Tips & Tutorials, by The Advanced Photoshop Team

Learn to u Photoshop brushes, blending modes and gradients to create stunning HDR photo effects

In this tutorial, we set out to fulfil the brief of creating a dynamically lit commercial-standard image, and share our professional effects with you. As with any high-end image, large resolution stock is a big benefit, but learning to manage it is even more essential.

We’ll address many creative and production techniques that will help you with retouching and photo editing. First, we’ll address how to ensure your images are manageable and resizable using the Smart Object command. We’ll also show you how to achieve a striking effect through concise layering effects – no more than 30 in total, excluding Group content. Photoshop brushes and blending modes become integral, yet straightforward, offering exciting results.

A host of colour adjustments and gradient styles are also applicable, helping you quickly transform and match image tones. Solid Color, Selective Color, Levels and Curves all feature, and the Shadows/Highlight command is explored.

Ultimately, we’re looking to deliver you with all the core essentials to create a commercial finish, using Photoshop’s regular option sets.

Step 1: Prepping the backdrop

Step 1

Download image number ‘10660540’ from Fotolia. Duplicate your layer, then Edit>Transform>Perspective. Holding Shift, set Vertical Skew at 2.60 degrees. Rotate by 0.96 degrees and set Vertical Position at 1,450px. Hold Cmd/Ctrl and readjust the corners to the left so they match up with the image. Apply a layer mask and erase any edges with a soft 40% Opacity black brush.

Step 2: Getting started

Step 2

Select Levels from the Layers palette, setting Midtones to 0.65 and Highlights to 245. Add a Color Balance adjustment layer, and set it to Midtones. Set Cyan/Red at -80, Yellow/Blue to +12. Apply a Solid Color adjustment layer, setting a dark blue (‘#030220’) tone. Change this layer’s to Darken at 60% Opacity. Apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, setting Hue at +5, Saturation at -48.

Step 3: Model retouch I

Step 3

Download image number ‘28925618’ from Fotolia and duplicate your model. Create a new layer on top of this, titled ‘retouch notes’ and address areas for improvement before going ahead. To remedy areas such as crows’ feet, creases and wrinkles, even spots and blemishes, apply the Patch tool set to Source. Also apply the Clone Stamp, Opacity at 80%, Flow at 60%, to lips and hair.

 Step 4: Model retouch II

Step 4

To remedy a greasy t-zone, select a soft brush set at 40% Opacity, 20% Flow, Airbrush activated and colour pick surrounding skin tones before applying on top. Merge all your layers into a new single layer (Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E), titled ‘Smooth skin’. Invert your layer (Cmd/Ctrl+I) and apply an Overlay blending mode. Select Filter> Other>High Pass, setting a Radius of three pixels. Apply a layer mask to this layer, inverting it, applying a 30% Opacity soft white brush to show through the blurred effect on the model’s skin tones, but be sparing.

Step 5: Model size

Step 5

Copy and paste your model into your setting, and Ctrl/right-click your model layer, selecting Convert to Smart Object. This way, when rescaling this layer at any point, you won’t lose resolution quality. You could easily drop your model in size, showing the layer in its entirety, creating a compelling cast shadow effect. However, we’ve chosen a two-thirds crop, as this creates a more compelling perspective and complements the intended effects that follow. With our model in place, it’s time to drop in some back lighting.

Step 6: Applying skyline

Step 6

Copy and paste in a moody cloudscape image – placing the skyline layer behind your model layer. Increase the size of your layer so the strongest light source falls behind your model’s head and crook of her right arm, then apply a layer mask. Using a large soft 40% Opacity black brush, integrate your bottom layer edge. Make sure all your cloud values match up, and that none of the above layer obscures the detail in the background layers.

Step 7: Colour cast

Step 7

Create a layer titled ‘Colour cast’ and open the Gradient Editor, setting up a nice Autumn-themed red and orange gradient. Apply in your blank layer. Set this layer’s blending mode to Color, 50% Opacity and Fill. Double-click your model layer. Duplicate your model layer, and Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlights, applying the standard settings. Title this layer ‘Highlights’, and apply a layer mask, inverting it to black.

Step 8: Light cast

Step 8

Duplicate your layer once more in this separate window, titling it ‘Shadows’. Reopen the Shadow/Highlights command and drop all Shadow sliders to 0% and 0px. In the Highlights options, set Amount at 30%, Tonal Width at 45% and Radius at 10px. Activate your Highlights layer mask, and apply a 20% soft white brush to image edges, revealing cast light according to your back light source. You can save in and out of this Smart Object layer to check your progress until you’re satisfied with the final effect.

