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What You'll Be Creating

Today we will be learning how to add light in Photoshop! Along with adding light, we will be looking at how to change a light source in Photoshop. We will take a brightly lit image and turn it into a fiery bonfire night scene with vid oranges and reds, and of course dramatic lighting and shadows. 

Want to add fire to an image in a matter of seconds? Try one of the dozens of premium light effect Photoshop actions and add-ons found on Envato Elements! There are tons of different high-quality resources to help you create a light effect in Photoshop.

You can also create a light effect in Photoshop using an action like this one.You can also create a light effect in Photoshop using an action like this one.You can also create a light effect in Photoshop using an action like this one.
You can also create a light effect in Photoshop using an action like this one.

Do you prefer video tutorials? Then check out this cool video from the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel and learn how to create a light effect in Photoshop.

What You'll Learn in This Light Effect Photoshop Tutorial

  • How to add a light source in Photoshop
  • How to change the light source in Photoshop
  • How to add light in Photoshop
  • How to add light reflection in Photoshop
  • How to add fire to a photo In Photoshop

What You'll Need

1. How to Add a Light Source in Photoshop

Step 1

Let's start things off by quickly setting up our environment.

In this case, we'll create a bonfire where the majority of light will be behind the subject. We will be adding a smaller light source coming from the bottom left corner later on.

Place the fire nice and large, and add a Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur of around 13px or so. Always feel free to experiment with settings like that.

bokeh effect bokeh effect bokeh effect

Step 2

Next, at the top of our layer stack, we want to create a Selective Color adjustment layer affecting the Reds, Yellows, Neutrals, and Blacks. And let's add a punch of brightness with a Brightness/Contrast layer set to a Brightness of 22.

Group the two adjustment layers, name the group "Color Grade", and go ahead and Lock them as they will stay at the top of our layer stack from here on out. This is how to match lighting in Photoshop quickly. 

selective color selective color selective color

2. How to Change a Light Source in Photoshop

Step 1

Next, we want our subject placed in the center of the canvas, and you can extract the image using your preferred method.

Let's add an Image > Adjustments > Curves and bring down the highlights pretty significantly. Our subject, in this case, is exceptionally bright, so we want to make sure to dull all of those highlights. I do recommend working with smart objects, as settings like these may need to be adjusted as you go.

remove highlights with curves remove highlights with curves remove highlights with curves

Photoshop add light source to image- remove highlights  Photoshop add light source to image- remove highlights  Photoshop add light source to image- remove highlights

Step 2

Now, we can start laying down our shadows. Create and clip a Color Fill layer into the subject setting it to a dark muted blue 121920 color and setting its layer mode to Multiply.

I recommend using cooler, less vivid colors for shadows. This will keep your image from looking flat or muddy. Also, the Multiply color mode tends to work best when painting shadows.

Adjust the Shadows Blend If settings by double-clicking the layer and then holding Alt to adjust the toggles. Pull the white toggles to the left to let a small amount of the subject's highlights come through the Color Fill layer.

blend if shadows - how to remove shadows in photoshopblend if shadows - how to remove shadows in photoshopblend if shadows - how to remove shadows in photoshop
establish base shadows establish base shadows establish base shadows

Step 3

Select the Color Fill layer mask and Invert it using Control-I.

Now, we're going to take a semi-hard round brush, around 70% Hardness, set to white, and mask in the inner portion of our subject.

Keep the shadows structured, and try to follow the natural shapes of the subject's head and jacket, creating shapes, and not just blobs of darkness.

Photoshop add light source to image - mask in shadows Photoshop add light source to image - mask in shadows Photoshop add light source to image - mask in shadows

Step 4

Once you're happy with the first round of shadows, we're going to Duplicate the Color Fill layer, Delete the layer mask, and adjust the Blend If so that even more of the highlights shine through.

Then we can add a new Layer Mask, Invert it, and paint in some deeper shadows on the innermost portion of the subject.

Take your time painting shadows, and don't be afraid to go back and forth between the two Color Fill layers. From here on out, creating and painting a highlight or shadow could mean going back and adjusting the ones you've already made. It's a back and forth process.

blend if second phase shadows blend if second phase shadows blend if second phase shadows
secondary shadows secondary shadows secondary shadows

Step 5

On this subject, the necklace still has a large amount of shine to it, much more than would be seen in this level of dark lighting. So let's create another Color Fill layer set to a burnt orange aa4400 color with a layer mode of Darken.

Photoshop add light source to image - remove chain highlights  Photoshop add light source to image - remove chain highlights  Photoshop add light source to image - remove chain highlights

Step 6

Add a layer mask, Invert the layer mask, and then mask the color back in over the chain and zippers of the jacket.

You can leave some of the highlights on the chain if you think they may be catching a bit of light. Just zoom in nice and close, and mask out the highest parts of those portions.

Creating structured shadows like this helps make an image feel less flat. Again, if you need to, come back and adjust these shadows as you go.

mask chain mask chain mask chain

3. How to Add Light in Photoshop

Step 1

With our shadows laid, we can move on to ways Photoshop can add light sources to an image. Let's start with some general lighting.

Create and clip a New Layer into the subject, setting it to Overlay and bringing its Opacity down to 60%. Take a large, soft, round brush and paint in a semi-bright orange e46234 color around the subject.

Set the Flow of the brush to 20% or less so you can build the light up slowly. You don't have to be precise, but keep the shape of the subject's features in mind. Try to follow the ridges of the hair and the curves of the jacket.

general  light how to change light source in Photoshopgeneral  light how to change light source in Photoshopgeneral  light how to change light source in Photoshop

Step 2

Now, over the next couple of steps, we are going to paint our rim lighting. We will be using three main layer modes: Screen, Lighter Color, and Color Dodge.

The number of layers used is up to you. The idea is to build up light slowly, so whether you do this in four layers or 14 layers doesn't matter.

Let's start with a layer set to Screen and clipped into our subject. And for our brush, let's start with a smaller, soft, round brush set to a Flow of 20% or less. However, your brush size and hardness will change while you paint.

Use a brighter orange e58c17 color to bring light onto the edges and higher portions of the subject. Keep a light hand while painting, and as always, build the color and light up slowly.

rim light rim light rim light

Step 3

You can then enhance that light with a layer set to Lighter Color, placed above the rim light, and using that same semi-bright orange e46234 color from the first general lighting phase.

Though your colors don't have to be exact, stick to general reds, oranges, and yellows. You can always adjust the color using Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation.

enhance rim light  how to change light source in Photoshopenhance rim light  how to change light source in Photoshopenhance rim light  how to change light source in Photoshop

Step 4

After a round of Screen and Lighter Color layers, we can add a layer set to Color Dodge.

Color Dodge will brighten and add both contrast and color to everything beneath it. A little too much, in fact. So, to keep it contained in the highlights, let's use Blend If and pull the black toggles to the right.

Now we can paint using a bright yellow-orange color f9b608 without worrying about the lighting bleeding into the shadows.

blend if for rim light  - how to remove shadows in photoshopblend if for rim light  - how to remove shadows in photoshopblend if for rim light  - how to remove shadows in photoshop
bright overall lighting  bright overall lighting  bright overall lighting

Step 5

Repeat those same techniques to add rim lighting to the glasses and further enhance the current rim light.

glasses rim light glasses rim light glasses rim light

Step 6

We're going to finish up the subject layer's lighting with one last layer set to Color Dodge at 50% Opacity.

Set the brush to a medium, soft, round brush, with a Flow of 10% or less. The flow rate being low is incredibly important as you'll want to be very careful about building up your lighting slowly. Set the color to a vivid reddish-orange e43a01 color.

On this layer, we're going to add the orange color onto the highest points of the face, as well as her glasses and jacket. The higher the area, the more light it would be catching, so focus on places like her forehead, upper cheek, and lips.

Make sure there is a smooth transition from bright to somewhat bright to no light. Take your time and use multiple layers or adjust the opacity if you need to.

face lighting face lighting face lighting

4. How to Add a Light Reflection in Photoshop

Step 1

Now, we can use the same general techniques to add lighting to the outer portion of the subject and her environment.

First, add a layer set to Screen, and a Blend If removing the layer from the deepest blacks of the image. On that layer, we're going to add a bit of lighting to the braid hanging in the girl's face.

light hair light hair light hair

Step 2

Next, add a New Layer set to Overlay.

With a very large, soft, round brush, we can build up a vivid orange ea6024 glow around the subject, focusing it on the subject's left.

Remember to keep the forms of the subject in mind, even when doing more general lighting like this. And lower the Opacity of the layer if the effect seems too strong.

build up lighting on left build up lighting on left build up lighting on left

Step 3

We can use that same brush and color to build up lighting on a couple of New Layers set to Screen. In total, I used around three layers, each with a different Opacity and slightly different shades of Orange.

Keep the Flow rate of your brush low to give you more control over the intensity of the light. You can also bring some of that glow on a New Layer, set to Screen, placed below your subject, which is a great way to add light rays Photoshop.

add light rays photoshop add light rays photoshop add light rays photoshop

Step 4

Let's finish up and give the subject one last bit of rim light by Duplicating the subject, bringing that duplicate below the original.

Add a Color Overlay layer filter, filling it with a bright orange ffaf3c color. And then Right-Click > Convert to Smart Object and set the layer mode to Lighter Color.

Nudge the layer up a few pixels, and use the Warp tool to bring some of the orange rim light onto the jacket.

strong outer lighting strong outer lighting strong outer lighting

5. How to Add Fire to a Photo in Photoshop 

Step 1

Finish up by Duplicating the background fire layer, bringing it right below the locked "Color Grade" group, and setting it to Screen.

Then we can position it so that the fire appears in the bottom left corner, and some of the embers are floating over the subject's face.

add fire effect  how to remove shadows in photoshopadd fire effect  how to remove shadows in photoshopadd fire effect  how to remove shadows in photoshop

Step 2

And finally, let's create a Curves layer, bring up the highlights, and then remove the Curve setting from the shadows using Blend If.

Invert the Curve mask, and let's mask back in some highlights over the subject's left side and any area we want to be a bit brighter.

how to add light in photoshop how to add light in photoshop how to add light in photoshop

You're Done! 

That's how to create a light effect in Photoshop! While learning how to change a light source in Photoshop seems daunting, it's really about mixing and matching a few different layer modes, adjustment layers, and of course some cool fire effects!  

how to add light in photoshophow to add light in photoshophow to add light in photoshop

5 Best Light Effect Photoshop Add-Ons

Looking for the best light effect Photoshop add-ons and actions? Look no further than Envato Elements! 

1. Fervent 2 Photoshop Action (ABR, ATN)

Fervent 2 Photoshop ActionFervent 2 Photoshop ActionFervent 2 Photoshop Action

Who doesn't love fire?  The Fervent 2 Photoshop action adds light sources to images that are bright, vivid, and dramatic! It's a high-quality action that will add dynamic bursts of fire to any image. The best part is you don't have to worry about how to match lighting in Photoshop—this action will do it for you!

2. Ember Effect Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR, PAT, PSD)

Ember Effect - Photoshop ActionEmber Effect - Photoshop ActionEmber Effect - Photoshop Action

Wondering how to add light reflections in Photoshop? Well, this action has you covered! This Photoshop action creates glowing cracks of molten fire on text, logos, and more.  

3. Fire Photoshop Action (ABR, ATN)

Fire Photoshop ActionFire Photoshop ActionFire Photoshop Action

The fire Photoshop action takes how to lighten a photo in Photoshop to the next level. It adds loose fiery embers all over the image, as well as bursting concentrations of fire. 

4. Flames Photoshop Action (ABR, ATN)

Flames Photoshop ActionFlames Photoshop ActionFlames Photoshop Action

Need to know how to add a light source in Photoshop? Try this action! With its dramatic fire effects, small ember details, and of course smoke effects galore, this action will have your subject looking like a hero who is too cool to look at explosions.  

5. Night Fury Photoshop Action CS3+ (ABR, ATN, PAT)

Night Fury Photoshop Action CS3+Night Fury Photoshop Action CS3+Night Fury Photoshop Action CS3+

Adding light rays in Photoshop can bring life to any image, and this action does just that! And this is also a great action for anyone wondering how to lighten a photo in Photoshop! It's multipurpose, and extra dramatic thanks to its fiery colors. 

Want to learn even more? Check out the tutorials below: 

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