Have you ever felt like your photos were missing something? In just two minutes, learn to make your portraits come to life by adding a realistic burst of light in Photoshop.
Photoshop is out there for us photographers to bring our visions to life and should be used as a tool to enhance our photos. In this short lesson, learn how easy it is to add a burst of light into any photo and bring it to life. This technique can be applied to indoor or outdoor photos ranging from portraits to landscapes.
Step 1: Analyze the Light Direction
Before even opening Photoshop, the first step is to analyze where the light in the scene is coming from. Is it coming from a window? Analyze where the highlights are and where the shadows are being cast. Do this first, so the added light is falling in the same direction as the existing light already there. Always start with a plan of action and draw it out. This will give you focus and direction for what you want to accomplish with the edit.
Step 2: Make a New Layer
The first thing you want to do is open up your image that you will be editing. Once the image is opened, create a new blank layer. To do this press (shift+option+command+N). Call this layer "sunburst".
Step 3: Creating the Sun Burst
Once you're on the layer, head over to your brushes or press "B." Select a soft brush (low hardness), and make sure your opacity and flow are both set to 100 percent. You want to paint with 100 percent opacity and flow to maintain consistency throughout your stroke. Don't worry that it looks too bright now, you can always change the opacity of the layer later.
To create the sunburst, select your soft brush and make a massive dab of white anywhere on the image. You want to make sure the light starts bright and slowly fades off. Obviously, at first, it looks like a big white circle, but in the next step, we will fix that. Below, you can see I pressed Command+T to bring up the transform window. I scaled it so the light is subtlety peaking into frame and so it's coming from the right direction and height to create the shadows that appear on the models face. This step is crucial in making it believable.
Step 3: Adding Atmosphere
Even though the sun is added, it still looks fake. To make it more realistic, we need to bring the ambient exposure of the shot up and match the mood created by the light. The added light must match the light that is present in the frame. To create the proper atmosphere, we will make a gradient. To make a gradient, make a new layer by pressing shift+option+command+N and then press "G" to bring up the gradient tool. Make sure your gradient goes from foreground to transparent. This means that you're creating a subtle gradation from light to ambient. Set your foreground color to white and your background color to black. To toggle back and forth, press "X."
To make the atmosphere more realistic and accurate to the sun, it must gradually go from light to dark. To accomplish this, draw your gradient from the top of the picture straight down and cover the entire picture. When you cover the entire photograph in a white gradient, you will inevitably lose contrast in the subject's face and will lose the lovely falloff. To get the contrast back, add a layer mask by going up to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All. On the layer mask, after pressing G for gradient, draw another gradient. Make sure your foreground layer is set to black. Note that when you're working with layer masks, when the layer mask is filled with white, it means everything is visible. When the layer is filled or painted with black, the effect is being removed. So, starting from the bottom this time, draw the gradient half way, removing the effect from the bottom up, making a nice and soft, believable gradient of light.
Step 4: Enhance the Photo Through Adding Vignettes
The above steps do a great job of starting us off, but we can take it one step further and enhance the final image by adding a vignette. A vignette is used to bring our attention towards the subject and enhances the effect even more. Some issues that I have found in vignettes is that they are uneven, some corners are too dark, others light. To make a consistent and natural-looking vignette, I developed a technique that gives you total control over the intensity of the vignette and making sure it's in the right place.
First, on a blank layer (Shift+Option+Command+N), make a gradient. Draw your gradient from the corner of the image towards the center. At first, it may seem way too dark and intense, so press Command+T to bring up the transform panel. Using shift and scale, stretch out the gradient and move it out of frame until it creates a smooth transition from dark to light. Once the first corner is drawn in, duplicate that layer by pressing Command+J, and go into the transform panel and flip horizontal. This will give an exact duplicate the first one, with the same tonality and scale. Move the second gradient out of frame again until you get a smooth transition. To get the same effect on the top two corners, press the rotate 180 degrees button and repeat. At the end, you can shift-click all your layers and group them together by pressing Command+G, and you will now have total control over the effect by lowering or raising its opacity.
With just a little bit of practice, if you're a beginner, or a seasoned pro in Photoshop, you can enhance your portraits or landscapes by adding a realistic burst of sunlight or a vignette to draw the viewer's eye to the subject. If you found this tutorial helpful or you've tried the effect on your photos, let me know in the comments below!