Photoshop tutorial: Create beautiful lighting effects

Murilo Maciel shows how he produced this fashion illustration


In this tutorial, Toronto-based Murilo Maciel will reveal how he used Photoshop to create a fashion illustration with lighting effects, based around themes of beauty and light.

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He describes this artwork – and the techniques behind it – as a more contemporary version of the first piece he ever created for us, back in 2007 (read it at here).

Murilo will detail the essential skills behind a modern fashion illustration – such as the subtle use of Photoshop’s retouch tool – and also show some lighting techniques that will give an extra sparkle to your artwork. Finally, he’ll demonstrate how adjustment layers can help you to quickly change the overall mood.

In the project files, you’ll find some 3D shapes that Murilo has created for this piece – though you can create your own. The core photography in this tutorial is from Shutterstock and can be downloaded from, and – but the techniques can be applied to any well-lit model shot, and Murilo believes you’ll learn more when adapting what’s detailed here to your own photography and style of work. “Use the techniques to create something new, adapt them, mix them up,” he explains. “Use new things you have learned before.”

Time to complete 

5 hours


Photoshop CS5 or later

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.

Step 1


Find yourself a great model shot (mine’s from Open the picture of the model and trace around her with the Pen tool (P). Leave the area around her hair, but be accurate when tracing the rest of the image. Once the path is closed, go to the Paths panel’s flyout menu and click on Load path as selection. Press Cmd + Shift + I to invert the selection.

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Step 2


Go to Selection > Modify > Feather and change to 2px. This will soften the edges and help to blend the picture with the background. 

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We’ll use a different technique to cut out the area around the hair. With the Quick Selection tool (W), choose the area around the hair. In the Options bar, click Refine Edge.

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Step 3


Check Smart Radius and increase the radius until the background starts to disappear. Play with the other settings to get a better understanding of the tool, then click OK when you’re happy with the result. Invert the selection and click on Add New Mask (at the bottom of the Layers panel) to hide the background. Use a soft round brush to add or remove areas of the hair and background as needed.

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Step 4


Create a new layer and change its blending mode to Overlay or Soft Light. Check Fill with Overlay-neutral colour (50% grey), and use the Dodge and Burn tools (O) to emphasise shadows and highlights. Then, reduce the Exposure (in the Options bar) to 15%, so you’ll have more control during the carving process.

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Step 5


Next, create a new RGB document, sized 40 x 29cm at 300dpi. Copy and paste the model and the carving layer into the canvas. Move both layers inside a folder and resize it to fit the document. Fill the background with a solid midtone colour (I went for R190 G151 B147) and check your model comps properly.

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Step 6


Change the background colour to a slightly darker tone (R175 G127 B123) as we’ll be using it to colour another layer, and use a large soft rounded brush to give the background some colour variation. 

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Copy and paste in a background image – I used a photo of a forest ( – and position and resize it as you like. Place it between the model shot and the coloured background in the layer stack, reduce the opacity to 40%, then change the blending mode to Soft Light.

Step 7


Open the photo of the Aurora Borealis (a free image from, select the Eraser tool (E) and – with a soft rounded brush – erase the edges to leave only the light visible. This will help it blend with the rest of the elements. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + U and change the Hue to 12 and Saturation to 30. Paste it below the model, and position it as we’ve highlighted above.

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Step 8


Create a new layer with a Pass Through blending mode. Select a soft round blue brush to paint the sky like we’ve done here. Add a layer mask to the layer and, with a Gradient tool (G), create a gradient so the sky fades out towards the bottom of the image. 

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Next, create a layer group behind the model and we can start adding some of decorative elements.

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Step 9


Open 3d_shapes.jpg from the project files (and/or create your own) and with the Pen tool – or the Magic Wand – cut the shapes you like the most and paste them into the layer group you just created. Use masks to help blend them with the rest of the images. 

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Step 10


With the Polygonal Lasso tool (L), create a V-shaped selection as shown here. Select a soft round brush and set the size to 2,500px. Brush outside the selection so it looks like the light is fading out.

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Step 11


Now create a new layer and, using the same technique described above, design leaf-shaped selections and then brush around their edges to produce the effect shown in the top screenshot.

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Draw a few more leaves, resize them and then place these in different parts of your canvas. Blur some of the leaves using the Gaussian Blur and Motion Blur filters to add extra depth and movement to the illustration.

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Step 12


In a new layer, reduce the opacity to 65%. Change the colour to pink and brush it over the model’s dress. Create a new layer and start adding small light. With a white small soft rounded brush, add small flares on the edges of the silhouette.

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Step 13


For a lighting effect that adds more visual interest, select a brownish tone (R125 G73 B0) and, in a new layer, add a small flare on the edge of the model’s picture. Change the layer’s blending mode to Color Dodge. 

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Duplicate the flare layer a few times, alternately scaling them up and down. Move them around your model – I put them in the areas shown above. If your work needs further perking up, vary the colours and opacities of these flares.

Step 14


Select a large white brush and set the opacity to 5%. Start brushing over the model and background to integrate the elements. 

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Find a photo of some stardust – this one is from, but you can get free ones from Place it over the model in the lower part of the image. Change its blending mode to Screen and eliminate the background by using a Levels adjustment (Cmd/Ctrl + L) as shown above

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Step 15


I felt my artwork was a little cold and flat, so I decided to change the mood by using adjustment layers to increase the overall contrast and make the image warmer and more vibrant.

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When using adjustment layers in this fashion, ensure they are all above the other layers in the layer stack. I first added a Gradient Map from dark blue (R0 G40 B116) to yellow (R250 G170 B0) and changed its blending mode to Soft Light.

Step 16


Next, I adjust the Levels. Here I changed the RGB input levels to 30,1,255; the Red channel output levels to 5, 255; and the Blue output levels to 45, 220.  

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Finally, create another Levels adjustment layer and change the RGB input levels to 70, 1, 255. I added a layer mask and erased this last layer across any saturated areas, so it increased the overall contrast of the piece.