5 Ways to Direct Light in Photoshop

When finishing our image edits, one of the best things we can do is take a step back and look at our images from the perspective of our viewers. We should ask ourselves what is it about this image that we want our viewers to look at? If we can answer the question about what we want our viewers to see when they look at our images, it makes our job to direct light in Photoshop easier.

This tutorial uses a previous version of ADP LumiFlow, the techniques are still relevant with our current panel.

Direct Light in Photoshop with Light Points
Darken with Selective Color
Dodge and Burn in Photoshop
Direct Light in Photoshop with Colour Range

This tutorial shows 5 different methods to direct light in Photoshop and colour to lead the viewers eye to the areas of interest. There are many more ways to direct light with Photoshop, this tutorial covers only a few of them. See our tutorials page for many more techniques to use in your editing.

Method 1: Shift White & Black Points to Direct Light in Photoshop

Using the white and black points in our images is a great way to decrease or increase the brightness of the white, or darkness of blacks. There are two tools that are perfect for white and black point adjustments, levels and curves adjustments. When you shift the white point of an image, you’re taking everything to the right of that point and lowering it’s brightness or tone to the point you stop moving it. When you shift the black point you’re doing the same to the darks or shadows, except you’re lightening them.

In this tutorial I show you exactly what happens when you shift the white or black point on a level adjustment. I then use that tool to reduce the brightness of subjects around the perimeter of the image. This helps to draw your viewers eye into the areas you want them to see.

Method 2: Selective Color Adjustment

The Selective Color adjustment layer is a great method for controlling individual colours in an image. Selective Color gives you much greater and fine control over individual colours then other tools in Photoshop. It works similar to the way an offset printer would mix their inks. It allows you to adjust the cyan, magenta, yellow and black in each of the colours in an image. This means that you can virtually turn any colour, into any other colour.

Using the Selective Color adjustment layer, I modify the brightness of the yellow in the trees by adding black. I also add some cyan to yellow, which turns the yellow more of a green colour. The colour in the trees is acting as a distraction in the image, and this method reduces it’s visual weight in the image.

Methods 3: Curves Adjustment Layer

The Curves adjustment layer is simply one of the most powerful tools available to us in Photoshop. Controlling exposure and contrast is second to none, and the ability to adjust colour is also very powerful. The curves layer allows us to lighten or darken any tone in our images easily, allowing us to easily direct light and control it.

This example uses it for the simple task of darkening the sky, to draw the eye down into the valley. Colours in the image can be affected when making adjustment. In this case I change the blending mode of the layer to luminosity to stop any colours from changing.

Method 4: Luminosity Masks (Dodging and Burning)

Luminosity Masks allow us to ensure that we’re only affecting specific tones in our images when we make adjustments. This is very important when we want to maintain contrast and depth in areas of the image. Dodging and burning is one of the best methods of applying light to specific areas. When that is combined with luminosity masks we have incredible control.

In this tutorial I add light to the valley floor, in the misty areas, without affecting the dark tones. By selecting the light tones, and removing the dark tones from the selection, I can control the affected areas. Allowing me to give the sense of light flooding into the valley and creating more depth and interest.

Method 5: Color Range & Gradient Tools

The Color Range tool allows us to make selections in our images based on specific colours. This is a very useful selection tool, especially when certain colours are wanted in a selection, and don’t exist throughout. The Gradient Tool allows us to apply adjustments by applying smooth transitioned gradients to our layer masks.

A very common method of creating dramatic light in architecture images is to control that light with gradients. I use the exact same technique in this tutorial by control the light on the lake. Using the Color Range tool I make a selection of the lake. Then combining that with the gradient tool and can create a smooth gradient of light from one end of the lake to the other.