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Spotlight your images for illuminating results

Added on Monday 18th of January 2010 08:08 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3/CS4

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


A blank canvas gives you the opportunity to transplant an image into new surroundings. To create visual interest and dimension, though, you need to do more than fill the background with solid color. To ensure your image doesn’t look fake or out of place, you can add lighting and shadow effects to your custom backdrops in Photoshop.


To create a custom backdrop for an image, we’ll show you how to:

     Fill the background with a neutral gray to create a backdrop for the light.

     Apply a lighting effect to the background to create dimension.

     Add a drop shadow to the subject image to create depth.

     Transform the drop shadow to accurately depict the light source.

     Enhance the overall image with text.


Transplanting an image into new surroundings requires careful consideration. Your image will need more than just a solid-colored background to look and feel at home. As shown in Figure A, a little lighting and shadowing makes new surroundings more inviting—as well as more pleasing to the eye. We’ll explore these components and how to add them to your images in Photoshop. 




Make yourself at home

The first thing you need to do when looking to transplant an image is to create the new document it will call home. In this document, you’ll fill the background with color. This step is necessary for the lighting effect you’ll add in the next step, and it will also enrich the color of the light.


To create a new document:

1.       Launch Photoshop and choose File > New.

2.      Enter 6 inches in the Width text box and 8 inches in the Height text box.

3.      Set the Resolution to 72 pixels/inch (PPI), choose RGB from the Color Mode pop-up menu, and White from the Background Contents pop-up menu.

4.      Click OK.


To create the backdrop:

1.       Click on the Set Foreground Color box in the Tools panel to open the Color Picker and specify the color values R:169, G:169, B:169. Then, click OK.

2.      Press [option][delete] ([Alt][Backspace] in Windows) to fill the Background layer with the foreground color.


Shine a little light on me

Now you can enhance your background with a lighting effect. The Lighting Effects filter offers several preset lighting settings from which you can choose. You’ll start with the default style, which is a white spotlight with medium intensity and a wide focus, and then customize it a bit.


To create a spotlight effect:

1.       Choose Filter > Render > Lighting Effects.

2.      Choose Default from the Style pop-up menu. (If Default is already selected, choose a different style, and then choose Default. This resets the options to their default settings.)

3.      Adjust the angle and height of the directional light in the preview window. To do so, drag the handle at the end of the line and rotate the light until it’s shining from the upper-left corner, as shown in Figure B.

4.      Lower the Intensity setting in the Light Type pane to 28 using the slider.

5.      Click on the color box in the Light Type pane to open the Color Picker and select a pale shade of blue (such as R:151, G:211, B:243) for the light. Then, click OK.

6.      Raise the Exposure slider in the Properties pane to 15, and then lower the Ambience slider to 3.

7.      Click OK in the Lighting Effects dialog box to apply the spotlighting to your backdrop, as shown in Figure C.






Put things in their place

The next step is to move an image onto your custom backdrop. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file butterfly.jpg (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for...


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