In this comprehensive tutorial, you’ll learn how to shoot multiple light painted images and quickly combine them using Photoshop layers to create a stunning finished image.
You’ll see how to organize multiple light painting images using Lightroom then how to use layers and masks to combine them in Photoshop.
NOTE: You cannot do this using just Lightroom. You need layers for this process, so you must use Photoshop. You can use another program has that capability (On1, GIMP, Elements, etc.) but the actual process and tools may be slightly different.
Note: Make sure all images to be combined are all shot from the same camera angle
What you’ll learn
- How to combine multiple images in Photoshop.
- How to use layer masks to hide parts of some images.
- Tricks for using your cell phone flashlight app to illuminate specific portions of the scene.
- How to use the Photoshop layer blend modes to quickly combine the images.
- How to work with the brush tool for masking.
- How to use the cloning tool to remove unwanted items.
Watch the video tutorial
In a previous article, I demonstrated the steps I used to capture the individual photos and how we used a simple cellular telephone to add light to parts of the image. This video completes the process and shows how to combine the images and mask out unwanted ares.
Watch it now and follow along if you have some of your own light painted images. Then make sure to read the notes below as well.
Note: In the video, I talk about turning the headlights on. What that means is that I light painted them using my cellphone’s flashlight to make them appear to be illuminated. The camera is catching the reflection in the back of the headlights, I didn’t actually turn on the car’s headlights.
There are a few things you need to make sure you handle and are aware of when shooting your light painted images. The more you can pay attention to these details, the easier it will be to combine them later in Photoshop.
1 – Shoot from one camera position
You will need to use a tripod for the long exposures anyway, but you also do not want to reposition the camera or change the composition between shots. If you do so, you will have to align the layers in PS first before you do anything else.
It’s not the end of the world or all that difficult to fix, but it’s easier and saves yourself extra work simply by not moving the camera when shooting.
2 Don’t aim your light at the lens
When the flashlight shines directly into the lens it causes light bugs which you’ll then have to mask out in Photoshop. So, try and avoid this whenever possible and be conscious of where your beam of light is pointing.
Check each image and if you get any light bugs, take another exposure, and be more careful. Again, this will just save you a bit of time later in Photoshop.
3 Lighting up car headlights
To make a car headlight appear to be illuminated, put your light source right up to it.
During the exposure, just rotate the flashlight around a bit and make sure that your body is not in between the headlight and the camera. Do that evenly on both headlights.
4 More layers make bigger files
Photoshop has to work with and process all the images used, so your overall working file size will be much larger the more layers you add.
This larger file will also take longer to process and depending on your computer, and the number of images it could really bog your system down.
When I’m using Photoshop for work like this, I make sure it’s the only application I have running so my computer has all of its resources working on this one process.
I also recommend adjusting your Photoshop preferences (see below) to allow it to use 90% of your available memory (RAM). That will improve its performance and speed overall as well.
Once the layers are combined in Photoshop, I use Lightroom to finalize some things. In Lightroom I’ll work with clarity to show you how to adjust portions of the photo and how to apply a vignette.
5 Wacom Tablet
I use a medium sized Wacom Intuos Tablet when working with Lightroom and Photoshop. It gives me brush sensitivity along with excellent control over my editing.
While a mouse will work, the Wacom tablet allows for much finer control and you can work faster and more accurately. It’s like using a real brush or pen
NOTE: It does take a bit of getting used to using a tablet for editing and you’ll want to smash it or toss it out the window at first. But stick with it, you’ll thank me later.
Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts:
- ALT-click to apply a black layer mask
- CTRL-Z to undo
- D – choose default color palette
- X – reverses the color palette
- ] – increase brush size
- [ – decrease brush size
- 1-9 – change opacity. Number 3 would be 30%
- Shift-click – Shift clicking a mask will activate / deactivate the layer mask so you can see the differences
- CMD-ALT-SHIFT-E – stamps all layers into one combined layer so you can do cloning
- CMD-S – Save
Lightroom Keyboard Shortcuts
- D – switch to develop module
- Alt- Click black slider – checks black and white clipping
- O – shows what part of the photo have been masked
- ALT – switch to the eraser tool
- M – activate the graduated filter
Links to more related tutorials
- Tips and Tools for Light Painting – Review of Light Painting Brushes
- Fun with light painting at home
- Light painting experiments to improve your photography
- Layer Masking in Photoshop – What is it and how do you use it?
- Video Tutorial: Photoshop Blending Modes Explained
- More Photoshop tutorials
- Lightroom Tutorials
If you’ve never tried light painting or used layers in Photoshop, give this exercise a try.
Read through some of the tutorials above and capture some light painting images. Then come back here and do part two – putting them all together in Photoshop.
Please post your images and any comments or questions you may have in the comment area below.