Painting with Light and Shadow

Gordon Campey referred me to an article by Mark Johnson that is in the Member’s area of the NAPP website that deals with painting light and shadow onto an image to give it more depth.  When combined with the Orton Effect, it can make that technique even more interesting.

With some input from Gordon I created a Painting with Light and Shadow action set.  I’ve got two actions in the set, one that simply creates a layer to lighten and layer to darken the images.  Select the layer mask of the appropriate layer and paint with White on that mask to lighten or darken an area of the image.

Not the greatest example, but I had this shot of a fender from a tricycle:


To add some depth and contrast into this image, I applied the Paint with Light action, and painted Light onto the yellow areas and Shadow onto the blue, red and black areas.


You can see how much darker and more saturated the reds and blues are, and the yellow becomes more yellow and less orange.

The Paint with Light action simply creates a layer with a Screen blend mode (makes things lighter) and a Multiply mode (makes things darker).  The layer masks are filled with black, so they do not apply any affect to the image.  By selecting the layer mask and painting with a soft brush with White, it will reveal some of the lighter color underneath.  I’ve seen a number of people use brushes with differing opacities, but I personally like a very low opacity, in the range of 20 – 30%.

I normally paint in Light first, then follow that up with Shadow, but a different approach may work for you.

I thought that I would show this one again, using this alternative to the Orton Effect technique from my earlier post.


To this one:


This action creates a blur layer, then adds a single Levels layer that will probably require adjustment in terms of both the White point and the mid-point sliders to achieve the desired neutral effect.  It creates the same Paint with Light and Paint with Shadow layers as the above action, and the same adjustments should be applied here.

In this image I needed to lighten the trees in the background, and darken the barn and the foreground bushes and flowers.

Post Processing Adjustments

After running the Overlay and Orton Effect actions that I have created, there are still a number of adjustments that need to be made before the images are complete.

When I created the actions, I inserted some Levels layers that brighten each layer about 1 f/Stop.  This is a simple estimate and may not work well at all for a given image.

Take this image, which is pretty bright


I wanted to add some texture, so I added this cracked paint to give it a more worn feel:


When I ran the Overlay action, it created a composite that looks like this:


This adds the feel, but the color saturation is off and the strength of the texture is really more harsh than I wanted.  The action set the following levels:


Overall Levels


Texture Levels


Background Levels

So starting at the Background Levels, I started making adjustments.  Because I wanted more saturated color, I wanted to darken the Background Layer.  Moving the mid-point slider (grey triangle) to the right (lower numbers) will darken the image.




Adjusting the Background Levels layer to a mid-point of 1.16 gives me slightly richer colors.

Next I make an adjustment to the Texture Levels to lighten the mid-point so that it will soften the texture a little.




Moving the mid-point slider up to 1.89 lightens the texture and makes the effect just a little bit softer than the default.  The image is getting closer to where I want it, but it is just a little bit lighter than I wanted.




Then slightly darkening the Overall Levels by moving the mid-point slider down to 0.94 and resetting the white-point slider to 229 finalizes the image for me.

The changes that I made in this image are pretty minor, but the end result is significantly better in my opinion.  The point is that some adjustment is not only desirable, but necessary.  The actions do not necessarily produce a finished image, but they significantly reduce the amount of work that you have to do with each image.

Where Do You Go For Inspiration?

When you are feeling unmotivated about photography, where do you go for inspiration?

More and more I have been reading books from some of the more abstract photographers.  Just last week I read Michael Orton’s Photographing Creative Landscapes, and it brought me a whole new list of ideas of things to try.

I have been so inspired by the book, I went out first thing Saturday morning and shot a series of images that I had not imagined taking before reading the book.  I shot a series of images that Michael Orton terms “washes.”  Like many people I am familiar with washes in painting.  My wife uses them to create texture when she paints miniatures (very small models).  The washes accentuate the texture of the models by collecting in the low areas, giving an appearance of a shadow.

But I had never heard of the concept of using color washes to create more beautiful, vividly colored images using photographs.