Playing with Lights and Shadow to Create Dramatic Photo Manipulation

I´d like to show you different ways how you can play with lights and shadows in your photomanipulation to create completely different light scene. I believe these skills are crucial for every photomanipulator. Let´s get started!

Step 1 - Preparing Background

Download picture of background from the list above and open it in Photoshop. Double click on the layer (if you don´t see the palette Layers go to Window > Layers) and rename it on BACKGROUND. It´s really useful habit to name all your layers because once your manips become more complicated it will be easier to navigate through them.

Before you´ll add woman and dinosaur let´s focus on slight adjusting of the background. You´ll desaturate it and make it bit lighter in this step.

Let´s start with desaturating. Add new adjustment layer Hue/Saturation. You can find the button "Add new fill or adjustment layer" in the bottom part of the palette Layers.

Set the value Saturation on -40.

The second thing mentioned in this step is lightening. You´ll do it very easily by using Levels adjustment layer. So add it and then set the Input Levels on 0; 0,94; 181.

If you look closer at the adjustment´s window you can see there are three values for the Input Levels (and two for the Output Levels). First value represents value of shadows, second is value of midtones and third value of highlights.

By the adjutment you´ve just done you´ve made midtones and highlights lighter while shadows (darks) remain untouched.

Below you can see how these three adjustments change the picture.

Step 2 - Adding Woman and Dinosaur

Download the photo of woman and dinosaur and drag it into your photomanipulation. Place it on the top of all layers and name it e.g. WOMAN (to keep it short). Below you can take a look at the order of layers so far.

You won´t make any changes in this step but I´d like to discuss what and why you´ll change in the following steps. It´s nice to follow tutorials but without knowing why such things were done tutorials are not much useful.

Before let´s take a look at how the image looks right now.

The most essential thing (on which the whole tutorial focuses) is that woman with dinosaur were shot in completely different light scenery than the background. They were shot during sunlight which causes hard transitions between lights and shadows.

On the other hand the background image was shot when it was cloudy and foggy and light was very soft - you can barely see difference between lights and shadows.

On woman and dinosaur the ligt source comes from the left. You´ll add this light source also to the background and create more visible difference between lights and shadows. You´ll also soften transition between lights and shadows on woman and dinosaur.

You might think that I talk only about light scene but not cover the topic of color adjustments. Well, you´ll make these kind of changes too, but I want to focus especially on changing lights and shadows in this tutorial because I think it´s essential skill for photomanipulator, which is often ignored. I believe that many manips could be significantly better if author thinks more about lights and shadows.

Step 3 - Adding Sun Rays to the Background

Let´s start with changing the light scene of the background. As I said light source on woman and dinosaur comes from the left but there is no such thing on the background. You´ll add some sun rays coming from that side in this step so the picture will make better sense.

Add new layer under the layer WOMAN and name it SUN RAYS. Download the sun rays brush listed in the beginning of the tutorial and install it into Photoshop. If you don´t know how to install custom brushes into Photoshop you can take a look at this tutorial.

On the picture below you can see the layer order.

Grab the Brush Tool (B) and select one of the brushes you´ve just installed. Set the Master Diameter on proper size and lower its Opacity on about 50%.

Hold Alt on your keyboard to activate the Eyedropper Tool (I) and pick some very light color from the background.

While doing manipulations (painting, making lights and shadows etc) try to avoid using pure white and black color. They both are very harsh and very rarely look realistic. You can very rarely see pure black and white in real life. Even if you think something is black, it´s more likely dark grey, dark green... The same with white color.

Make invisible the layer WOMAN. To do it click on the small icon of eye next to that layer.

Now paint some light rays. Keep in mind that to get realistic look they all should come from the same site. Also don´t paint much of the rays, it wouldn´t look realistic.

You can get the inspiration of what to paint on the picture below.