In this tutorial I will teach you how to edit in photo in Lightroom and Photoshop to dramatically alter its appearance and mood. We’ll change a broad daylight scene into a night-time one, lit by a street lamp. I’ll also take the opportunity to describe some non-destructive editing techniques in Photoshop.
Below you can see the ‘before’ and ‘after’:
The original, straight from the camera image is mind-numbingly dull; it’s the very definition of dullness. It was shot in a overcast February afternoon. As boring as it is, it was perfect for my purposes. I wanted to convey a sense of ‘out of place’, of a person that doesn’t really belong there, forcing the viewer to create a story – who is this young and attractive woman and what is she doing in this miserable street?
The overcast day had the advantage of decreased contrast and a complete lack of shadows, allowing me a wide range of editing.
Creating the light/dark versions
First thing, I created two Virtual Copies in Lightroom:
As you can see above, the altered versions are already better — especially the “night” one, dark and moody. However, the street lamp gave me the opportunity to go the extra mile in creating something realistic.
Mixing light and dark
Having exported the two versions as 16bit TIFF (for maximum quality), I opened both of them in Photoshop. I then copied the “dark” one and pasted as a layer over the “lit” version.
It was pretty clear already that quite a lot of trial-and-error was to be expected, so instead of simply using the Eraser to remove parts of the “dark” layer, I decided to use a mask instead.
I selected the Dark layer and from the Masks panel, I clicked on the Pixel Mask button to create a new mask.
A Pixel Mask works just like an alpha channel for the layer – it’s a grayscale bitmap where white is opaque and black is completely transparent. What’s cool about it is that you can alter the opacity of the layer by painting on the mask.
You can see on the left how the mask affects the mix between lit and unlit areas.
I clicked on the mask in the Layers panel to select it and then I simply used a semi-transparent, highly feathered black brush to create transparent areas.
There are three main lit areas: the light on the wall, faing out, the light on the pavement the light spill on the roof. You can notice that I preferred to paint everything instead of using gradients, to avoid the artificial “perfect” look.
Adjusting the exposure
The light was still too even in the lit area; close the the light source I needed something much more powerful (remember that light falls off exponentially). To improve the realism, I added an Adjustment Layer just above the Lit layer.
The Adjustment Layer was set to Exposure (Layer –> New Adjustment Layer –> Exposure). I added a simple radial gradient as a mask for this layer the same way as previously and then I tweaked it to get a slightly overexposed look.
Adding the glow
By now I had the light on the wall and pavement pretty much in place; it was time to turn to the light bulb. For this, I simply used the Lasso tool to select the visible area of the bulb and then copied and pasted it as new layer. I then used the Curves to make the bulb much brighter. Finally, from Layer –> Layer Style –> Outer Glow I created a nice amber glow around the bulb.
Below you can see the exact settings for the glow:
I still wanted to add some nice touches: the glow should not be that strong in the upper area. Can you guess what I used? Yep, another Layer Mask.
Please note: By default, layer masks do not affect the layer effects. To make a layer mask hide the effect, open the Layer Style window and go to Blending Options section. From there, check the “Layer mask hides effects” option.
In the layer mask, I painted in black the areas I wanted the glow to be weak. Below you can see the result:
As you can see, I did not eliminate the glow completely, but created a glow-behind-the-edges effect that is seen in high-contrast situations.
Most designers, upon hearing the words “lens flare” run away screaming. They are very often overused and cheesy. Even the new JJ Abrams’ Star Trek features some lens flares annoying as hell. Still, they an unavoidable part of photography and can add some realism if used wisely.
Unfortunately, Photoshop’s Lens Flare effect is laughable. I think it’s the same effect as 15 years ago. I only know of two decent lens effects – one in the old plugin Kai Power Tools 6, the other is Corel Photo-Paint. Both of them allow you to control the size, glow, ring, stars, streaks and reflection trail. This is not a tutorial on lens flares, but modern, good lenses don’t create reflection trails, but only a nice star pattern with minimal interference or random streaks.
For this photo I created a very simple star pattern on black background and I put it as a layer with blending mode set to Linear Dodge (Add) at 33% opacity. You can see that the effect is barely there; its purpose is to enhance the scene in a minimal way, not to overpower it.
If you recall from the beginning of this tutorial, the original image had no shadows because of the overcast sky. Now, as I created a light source, I needed to create a shadow too.
With the background layer active, I started to make a simple selection on the girl using the Magnetic Lasso. I didn’t even needed to be very careful, but just to follow the contours.
Once this was done, I clicked on Refine Edge and increased Smoothness and Feathering. After that, I created a new layer and filled the inside of the selection with black.
The next step was to convert the new layer into a Smart Object via Layer –> Smart Objects –> Convert to Smart Object. Why? It’s because a smart object’s original appearance is preserved so I could distort it any way I wanted without degrading its appearance on each step.
Finally, I set the layer’s blending to Multiply and its opacity down to 50%.
Here’s the final view with all the layers: