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Lighting in Photo Manipulation (Part 3)


Lighting in Photo Manipulation Part 3 Title PostFill lights, reflected light (speculars) and radiosity are all aspects of the lighting game that took me a little longer to get my head around. My understanding is still a work in progress, but Im picking up bits here and there by asking questions, reading and using the good ol’ power of observation. Here are a few of the techniques that I have learnt along the way, and some points to consider when adding light to your photo manipulation.


Behaviour of Light

The following excerpt from the (awesome) PSG Art Tutorial allows us to gain a better understanding of the behaviour of light, which we can adapt to the Photoshop workflow:


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.

PSG Light Tutorial 3

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.

Here on earth we have lots of stuff around us that the light can bounce off, so things here are more or less lit from all angles. For example we have the sky which is like a dome shaped blue light source. Then theres the ground, walls and other surfaces. In space there’s basically just one light source, the sun. This is why the moon just has a lit and shadowed side, and looks kind of flat. If you looks carefully however, you can see earthlight on the shadow side of the moon, but it’s very weak. Then there’s starlight, which I guess is even weaker.

When light hits a surface and bounces, it also change color. If it hits another surface of the same color it bounced off, it will make that surface look even more saturated.

PSG Light Tutorial 4

PSG Light Tutorial 5

Words and Pictures by By Arne Niklas Jansson

With these points in mind, let’s roll on to an example of lighting in photo manipultion and see the principles in action.


Cat Away by Mr-Ripley

Cat Away by Mr-Ripley

I came across this crazy piece on DeviantArt and was really impressed by the highlights and lighting effects, which make the scene pop with a manic intensity. Naturally, I asked the artist (the very talented Mr-Ripley) what techniques he used to achieve this look, and he was very kind to reply the following:

“I used effect called “Inner glow” with the layer of pineapple. I also used Dodge tool on the part of pineapple that I want it looks brighter, and I used Burn tool on the part I want it looks darker on the shade area. It’s simple technique I guess.”

Be sure to check out Mr-Ripley’s DA Gallery for more visual treats. To elaborate on Mr-Ripley’s advice, heres a nice pointer when working with the Dodge and Burn Tool in Photoshop:


Smart Dodging

The Dodge and Burn Tools (O) are excellent for selectively lightening and darkening areas, however when applying them to a layer – the changes are permanent (unless the actions are undone through history). A smart way to work with the Dodge (or Burn) tool is to create a new layer filled with 50% gray (Edit > Fill > 50% gray), and set that layer mode to Soft Light. The layer appears to be transparent, but all Dodge and Burn adjustments you make on that layer will show through. Any mistakes you make down the line can be erased using a brush with the colour set to 50% gray.

This technique was touched upon in the Photoshop Zombie series, and has many great uses;  much like a faux Adjustment Layer.


Existing Light

At times, the stock images you use could have dramatic lighting in place already; in situations like this it may be useful to compose your scene around what you have. For instance, in the piece RetroBar, I noticed the stock model had these awesome electric blue highlights on her face reflected by her surroundings (radiosity) – so I decided to ramp up the tones of the background and work the environment around the existing lighting.

Lighting in Photo Manipulation Existing Light

You’ll find that the process is a lot more intutive when you are working alongside the existing lighting as opposed to bending it to your will, however situations can vary. Much like the ‘cheat method’ explored in Part 2, making use of the stock’s natural settings can help make your final scene a lot more tangible.

Further Reading

As and when Im a lot more comfortable working with highlights, I’ll be sure to share my findings on the site.. In the meantime, here is a small selection of tutorials that I have personally found very useful:

Kuschelirmel’s 2-part lighting tutorial really clarified a lot of things for me, particularly the use of colour to inject ambience and also how to achieve the ‘ethereal‘ quality that Ive always admired. Essential reading: The Lighting Tutorial Part 1, The Lighting Tutorial Part 2.

I love digital painting tutorials, as a lot of the techniques carry over nicely to photo manipulation. This epic tutorial by fo3the13th is a new find and theres tonnes of pointers that relate to lighting: Biggest Tutorial Ever by fo3the13th.



Keep your eyes peeled for new walkthroughs, where we’ll work with active examples and put the theory into practice!

Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter >> @Conzpiracy


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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8 Responses to “Lighting in Photo Manipulation (Part 3)”

  1. Zero says:

    Your tutorials are amazing, are very helpful.

  2. Mr.Ripley says:

    It’s my big honor to see my work in this essential article. I think this Cat Away piece looks much better in here than it does in my own gallery. Thank you so much. I truly appreciate your support. :)

  3. Fiona says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Your tutorial was great and very helpful..Keep up the good work..

  4. kuri says:

    i can,t understand it any1 tell me how edit this

  5. Salemik says:

    An interesting read. Mr.Ripleys stuff was great too.

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