Light Painting Tutorial

  This tutorial explains how to create a "light painting" effect. This effect is named after a process photographers use to create areas of light to accent specific areas of a photograph. Special lighting and repeated "Polaroid" test shots are needed to get just the right control over light and shadow.(see image A.) The arrows on the detailed image show specific areas where light was added on the orange bottle, the white thread spool and the shadowed items in the center. Light painting can create many interesting effects as in the picture of the week titled "Painting in Photoshop".

Image A This image has been enhanced Click the image to open the detailed view
  1)You will need 2 images of the same object that can be registered together exactly on separate layers (download To achieve an exact match the pictures will need to be taken from a camera mounted on sturdy tripod. Ideally there should be at least 2 f-stops difference between the images. Take 1 image with correct aperture and shutter speed. Take the second by leaving the shutter speed and dropping the F-stop 2 clicks. The image will be pretty dark but should retain much of the highlight details (images C and D)

Image B Original

2) Bring the images into Photoshop and align the images exactly. Place the bright image on the top layer.
3) Select the bottom (darker) layer. Choose from the file menu filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur set the slider to 2.0 and click apply. This will soften the shadows.
4) Select the top (lighter) layer and apply a black filled layer mask by clicking on the "add layer mask" icon at the bottom of the layers pallet while holding down the [alt] key (MS Windows)

Layer mask button

Image C - Normal
  You will see the layer mask added to the layer. Click directly on the black mask square to edit the layer. Choose the Brush tool and set the foreground to white and background to black by pressing the "d" key (default colors) then the "x" key. Select a soft edged brush and set the opacity to less than 30%.

Image D - Under 2 stops
  Paint in the highlights with the white, switch to black if you go to far or make a mistake. When painting on a layer mask white reveals the layer and black covers. When you are done, apply the mask and flatten the image.

Special Effects

You can add special effects by applying filters and and changes to the saturation of each layer to create some very interesting art.

    Light layer over saturated 50% and fine brush stokes applied    

Michael S Richter © 2000 - 2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED