Photoshop tutorial: Create dynamic lighting

Dynamic lighting isn’t new -- far from it.

The 16th-century Baroque art movement saw artists such as Giovanni Baglione use chiaroscuro (Italian for light and dark) to add a sense of depth, atmosphere, and emotion to their work. But such lighting effects aren’t limited to paint on canvas – it has appeared throughout the history of cinema, from the film noir era of the 1940s, right up to modern neo-noir, as practised by Quentin Tarantino.


In this tutorial, we’ll show you how the same lighting principles can be applied to your photo manipulations. You’ll start by assembling stock images, then harmonising their colour and tone with some non-destructive adjustment layers. Finally, we’ll use some clever masking and painting techniques can really add another dimension.

You can download the images that Mark Mayers has used for the tutorial for free: the landscape and clouds are both from Stock.xchng ( and respectively), while the model was created by *Faestock on deviantArt, and can be downloaded here: Be sure to read the licensing requirements for the images you download.


Step 1 Create a new A4 portrait canvas in RGB mode at 300dpi. Add the landscape image as a new layer, hit Cmd/Ctrl + T to bring up the Transform menu, select Flip Horizontal, and label the layer ‘Hills’. Don’t worry about the white space at the bottom – this will be hidden later. Hold Alt/Opt while choosing a Levels adjustment, tick the clipping mask option, then set the whitepoint output to 219.


Step 2 Import the clouds image as another layer, set its blending mode to Multiply, Transform it as before and name it ‘Sky’. Use the Clone Stamp tool (set to Current Layer) to repeat areas as required. Next, add a layer mask and use a variety of soft-edged brushes to blend the clouds into the landscape – our mask is shown in the inset.


Step 3 Open the model and isolate her, along with the foreground rocks, using the Pen tool. It’s impossible to extract every strand of hair, so plot your points just inside the more defined areas. Generate a path-based selection, Feather by 1 pixel, and Copy > Paste as a new layer. Now use a 1-pixel Smudge brush to carefully pull some hair strands out. Name the layer ‘Girl’.


Step 4 We now need to darken the foreground rocks; create a couple of closed paths as indicated in white, then make a path-based selection. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to float the selection as a new layer and label it ‘Rocks’. Clip a Levels adjustment as you did in step 1 and set the midpoint input to 0.57, and the whitepoint output to 244.

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Mark Mayers

Digital Arts Magazine
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