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How to add mood lighting to landscapes


To use adjustment layers, blending modes and filters to dramatically alter the look and feel of a landscape

Time: 20 minutes

Skill level: Beginner 

Kit needed: Photoshop CC

It’s not always easy to arrive at a location at the right time – often the light isn’t right, or the angle of the sun too high, or the colours too dull. While there’s no substitute for nailing the shot in-camera, if you want to change the mood after the fact there are a few tools in Photoshop that can help. In this tutorial we’ll explain how to totally alter the atmosphere in our woodland scene here with a combination of brush skills, layer blending modes and adjustment layers. With these simple tools, you can change the colours to give the scene a dreamy atmosphere, add in spots of flare, and even suggest mist floating through the forest.

We’ve suggested specific colours and settings for you to try out, but bear in mind that these are tailored to our image here, so if you want to use similar techniques on your own scenes then it’s worth experimenting with different shades until you hit upon the right look.

Along the way you’ll learn key Photoshop skills that will serve you well in all kinds of editing tasks. We’ll utilise the power of adjustment layers to build up non-destructive tonal changes. We’ll also control the effect with layer masks, so that the tonal changes can be applied selectively to different areas with ease. What’s more, we’ll explain a nifty trick with the Radial Blur filter for making atmospheric streaks of light that filter through the forest... 

STEP BY STEP: Alter the atmosphere

From day to night

Once you’ve created an effect like this it’s easy to go from day to night. First, add a Gradient Map adjustment layer (as in Step 1) and then customise the gradient so that the blend goes from black to dark blue (try #455E78 here). Next, fine-tune the lightness of the image using a Levels adjustment layer until it looks suitably moody. Finally, hit Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Alt +E to merge a copy of all the layers, then grab the Burn tool, with Range set to Midtones and Strength at 20%, then paint to darken down the foreground, gently hiding the details that would naturally be in near-darkness.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


1 Customise a gradient

Go to the Layers panel, click Create Adjustment Layer and choose Gradient Map. Click the gradient strip, then double-click the ‘colour stop’ icon at the bottom left. Choose a purple (#472084) and click OK. Now open the colour stop icon opposite and choose a yellow (#FFD200).


2 Adjust the colours

Reduce the opacity of the layer to 25%. Click Create Adjustment Layer and choose Solid Color. Select a purple tone (#320227) and click OK. Set the layer’s Blending Mode to Exclusion. Add a Color Balance Adjustment Layer with extra red and yellow in the midtones and highlights.


3 Paint a flare

Click Create New Layer and set the Blending Mode to Linear Dodge (Add). Next, grab the Brush tool, right-click, and set Hardness to 0. Set the foreground colour to a greenish tone (#696310 here) then, using a fairly large brush size, click once to add the flare.


4 Darken the edges

Add a new layer, set Blending Mode to Linear Dodge (Add), choose a brown (#695310), paint a couple of spots to add to the flare effect. Click Create Adjustment Layer, choose Curves and drag down to darken. Paint over the flare with the Brush tool to hide the darkening effect.


5 Add a burst

Add a Threshold adjustment layer set to 120, merge all layers (Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Alt+E), delete the Threshold layer and highlight the new layer. Go Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, Amount 10. Go Filter>Blur>Radial Blur, Amount 100, Method: Zoom, position the blur on the flare.


After you add any adjustment layer, hit Ctrl/Cmd+I to hide the effect – then you can paint with white to reveal it wherever you like in the image


6 Blend the effect

Change the Blending Mode to Screen, then lower the opacity to tone the effect down. Click the Add Layer Mask icon then grab the Brush tool. Set the colour to black and hit 4 for 40% opacity then paint to gradually tone down the blur effect so that it stays subtle.