8 steps to atmospheric lighting effects in Photoshop Elements

How to get atmospheric lighting in Photoshop Elements: tutorial

Hidden Photoshop tricks can easily be applied to images to enhance atmospheric effect.

The creative use of light can transform almost any photographic scene, helping to isolate detail, enhance colour and form a visual structure. In the quick Photoshop tutorial below, we’ll show you how to you can give new life to your images by emphasising light.

1. Create new Layers

Open the file which can be downloaded above this article and, in the Layers Palette, right-click and choose Duplicate Layer. We now need to create a new, empty Layer to add the first beam of light. To do this, have the background copy Layer selected before going to the bottom of the Layers Palette and clicking the New Layer icon. Rename the Layer ‘light beams’.

2. Outline the sunbeams

Select a new Layer in the Layers Palette and left-click and hold the Lasso Tool icon – a sub-menu of tools will appear. Select the Polygonal Lasso Tool. In the window in the top-left, click to make your first point in the bottom-left of the window, then click again on the floor, progressing to make a rough outline of a beam. To finish, click on the start point.

3. Refine the edges

In the Options bar, click the Refine Edge button and a dialog window will open. Click the Preview with Colour Overlay icon – a red overlay appear on your image. Adjust the smooth slider to 5 and feather to 0px, which helps soften the edges of the beam. See how these adjustments effect the selection in the main editing window.

4. Gradient options

To create a natural look to our sunbeams, use a Gradient Fill rather than a solid fill. Click on the Gradient Tool and set the colour swatches to white foreground and background. In the gradient options, click preview, set the Opacity on the left to 70%, and set the Opacity on the right to 100%. Add a new name for the gradient and save.

5. Adjustment Layer trick

In the gradient options, click Reflect Gradient, then draw your gradient from opaque in the middle to solid at the edges (parallel with the direction of the beam). Create a new Levels Adjustment Layer, but don’t adjust it. Drag this below the Sunbeams Layer and then, holding down Alt, click in between the two Layers to create a clipping group.

6. Gradient on the mask

In the Levels Adjustment Layer, ensure that you have the mask selected. Reset your Colour Palette so you have a black foreground and white background, then select the Gradient Tool with the Linear Gradient option. Click just above the bottom of the beam and drag the gradient in, parallel to the top. The beam should fade at the bottom.

7. Repeat the effect

With the first beam finished, you now need to select further beams following the previous steps. Make sure that you assign different widths, and remember not all beams will fall to the same point from each window. Use the Image>Rotate>Free Rotate Layer to adjust the angle of the beams to match the perspective of the room.

8. Adjust Layer Opacity

We still need to make a few subtle adjustments to create realism. Click on the Layer for the beam in the foreground, and lower the Opacity to 90%, then click on the next beam back and reduce the Layer Opacity by another 5% to get a realistic effect.

To finalise the image, click on the Layer Palette options and choose Flatten Image.