Welcome! Today I will be taking you though some of the processes behind simulating studio lighting on images taken outside of a controlled environment. We’ll be focusing on lighting for the most part and how to get some natural highlights and shadows.

What you’ll be creating

Created as something fun for a friend of mine, we’ll be making a studio “portrait” of a dog. For this I used some very simple techniques that should allow any pet owners here to use their own dogs as models! This will also serve as great practice for simulating studio lighting when doing photo manipulations in general. The rule to remember here is to take advantage of layers to produce dynamic and realistic shadows. So lets get started!


Tutorial Resources

Step 1

Lets go ahead and make a new document in Photoshop (File > New) and go with a taller tabloid size. However its also helpful to work in sizes that preform better on your own computer, and with this project size isn’t set in concrete.


Step 2

Now that we’ve got a document all set up, bring in a new layer ( Shft+Ctrl+N on PC and Cmd+Shft+N on Mac). Go ahead and name this layer “Background” or something similar for your own convinance. We’re going to make this a nice dark gradient so bring up the Gradient tool (G) and set the left color to #6c6c6c and the right to complete black #000000. Make sure the tool is set to radial (on the top bar its located right under where it says Type, Second from the left). Click in the middle and drag out just past one of the corners. This will give us a nice soft base to work off of.



Step 3

Bring in your pet photo, remember the higher the quality you use here then the better it will look later. Even still theres a lot you can do with less than perfect pictures with time and effort. Go ahead and use the pen tool (P) to get a close cut around the edge of your pet. It doesn’t have to be exact (especially with fur) just a nice close shape. Once your happy with the line you have Right Click and click on Make Selection. Now we can use a wonderful tool called Refine Edge.


Step 4

With the selection still active and the Magic Wand tool as your active tool (W) right click and select Refine Edge. Basically this allows you to tweak your edge to better reflect the substance being cut out (fur has different opacities in places that a hard edge wont create properly). My settings are below, but an important part of refine edge is the brush associated with it. With the Refine Edge box still up you can brush around your selection in the work area. This will automatically try and figure out whats a part of your object and intended selection and what isn’t and add it to your selection. Its much easier to understand when you use it so I encourage you to play with it a bit before moving forward. This is a very important tool for extracting things like hair. Once you’re happy with the result click on OK and the selection will be applied. You’ll still have marching ants and the rest of your image will still be visible but once you mask out the layer (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All) your selection will show. Remember to mask out with the mask selected (The white box to the right of the layer thumbnail). From here we can use a similar technique on the pieces of clothing to bring them in nicely.