Step 9: Gradient work

Step 9

Duplicate your Colour cast layer. Cmd/Ctrl-click the model layer, applying a layer mask. Drop this layer’s Opacity and Fill to 30%. Reopen the Smart Object layer and duplicate the original, placing it at the top. Select Hue/Saturation (Cmd/Ctrl+U), lowering Brightness to -70. Apply a layer mask, erasing effects to the waist using a full opacity soft black brush, then work back in highlighted edges with the brush at 80% Opacity.

Step 10: Selective Color

Step 10

We would like to tuck in those autumn tones a little bit more, so begin this process by applying a Selective Color adjustment layer, which should be placed at the top of your stack for the greatest effect. First, select Yellow from the Colors drop options, setting Cyan at -5%, Magenta +25%, and Yellow -50%. Next, select Cyan from the drop options, setting Cyan at +35%, Magenta at -10%, Yellow at -10%, and Black at -1%. Finally, select Blues from the drop options, and set Magenta at +55%.

Step 11: Spot light

Step 11

Create a new layer, titled ‘Spotlight’, directly beneath your model layer. Set the blending mode to Overlay. Next, choose a light yellow tone in the Color picker (#fdeeca) and select a large soft brush – between 1,000px and 1,200px, applying twice behind the crook of your model’s right arm. Duplicate this layer, setting the blending mode to Screen. Apply your soft brush twice behind your models left shoulder on this Screen-based layer.

Step 12: Fringe light

Step 12

Create a new layer on top of your stack, titled ‘Fringe light’. Cmd/Ctrl-click the layer thumbnail, creating an active selection. Press Cmd/Ctrl+H to hide this, selecting a soft edged brush at 80%, with the same light yellow tone. Apply it to the outside edges of your model, heightening the exposure and effects. Apply the same brush at 10% to the edges of your model’s inner and outer legs, the left hand and bag.

Step 13: Flare effect

Step 13

Activate your Spot light copy layer, and select the Smudge tool at 65% Strength. Apply this to the layer, creating discreet light rays. Apply Filter>Noise>Add Noise, with the Amount set at 30%. Create a solid black layer on your stack, titled ‘Lens flare’. Select Filter>Render>Lens Flare, applying a 105mm Prime at 120% Brightness. Descale to a fifth the size, and rotate 90 degrees before applying a Screen blending mode.

Step 14: Flare effect II

Step 14

Position your flare in the centre of your model’s bent arm and mask any edges. Select the Blending Options. Holding Opt/Alt, drag and split the Blend If This Layer black slider to a value of 0/110. Drop layer Opacity to 80% and apply Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur, 4-pixel Radius. Create a new layer placed beneath your Colour cast layer, titled ‘Floor light’. Set blending mode to Overlay.

Step 15: Perspective lighting

Step 15

With the same light yellow tone (‘#fdeeca’), apply a large soft brush where light should fall on the ground. Simply throw this down; we’ll remedy placement using a layer mask, as it may take too much time to apply a specific outcome. Use your mask to work the effect back to the mid-ground, using a 50% Opacity soft black brush. Duplicate the layer, and work the effects towards the horizon.

Step 16: Detailing effects

Step 16

Notice how light is falling on our pylon from the wrong directions. Remedy by selecting (Pen Path tool) and duplicating this into a new layer, applying Shadow/Highlights to maximise highlight tones. Mask the right edge, effectively making it the shadowed side. Apply a 10% Opacity white hard brush to a new layer, tracing left side edges. Duplicate your pylon cut-out layer, decrease Brightness to 100% and Gaussian Blur, using Transform to reposition/create a drop shadow.

Step 17: Autumn fall

Step 17

We’re looking to include foliage effects in the background and foreground. To do this, create two separate Group folders, one behind your model, one at the top of stack – one titled ‘Background leaves’, the other ‘Foreground leaves’. Find some images of leaves, select and copy and paste the leaves into your folders. Remember, scale creates perspective. Also, leaves in the background will be blurred, much like those in the direct foreground. Gaussian Blur should do the trick!

Step 18: Manual exposure

Step 18

Applying the correct lighting to your foliage will elevate authenticity. Apply Hue/Saturation>Lightness anywhere from -20 to -40 to your foreground leaves. Apply stronger values to those in the background. For those in the middle, apply manual lighting and shading. Do this by creating a new layer, selecting each leaf individually and painting shadows to the new layer using a 10% Opacity black Color Burn blend brush. Paint light with a 10% white Linear Light blend brush.

  • Adam

    LIKE! 🙂

  • Nicely illustrated and it make me easy to do it my self.

  • Dustin

    Awesome. I always wondered what that spilling light was called. Ahhh…finging!

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