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Lighting in Photo Manipulation (Part 2)


Lighting in  photo manipulation part 2Equipped with a basic understanding of the physics of light, it’s time to go ahead and apply these principles in Photoshop. Shared in this article are a few techniques that I use in my work, however feel free to develop your own methods for achieving the desired results. Once again, we’ll be referring the PSG Art Tutorial for some initial pointers (if you haven’t already read the article in full – go check it now!).



Personally, I find shadows somewhat easier to deal with than radiosity and reflected light (speculars) – so we’ll start there! Illustrated below you will find a concise explanation of shadows, which will act as reference in our work:


Shadows are quite flat and generally less saturated than the lit side. It’s easier to notice ambient light in the shadows. Shadows get blury over distance, this is called diffraction.

PSG Light Tutorial 2

Words and illustration by Arne Niklas Jansson


Cast Shadows

Heres a widely used technique to create cast shadows, useful for figurative work and fleshing out scenes to create a sense of depth and realism. In the example I have a masked figure on a layer above a simple background. (Man with Protest Sign & Mask © Renee Jansoa #8298390)

Lighting in photoshop 1

Duplicate the figure layer (Right click layer, select Duplicate), and reduce the lightness to make the duplicated figure black (I used Image > Adjustments > Levels, and pulled the Output Levels scale to Black). You should now have a black version of your figure above the original.

Lighting in Photoshop 2

With your new layer active, go Edit > Transform > Distort – select the middle anchor point (circled in blue below), and distort it to your liking. Keep the lighting of your background / figure in mind when creating your shadow.

Lighting in Photoshop 3

You can use the other control points to help contort your selected shadow into the desired shape. When you are happy with how it looks, apply the transformation.

Lighting in Photoshop 4

Move your shadow layer below the original in the layer stack. As per the PSG Tutorial advice, shadows get blurry over distance (diffraction) – we can achieve this easily by applying a layer mask (Add Layer Mask icon, bottom of the layers palette). Use a black soft edged brush or a black & white gradient to create the diffraction effect using the Layer Mask, see the example below to see how my Layer Mask looks.

Lighting in Photoshop 6

For the finishing touches you can apply a slight Gaussian Blur to the shadow layer to soften it up a bit (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur), and reduce the opacity of the shadow to fit the requirements of your scene. In this example I applied a slight Gaussian Blur of 1.25px and reduced the opacity of the shadow layer to 25%.

Lighting in Photoshop 7

A nice simple technique with lots of different uses.

Painting Shadows

Painting shadows manually is another straightforward technique and a personal favourite of mine. Select a dark colour from the background where the shadow will be cast using the Eyedropper Tool (I) and manually paint in the shadows on a new layer set to Multiply, using a Soft Edged Brush (B). A lot of people use black for their shadows, but this doesn’t look as natural as using a dark colour sampled from the scene. Black tends to wash out the colour information underneath and degrades the sense of realism you are trying to achieve. (Hook and hand from, now defunct and BG was from StockXpert, which has also closed!)

Lighting in Photoshop 8

Tweak the opacity of your shadow layers to suit your needs. In my example I had a more pronounced shadow underneath the object set to 59% opacity, and a more subtle shadow over the arm set to 32% opacity. You are afforded a high level of creative control when working like this, creating a sense of depth that can become quite complex when working with multiple objects and shadow layers.

Lighting in Photoshop 9

My piece Monster Stomp is a good example of what you can achieve, the majority of the shadows created here were painted manually using the above techniques:

Lighting in Photoshop 10

There’s a slight variation to this approach that produces similar results. As opposed to using a Multiply layer for your shadows, this method uses a Levels Adjustment Layer to produce the shadows. Create a new Adjustment Layer above your background / object (Image > Adjustments > Levels) and tweak the sliders until you reach the desired darkness for your shadows. With your Adjustment Layer Mask selected, Invert (Ctrl/Cmd + I) the white to black – and paint in your shadows as shown in the steps above. This technique also works well with Curves Adjustment Layers as well.

The Cheat Method

This sneaky little number is great, because nothing quite beats using the natural lighting of the original stock image. The drawback however, is that it only works with stock images with white / light backgrounds. The scorpion below is an ideal candidate as it has clearly defined shadows on an even white background. (Scorpion from StockXpert)

Photoshop Lighting 11

This was the primary stock image used in my piece Divine Cruelty. I created a precise selection around the scorpion using the Pen Tool (P) and copied the selection to a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + J). What this results in is a copy of the scorpion (minus background) above the original layer. By setting the original layer to Multiply, this eliminates the whites and displays only the ‘shadow’ – you may need to tweak the Levels of the shadow layer, to clean up any excess artefacts that sneak through.

This method really does pack a lot of punch as the realism attained from using the natural lighting is hard to beat. Check out the result below:

Lighting in Photoshop 12


The tutorials on SurrealPSD are stepping up a notch, so they’ll require a certain amount of initiative on your part when applying these techniques in your work. Hopefully the active examples and rough guidelines will provide the necessary stepping stones to get you on the way with lighting. As ever, adapt and improve these methods to suit your needs. In part 3 we will look at highlights, speculars and vignette effects.

Got any lighting tips you want to share with me? Im hungry for info! Feel free to share in the comments section. If you enjoyed this article, please retweet or share via the applet below.

Conzz 8-)


Lighting in Photo Manipulation Part 1 – Overview

Lighting in Photo Manipulation Part 2 – Shadows

Lighting in Photo Manipulation Part 3 – Highlights

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11 Responses to “Lighting in Photo Manipulation (Part 2)”

  1. best4best says:

    Hi …

    thank you so much for this great Tutorials :D

    beware .. I’m watching you and Waiting for more great tut like this ;) :P

    see ya …

  2. Shem says:

    hey dean, love yr work, get touch,

  3. Jasper says:

    I have to agree on this one, it had me like whoah! I have long wanted to learn the different techniques of photography and I’d love to start from here.

  4. Many ways to do photo manipulation, now many online services that provide services for photo manipulation, but I prefer to use Photoshop to perform manipulation. Photoshop tutorials are very interesting to learn. With Photoshop, we can create to generate a variety of photo looks more attractive.

  5. Simen Kowell says:

    An interesting topic about editing and Photoshop configuration. Can you talk about making a background environment? I have been dying to know the technique but I can’t just make it right. Thanks.

  6. BunnyForever says:

    Wonderful tutorial!!!

  7. [...] • Lighting in Photo Manipulation Part 2 (Level: Intermediate) >> Achieve a sense of realism in your photo manipulation work with these simple shadow techniques in Photoshop. [...]

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