Quality Of Light

quick fix

You may not believe it at first, but all the photographs in this issue of PCPhoto have something in common. That something in common is, of course, light.

Before we take a picture, seeing the light—the contrast range in a scene, the color of light and the direction of light—and then making camera adjustments and/or using accessories to control the light is the key to getting a good in-camera exposure. On site, knowing how to control light is an essential part of being a skilled photographer.

In the digital darkroom, knowing how to control light is important, too. Basic adjustments such as Shadows/Highlights and Levels, found in most popular imaging programs, are good starting points in taking control of the light.

We also can “play” with light in the digital darkroom, which is exactly what I did to create the opening image for this column. Software plug-ins add even more creative options.


Compare my original photograph, which has flat lighting, to that opening image—an image in which a shadow behind the cowboy magically appears, with the cowboy illuminated by top/side lighting and with richer colors than the original.



All those effects are easily created in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements using some basic adjustments, with a little help added from the Sunshine filter found in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.

Here’s the technique. In digesting the process, think about the photographs that you have in your image library that can benefit from it.


The first step is to cut out (mask out) the subject from the background. There are many ways to do that, but in this case, I used Photoshop’s Quick Selection tool to select the background and then used Refine Edges to, that’s right, refine the edges of my selection.

Other options for extracting a subject include using Photoshop’s Extract tool, the Background Eraser tool or a masking plug-in, such as Mask Pro 4 from onOne Software.

After you’ve made a very clean selection of your subject, save it as a file called “Subject” and leave it open on your monitor.

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Reopen your original image. Now you have two images on your monitor.

While holding down the Shift key, use the Move tool and drag the Subject file over your original file. Holding down the Shift key ensures that the files will be perfectly aligned. If your Layer panel is open, it should look something like this.

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Now, with the top layer (Subject) selected (click on it in the Layers panel), go to Layer > Layer Style > Drop Shadow. Doing so will reveal this panel.

Play around with the adjustments here to control the Distance, Opacity, Direction and so on of the shadow.

You control the direction/placement of the shadow with the Angle wheel. You also can control the direction/placement by simply clicking in your image, then by moving your cursor around the subject. As you move your cursor, you move the shadow.

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After you’re pleased with your shadow, flatten the layers by going to Layer >Flatten Layers.


Next, go to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. That brings up this panel. It’s here that you change the direction and quality of the light.

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For my image, I selected Spotlight as the Light Type because I wanted a side lighting effect. Next, in the Preview window, I clicked on the anchor points to rotate the direction of the spotlight to appear as though the light was coming from the top right of the image.

To adjust the light, I played around with Intensity and Exposure until I was pleased with the result. You can have a lot of fun here playing with the light—so don’t be in a rush to make a quick decision.

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To change the quality of light, I played around with some of the filters in Nik Color Efex Pro 3 and finally decided that the Sunshine filter gave me the effect that I was looking for.

Those quick adjustments, as I mentioned, transformed my flat shot into a much more dramatic and creative image in just a few minutes.

7 .

In the digital darkroom, an image is really never finished—or at least that’s the way I feel. About a week after I created the opening image for this column, I went back to it for more digital darkroom fun. I created this image using Photoshop’s Poster Edges filter (Filter > Artistic > Poster Edges) and a Brush frame from onOne Software’s PhotoFrame 3.

Enough about me! Get your own fun started by using these techniques on your own images.

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