Continuing on the subject of editing light painting photos, let’s take a look at some things that can be done to create an original look. In the previous post, the project involved drawing words with a flashlight. This time, we’ve taken an angel statue and attempted to make it look angelic.
Just like the in the previous post, the lighting effect was created by a simple flashlight. However, the technique isn’t as easy as you might think. When painting around an object, there can sometimes be unwanted gaps between the light and the subject. And that brings us to our first action!
Getting rid of the gaps:
Your first impulse may be to use the clone tool. That will work, but the dodge tool is much easier. You can set it first to ‘shadows’ to get rid of the dark spots, then to ‘highlights’ to quickly get the spaces to match the bright line made by the flashlight.
In the background:
This image was taken in the dead of night, but you’ll notice that the background isn’t blacked out. What you are seeing is actually me as I move the flashlight. I look blurred and ghosted because I’m in motion, and only faintly detected by the camera’s sensor. You probably wouldn’t be able to see it at all except that I was using ‘fill light’ from Adobe RAW as a part of the editing process.
Normally, I’d paint over the background noise, but I decided I liked it. Then the idea of adding a gradient struck, which worked synergistically with what was going on behind the subject.
Adding the gradient:
The first thing to do here is to select the background. The ‘magic wand’ was used for this. After the selection was made, click on ‘layer,’ ‘new fill layer,’ and ‘gradient.’ Set the blending mode to ‘overlay’ and the strength to 50%. Then you can look through the gradients and see if you can find one you like. When you’ve applied the gradient of your choice, you can flatten the image.
A quick note about blending modes: there are only two types that I usually use. There is the ‘normal’ mode, which sets an image atop another without actually blending them. The second is, of course, ‘overlay.’ When you combine layers in this mode, the result is an increased contrast. In the case of gradients, you have a degree of transparency so that the effect isn’t as strong as it would be in normal mode.
You’ll probably notice that there is a translucent aura around the brighter white line which not looks a little strange. It can be fixed by using the ‘smudge’ tool. The smudge tool is designed to manipulate pixels in a way that can blend rough edges. Although not really its purpose, you can use it on a larger scale such as this.
There is another method for applying gradients:
You’ll notice that when you select ‘gradient’ under ‘new fill layer,’ you’ll see that a new layer mask is automatically created. So again, an overlay blending mode at 50% strength would be my choice (you may find that you like a different combination with experimentation). Selecting the whole image, you can copy and paste it into the layer mask, the process being explained in a previous post which detailed layer masking.
You’ll notice that the image in the layer mask is immediately turned to black and white. If there is any area that you don’t want to be affected by the gradient, you can select that area and paint it black. Again, once you have the image looking right, you can flatten it, and you’re done!
The translucent aura that was previously mentioned? Well, in the first example, the smudge tool had to be used because the original background could be seen through it. When you use the layer mask, you can blend the gradient more naturally. You’ll notice that much of the ambient detail has been preserved in this version vs the other gradient photo.
One final thing to mention:
Different programs have different interfaces. There isn’t a one size fits all solution. So of course, you’ll need to understand the workings of your specific program in order to apply the principles that I’m sharing with you.