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Author Name: Stephen Kui

Post Category: Tips for Graphic Designers

With this tutorial we’ll learn how to turn an ordinary forest scene into this dynamic one with amazing lighting effects that can be used in just about anything, especially fantasy manipulations or montages.

We’ll begin with this rather ordinary, drab photo in a forest. Original Image

Now that we’ve gotten our original image to manipulate, we can play around with some settings. Since we’re going to be adding and changing the light source and lighting of the image, we’ll go ahead and darken it with a brightness/contrast adjustment. Don’t overdo it, or it’ll distort the colors and saturation too much.

First Brightness / Contrast

With those brightness/contrast settings, our image ends up looking like this:

After Brightness / Contrast

Now that we’ve darkened up our scene a little bit, we can go ahead and start with a soft brush at an opacity around 50 and just paint in a shaft of light with a bright bright yellow that’s not too saturated (close to white) where we think it’d look nice. Notice at this point it’ll look a little bit flat, but we’ll get around to fixing that later.

Paint with Soft Brush

Once that’s done, we’re going to go ahead and make it a little lighter by applying a motion blur in the opposite direction. I used these settings:

Motion Blur Light Beam

It lightens up a bit, so we can go ahead and use edit->transform->skew (or perspective for a simpler version) to adjust the way the beam works in a 3-dimensional setting. Because we’re working with an image that we don’t want to be flat, we need to adjust the lighting to really pop out, so play around. Generally, when skewing and using perspective, look at how the box looks, and that represents a canvas. To make the image come towards you from the top to the bottom, make the bottom wider, and vice versa:

Adjust light perspective

The result should end up looking pretty nice, so we can actually save time and reuse the effect since it’s fairly large in relation to the size of our canvas. So we’ll duplicate the layer (control+j) and then do an edit->transform->flip horizontal to make it so that we have a copy of the layer, but facing the other direction. Let’s fix the orientation of the light beam with another skew or perspective (whatever you happen to like more) and place it so it comes from the central light source outside the trees. Make sure to erase the parts that shouldn’t appear in front of the trees, but make the light in front of some to add more layers of depth to the image.

Copy layer and skew

Now that we can see the way this is done and the image is starting to come together, I’ll skip all the boring repetition and show the result of what I did. When you add the beams of light, keep in mind all the light sources and the ways the light will pass through. The small, sharp beams of light also help to add more dynamics to the lighting, and I applied a filter->blur->gaussian blur to most of my layers so that they weren’t too sharp when skewed. Keep it realistic!

Add additional shafts of light

As we can see, it’s already starting to look pretty different from the original images. The two different light sources add a slightly surreal feel because they are from completely different angles, but we’re not aiming for a realistic scene here, just a realistic look. Too strengthen the lighting, I used the same color on a 400px soft brush and erased the part that was in front of the tree in front. The other trees are ok to leave because the light can reach those areas.

Add additional shafts of light

Now it’s time to move on to the fog for the forest floor. No forest manipulation is complete without some low-lying mist, so we’ll start off with some white fog. You can use filter->render->clouds and erase it or just get a cloud brush, which is much easier and faster. As we’re going to need to make it fit in, skew it so that it’s in the orientation of the ground (it should look like it’s facing up), and then you’ll have a funny-looking result like this.

Add CloudsOnce you’ve properly distorted your fog, we can add a slight blur to it with filter->blur->gaussian blur at around .5 to 1 px, and then we’ll get into smudging them. Here are the settings I used for the smudge brush, which was a 13px hard circle brush.

Smudge settings 1Smudge settings 2Smudge settings 3They don’t necessarily have to be identical to mine, but just a general idea so you can see how mine ended up looking the way it did. There are also provided smudge brushes that some people like to use, but I find it’s easier to work with the circles and just play around with the shape and other dynamics. For the process of smudging, we just want to lightly smudge the edges so that they blend in a little nicer and then work with a strength of between 30-50, otherwise it’ll be too hard and will end up looking all blocky and with circles missing from the fog. Once you’ve smudged the fog a bit, you can also lower the opacity of the layer so it’s not too strong.

Smudge Fog and Lower OpacityAfter that, we’ll go ahead and fast forward past the same process again and see what I came up with.

Repeat Cloud EffectsAs you can see, there is mist and fog everywhere, but since we’re making this more fantasy-esque, we need to add MORE! Since fog tends to settle in lower areas, we’ll concentrate the heavier white and gray fog in the lower areas of the image, such as the ditch towards the right there.

Add clouds to low areas

At this point, it seemed a little bright to me, so we’ll add another brightness/contrast. You can select it from the bottom of the layers area, and it shows up as a circle divided diagonally into black and white. Then select brightness/contrast. I used these settings:

Second Brightness / ContrastWith that done, I decided to add a little more depth with an old technique which is creating a new layer (control+shift+n), and then going to image->apply image. Then apply a filter->blur->gaussian blur around 1-2 px and set the layer blend mode to soft light. This leaves the result like this.

Blur for depthOnce we’ve done this, we can finish up with establishing more of a focal by brushing in with some black on a large, soft brush (I used 400 px), and darken the outsides away from the light.

Darken edgesAnd for our final edit, I didn’t like the tree area near the top, so I blurred the top right a little bit (it’s hard to see if you don’t know where it is).

Blur away from focalThat’s it! We’re all done!

You can find the tutorial on my site at

Please do post outcomes and any comments or questions, as I’d be glad to answer them. Thanks for reading!

Author Charlie B. Johnson

has written Posts 388 .

  1. Tracey On August 1st, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Very nice.. I enjoy finding different techniques to achieve certain results. Each new technique leaves a different stamp on a picture than the one before it. Thanks for sharing!

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