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How to Make a Soft Light Photoshop Action to Create a Backlight Effect

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

In this tutorial, you will learn how to create an amazing soft light photo action to make a backlight effect. I will explain everything in so much detail that everyone can create it, even those who have just opened Photoshop for the first time. 

The effect shown above is the one I will show you how to create in this tutorial. If you would like to create the even more advanced backlight effect shown below, using just a single click and in only a few minutes, then check out my Dark Fantasy 2 Photoshop Action.

Action final result

What You’ll Need

To recreate the design above, you will need the following resources:

1. Let’s Get Started

Step 1

First, open the photo that you want to work with. To open your photo, go to File > Open, choose your photo, and click Open. Now, before we get started, just check a couple of things:

  1. Your photo should be in RGB Color mode, 8 Bits/Channel. To check this, go to Image > Mode.
  2. For best results, your photo size should be 2000–4000 px wide/high. To check this, go to Image > Image Size. Our image size is currently a bit larger, but we are going to crop it in the next step.
  3. Your photo should be the Background layer. If it is not, go to Layer > New > Background from Layer.
Checking image size and mode

Step 2

Now we need to crop the canvas on the top and the sides. Choose the Crop Tool (C) and transform the Crop Box as shown below:

Cropping Photo

2. How to Select the Subject

Step 1

In this section, we are going to make a selection of our subject and then copy the subject to a separate layer. Choose the Quick Selection Tool (W), and select the background of the photo. Use the Shift-Alt buttons on your keyboard to add or subtract some areas from the selection. After you’ve made a perfect selection, press Control-Shift-I on your keyboard to invert the selection.

Making selection

Step 2

Now go to Select > Modify > Smooth and set the Sample Radius to 5 px. Then, go to Select > Modify > Contract and set Contract By to 2 px. After that, go to Select > Modify > Feather and set the Feather Radius to 2 px as shown below:

Modifying selection

Step 3

Press Control-J on your keyboard to create a new layer using the selection, and name this new layer Subject.

Creating new layer using selection

3. How to Create the Backlight Light Source

Step 1

In this section, we are going to create the light source. Select the Background layer, go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Light Source.

Creating new layer

Step 2

Now choose the Brush Tool (B), pick a soft brush and set the foreground color to #ffffff. Then, brush where you want to create the light source. Feel free to use a different brush size.

Brushing onto layer

4. How to Adjust the Lighting

Step 1

In this section, we are going to adjust the lighting. Select the Background layer, go to Image > Adjustments > Levels, and use the settings below:

Adjusting levels

Step 2

Now go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color to create a new solid color fill layer, name it Background Color, and choose the color #000000 as shown below:

Creating new solid color fill layer

Step 3

Change the Opacity of this layer to 70%.

Changing opacity

Step 4

Now select the Subject layer and change the Blending Mode of this layer to Soft Light.

Changing blending mode

5. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

In this section, we are going to make the final adjustments to the design. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves to create a new curves adjustment layer and name it Color Look.

Creating new curves adjustment layer

Step 2

Now Double-click on this layer thumbnail and, in the Properties panel, enter the settings below:

Adjusting curves

Step 3

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels to create a new levels adjustment layer and name it Overall Brightness.

Creating new levels adjustment layer

Step 4

Now Double-click on this layer thumbnail and, in the Properties panel, enter the settings below:

Adjusting levels

Step 5

Select the Subject layer and press Control-J on your keyboard to duplicate it. Then, change the Blending Mode of this layer to Normal.

Duplicating layer

Step 6

Now press Control-Shift-U on your keyboard to desaturate this layer. Then, go to Filter > Other > High Pass and set the Radius to 2 px.

Adding high pass filter

Step 7

Change the Blending Mode of this layer to Vivid Light and name it Subject Sharpening.

Changing blending mode

You Made It!

Congratulations, you have succeeded! Here is our final result:

Final result

If you would like to create the even more advanced backlight effect
shown below, using just a single click and in only a few minutes, then
check out my Dark Fantasy 2 Photoshop Action.

The action will create soft light, fantasy effects from your photos with no work at all from your side! You simply
brush over your photo with a
color and just play the soft light action. It’s really that simple! The action
will do all the work for you, leaving you fully layered and customizable
results that you can further modify.

You have the ability to create the light source where you want
and in a size that you want. The action also creates 15 preset color looks that you can
choose from.

The action comes with a detailed video tutorial that demonstrates how to use the action and customize the results to get the most out of the effect.

Action final result

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