Lighting in Photo Manipulation (Part 1)
To achieve a sense of realism in your photo manipulation work, understanding light and manipulating it to your needs is a fundamental skill. Much like the other visual mediums, a mastery of lighting will elevate your Photoshop work and make your illusions more tactile and believable. In this new series we will examine the basics of light and it’s effective use in photo manipulation.
Let there be light
Prior to the supreme masters of the High Renaissance, artistic pieces were rendered as flat dimensional planes, layered with artefacts but with no sense of depth. The premise of 3-dimensional space had gradually evolved, the use of light and shadows to create the illusion of depth have become integral to the creative process of the visual arts.
Natural media has had thousands of years to develop, and as Digital Artists it is essential to glean as much knowledge as we can from this vast pool of experience. As I write, I know there will be an inward groan from the ‘quick-fix crowd’, but I believe that assimilating the know-how of traditional forms is key to true artistry in photo manipulation.
The Lessons of Natural Media
When I started to really investigate the role of lighting in natural media, my work took a stratospheric jump. In the pursuit for info, I came across an awesome walkthrough by Arne Niklas Jansson which outlines all essentials of lighting in art: PSG Art Tutorial
This really is the greatest, user-friendly explanation I have found and I sincerely urge you to read the tutorial in it’s entirety. Here is an excerpt from the PSG Art tutorial:
There’s really just one kind of light. It bounces. You can only see the light (photon) if it enters your eye. Light does two important things when it hits a surface. First, a part of it is absorbed. This is how colors are made. A red apple reflects mostly red wavelengths, the rest are absorbed and turned into heat or something. That’s why black stuff get so hot in the sun. Anyways, the reflected light bounce away differently depending on the surface. If the surface is bumpy it will bounce away sort of randomly, like a tennis ball that hits rocky terrain. If the surface is smooth it will bounce away in a predictable path. A mirror is very smooth so the light comes back undistorted, so we can see our reflection.
Note that all surfaces have speculars, because speculars is just reflected light. It’s just more broken up/diluted on dull surfaces.
Depending on where the eye/beholder is, it’ll see different light and different specular spots on a curved surface such as this. A puddle isn’t curved (other than the edges because of surface tension) so you’ll only get a shiny reflection from a certain point of view. Point speculars can only appear in an environment where there’s a point light source, like a sun, lightbulb or small window.
The Photoshop Transfer
Transferring all this great knowledge to Photoshop is the challenge we face – but that’s the fun part! Over the years I have developed, copied and found a number of useful photo manipulation lighting techniques which have helped me on my way.
I still see loads of great photo manipulation work and can’t get my head around how they done the lighting, but like you Im eager to keep pushing forward and figure these things out. For now, invest half hour in the PSG tutorial and get a feel for the concepts, in part 2 we’ll hit the ground running and apply these techniques in Photoshop.