Adding dynamism to a Photoshop image can be done using some of the Lighting Effects available within the program. The image presented here is a rendered still from a 3D model created in the modelling program VectorWorks. But you can apply this technique to any photograph, scan or downloaded image.
Before adding the lighting effects it’s always good practice to adjust the tonal levels of an image using a Levels adjustment layer. This technique is known as “non-destructive editing” since the original pixels are not altered, simply overlaid with new tonal content, similar to a filter.
In this dialog panel we move the black and white marker stops inwards towards the centre of the histogram a little. We then move the grey mid-tone slider and click the small arrow on bottom left to close the panel. If you open the History panel and create a Snapshot via the bottom of panel, this will allow us to revisit any changes made.
In addition a Curves adjustment layer could be added. It’s always a good start to note the effects of the various Presets, for example Medium Contrast. We then accentuate the existing curve, noting that the best tonal curves are bell curves, inverted bell curves and S-shaped curves. We then return to the History panel again and create another snapshot, thus allowing us to compare our results and choose which works best at the end of the process. Our adjustments may be adjusted further by double-clicking on the layer’s thumbnail to enter the control dialog again. We may also click on small visibility icon on the left to toggle the effect on and off.
The next step in the process is to add colour. We can do this via the top Layers menu, choosing New Layer and changing the layer’s Blending mode to Color. We could then add a dark blue to transparent (for example) Gradient blend from the bottom of the image to the top. Change also the layer’s Opacity to between 20 and 50%. And, of course, create a new snapshot. We can see our image beginning to resemble the effect produced in the example shown here.
Now we come to the special part of the process, namely the addition of Lighting Effects. First we right-click on the Background layer and select Convert to Smart Object. Again this is an example of editing non-destructively. We then go to the top Filter menu and select Rendering, followed by Lighting Effects. Note that in this location we again are presented with various Presets. Select any of these and we can also adjust the light direction, the intensity and colour, etc. Because we earlier converted this layer to a Smart Object, we can make adjustments to the effect later on if we wish. If we forget to convert to a Smart Object, this option is not available, and the effect may only be undone via the History panel.
Note that with some earlier Macintosh platforms the 64-bit version of Photoshop may have trouble using the Lighting Effects – the option is “greyed-out”. In this case we simply open Photoshop in the 32-bit mode and Lighting Effects should return. We do so by right-clicking on the Photoshop application file located in the Photoshop CC folder and selecting Get Info.
We would then select the checkbox marked Open in 32-bit mode and restart Photoshop whereupon the missing filters should return.
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