How to Use Lighting Effects in Photoshop Elements

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This Friday my little sister Hannah is graduating from high school, and it is kind of blowing my mind. She was a 7th grader when I was a senior in high school, which means it’s already been five years since I myself graduated high school. Five! The time has absolutely flown by! Anyway, my sister is starting college in the fall on scholarship and I’m super proud of her. She has worked very hard to get to where she is now and I’m excited for where she will go during this new part of her life.

I was thinking about her this weekend when I remembered I had a bunch of photos of her that we took when she was here back in February that I meant to edit and never did. I’ve never used Photoshop {Elements–from here on out when I say Photoshop I’m referring to Photoshop Elements} to really edit people photos before, just mainly photos for my blog. However, in the few short months I’ve had Photoshop, I’ve learned a ton about what it can do!

In the past I used GIMP to edit my photos, and although it’s free and does a lot of what Photoshop does, I’ve found Photoshop to be a lot more user-friendly and to produce much better looking post-edit photos. Photoshop is not super intuitive to use at first, but the learning curve was basically nothing after using GIMP for so long, so I thought it was time to try and give these photos a good edit!

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!
So first, the photo I had to work with is far from a professional quality photo. I don’t have a DSLR camera {yet} and the camera I do have doesn’t shoot in RAW, so my photo editing capabilities are limited there. Furthermore, I cropped this image from a larger image that contained more of the wall she was leaning against, which affected the overall quality of the image I was working with. But I thought she looked lovely in this photo, so I chose it anyway! Here is everything I did to make the photo look like it does above.

Start by pulling up the photo you want to use {File > Open > OK}

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

I wanted to adjust the lighting in this photo a bit. We took it in this alley area and there are a lot of shadows, and I don’t want shadows hiding her beautiful face. Now here is where I made my first mistake, a bad habit left over from when I used GIMP. I adjusted the levels {which is basically brightness} of this photo directly by going Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Levels rather than using an Adjustment Layer. You can learn about the usefulness of Adjustment Layers here.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

Long story short, adjusting the levels of a photo using an Adjustment Layer makes changes non-destructively, so I recommend you use Adjustment Layers.

{If you don’t, will it be the end of the world? No. Chances are, as long as you only adjust the levels without an adjustment layer once like I did {i.e. you don’t go back later and decide no, I want to adjust the levels again} you won’t be able to tell the difference. If you go back and adjust levels over and over again without using an adjustment layer, you will start to see “harsh, ugly transitions between colors or areas of brightness” in your image} 

You can access a new Adjustment Layer for editing levels by going Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. A dialogue box will pop up asking you to name the layer; click OK. Then go on to adjust your levels just as I have adjusted them below. On the far right of the histogram you will see a triangle marker {circled}. I dragged that triangle marker over to the left just a bit, just until the “mountain” of the histogram starts to rise, and that’s where I left it. You can play around with all three triangle markers on this histogram to see what they do to the image.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

Next I wanted to adjust the Shadows/Highlights of the image. There is no Adjustment Layer for this I believe, so you can follow the directions below exactly. Go Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadows/Highlights.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

I lightened the shadows a bit so that you could see a little more light reflection in her hair. We both have very dark hair and sometimes it comes out as one big black blob, and that was not the look I was going for! The really important thing I did here was up the Midtone Contrast. This makes her “pop” more in the photo.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

And here is where the fun starts!! This is where I added a light effect. I love dramatic photography where the subject is lit better than the background, and that was the look I was trying to achieve here. The picture is kind of boring and flat as is, and I want Hannah to stand out. I was fortunate to stumble upon this tool, which I had never used before I tried this. Go to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects {Note that there is no Adjustment Layer you can use to make this change so you are OK to make it as described below}.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

Here you will probably have to play with things a bit. I only used the part of the box outlined in blue. I chose Spotlight for the light type. Intensity changes how bright the spotlight is, and focus changes how harsh the edges of the spotlight are {in other words, does the light abruptly end or does it fade out}. You can use the tiny grey squares/white circle {where the arrows are pointing} to widen or narrow the light. Note that there is a grey square on the top, bottom, left, and right of the oval shown {the oval is only partially shown in the picture} and only one small white circle in the middle if the oval.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

From here, I decided I wanted to add a little more contrast to my photo. You can make this change using an Adjustment Layer {Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast > Click OK when the dialoge box pops up asking you to name the layer}.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

Slide the circle marker over to your desired contrast or click cancel if you’re happy with the photo without the change. This way of editing contrast will produce a slightly different look than when we edited the midtone contrast.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

This last part is more of a personal-taste sort of change. I felt like the picture looked a little more greenish than I would like, so I changed the Color Variations so the photo is just a teeny bit more blue. This photo didn’t need this edit, but I could tell the difference and I liked it better with the change, so I kept it! This kind of edit is helpful when you are taking photos that will appear in a series but for some reason each photo comes out in a slightly different hue even though you’re shooting with same settings and background set-up. Go Enhance > Adjust Color > Color Variations.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

I selected the area to change as Midtones and I adjusted color intensity by moving the arrow all the way to the left to reduce color intensity, since I didn’t want my photo to end up completely blue. From there, I clicked on the photo of Hannah above “Increase Blue” to add just a hint more blue to the photo.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

And Viola!!! Here is the finished product! I added some text to the bottom where, if I were a professional photographer, I would put my watermark.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

And just for giggles and grins, here is the Before and After so you can see the transformation! Her skin is glowing, her face is brighter, her hair is clearer, your eye is drawn more to her rather and the photo looks less flat.

Lighting Effects & Photoshop Elements | www.EssentiallyEclectic.com | This step-by-step tutorial on lighting effects in Photoshop Elements will show you how to make your photography look more professional in just a few minutes!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on lighting effects and photoshop elements! If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to help however I can. Do you have any Photoshop tutorials you would like to share? I am always looking to learn more about Photoshop! Feel free to leave the link below or  leave a comment if you enjoyed the post :) I love reading your comments!

Love,
Gabby

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