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Three Point Lighting model & shadow emulation tutorial
Dificulty: beginner
Software: Adobe Photoshop CS2
Plugins,actions or other resources: no
In this tutorial we'll learn something about "Three-point-light" model, which is - according to Wikipedia - "a very common lighting technique, used in both still photography and in film".
It is in fact, a classical, simple scheme to achieve a softer lighting over some scene. Using three different light sources, one can illuminate a subject (a person or some object) , and by controlling light, shading and shadows, can emulate 3D object aspect in 2D areas. The light scheme is used to model the scene, so the viewer can see the shapes, shadows, and how these objects relates to others. Further we'll call these three sources of light, as "key light" , "fill light" and "rim or back light".
Back to Wikipedia and here are the definitions:
  • The key light, as the name suggests, shines directly upon the subject and serves as its principal illuminator; more than anything else, the strength, color and angle of the key determines the shot's overall lighting design.
  • The fill light also shines on the subject, but from a side angle relative to the key. It balances the key by illuminating shaded surfaces, and lessening or eliminating chiaroscuro effects, such as the shadow cast by a person's nose upon the rest of the face. It is usually softer and less bright than the key light (up to half), and more to a flood. Not using a fill at all can result in stark contrasts (due to shadows) across the subject's surface, depending upon the key light's harshness. Sometimes, as in low-key lighting, this is a deliberate effect, but shots intended to look more natural and less stylistic require a fill.
  • The back light (a.k.a. the rim, hair or shoulder light') shines on the subject from behind, often (but not necessarily) to one side or the other. It gives the subject a rim of light, serving to separate the subject from the background and highlighting contours.
  • Basically, the key light models the objects, adding main shadow and visual details, fill light moderates shadows and reduces overall contrast, and the back light enhance edges, and separates the subject from background.

    Usually this stuff is done easy, with some 3d software, like Maya, or 3DMax, but with some skill and patience, it can be done usind 2D lighting filter from Adobe Photoshop. This tutorial may be useful for 3D designers or photographers who wants to enhance their photos, digital matte painters, or just for Photoshop users wanting to test their skills. Tutorial is organized in steps, each step will contain the description of actions taken, and the result you should get. All work was done in Adobe Photoshop CS2, and I assume that you have some basic knowledge of working with Photoshop. Here is the starting point and final result:

    So here are the steps:
    Step 1. - beginning
    Let's begin with a dark scene (a dark room) with two objects two oranges. So we'll have a black background layer, and two layers orange1 and orange2 as in image bellow:

    Name working file, say main.psd, and make a copy of it, say duplicate.psd. You will need this copy later.

    Step 2. - Setting environment light and shadows, then key light over objects
    Assume that key light is somewhere upper left of scene. There are two things to set:
    • first set the environment, draw the floor flash light, and cast shadows from key light
    • set key illumination effect on objects
    To do so, make a new layer (Shift+Ctrl+N) , name it "main spot", select Eliptical Marquee Tool (M), draw a circle, select Gradient Tool (G), with Radial Gradient option selected, set foreground color to white (#ffffff) and draw the gradient from the middle to exterior. You'll get something like this:

    Then on this layer (main spot), do Edit->Transform->Distort, give it an eliptical form, move it under objects, set it's transparency to 45-50%. Now to build shadows, make two new layers (shadow1 & shadow2) and repeat the steps above, with the only difference that you have set the foreground color to black (#000000). Arange shadows under objects and finish with environment settings. You'll have something like this:

    Next we'll set the key illumination over the objects. Select (make active) layer "orange2". Go to menu and do Filter->Render->Ligting effects. Remember that we already said that key light is on the upper left corner of scene. Set the parameters as follows: Intensity: 36; Focus: -33; Gloss: 53; Material: 2; Exposure: 6; Ambience: 0; Set the light position relative to the object as in image below:

    You may use dodge tool (Soft brush: 60-70, Range:Highlights, Exposure: 70-80%) in order to enhance the shiny reflection look on the objects. Select layer "orange1" and repet operations above, with proper light position corrections. Now both objects should have the proper upper left key illumination.
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    comments at this topicComments to this tutorial
    posted by XXX N at 2012-07-27
    posted by Rits at 2010-08-21
    posted by Vince at 2009-04-06
    posted by BOB at 2009-03-09
    posted by Asaf at 2008-05-29
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    last update: September 27 2015 00:19:40.