advanced photoshop

Quick trick: Paint with blending modes

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Tips & Tutorials, by Anna-lisa Saywell

We show you how to re-imagine lighting in your matte paintings using this Photoshop option

Quick trick: Paint with blending modes

Many digital matte painters will operate in large teams, reflecting the extensive work associated with cinematic products. These DMP production teams share responsibility for pre and postproduction phases. The latter deals with fine details such as the alteration of atmospheric changes such as lighting and colour. Lighting can be applied directly by those with the sufficient skill and confidence. Others prefer the ability to work in a non-destructive fashion and this is where Photoshop plays its hand.

Many matte painters will utilise Photoshop blending modes, painting to layers affected by these. This is a great way to stop the baking of pixels in your images, complementing an editable workflow with layer masks if necessary.

In this case we’re discussing the use of spot and flare lighting. The premise of both these effects are very simple, yet the premise for application is variable. Alternating the effect strength and direction, a matte painter can create artificial flares in machines and automobiles, likewise with spotlights and even organic-looking light rays.

We’ll show you a specific creative formula to achieve these effects, perfected by coupling your blending modes with several other options.

Step 01: Base effect

Quick trick: Paint with blending modes

The base of your lighting effect will always be a solid black layer. Once set to Screen blending mode this will transform pure black into transparency, showing through the precise painted areas, personifying your lighting effects. These can be applied with any coloured brush to suit.

Step 02: Add glow

Quick trick: Paint with blending modes

Now to work with an inner and outer glow. Create your outer glow by applying a large, soft brush at 0% Hardness. Apply a second smaller central brush with an increased Hardness. Brush opacity should dictate strength, which can be enhanced with bespoke flare-shaped brushes.

Step 03: The spotlight

Quick trick: Paint with blending modes

Create a beam shape using selection tools, then paint to this on your Screen layer with a low-opacity brush, dissipating the effect the further from the light source. Apply a heavy blur to soften edges in lighter settings. When in a dark setting, apply a lower blur amount for a harder edge.

Final image 

Quick trick: Paint with blending modes