Photoshop tutorial: Digital lighting & colouring

Brandon Spahn explains how different colouring, stylisation and lighting techniques can be used to captivate the viewer

Intro


To create a dreamlike abstract work as enthralling as this, you need some polished techniques. Here artist Brandon Spahn will teach you how to compose lines, shapes and patterns to captivate the viewer with a work made out of softened geometric shapes.

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You will learn how various lighting, colouring and stylisation techniques can be used across a wide range of styles to add charm to your work.

Time to complete

8-10 hours

Tools

Photoshop CS or later

Step 1

STEP 1

We’ll begin by creating a circle near the middle of a new A4 portrait black canvas. First, select the base colour for your composition: I went for a dark magenta. Select the Elliptical Marquee tool, hold down Shift to lock it to circular proportions and then drag it across the canvas. Right-click and select Fill. Fill it with the foreground colour. 

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Step 2

STEP 2

Repeat Step 1, but with different circles of various sizes and colours, while staying within your overall palette. 

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Now we are going to burn these circles. Select the Burn Tool, and at the top select either Highlights, Midtones or Shadows. Set the exposure at 70%, and with a soft round brush, slowly brush over the sides of your circles as shown.

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Step 3

STEP 3

Next, create more circles on the canvas. After you have made the circles, go to Filter > Distort > Twirl. Set this between -150 and 150. Move the circles around until you are satisfied with the placement.

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Step 4

STEP 4

Next, repeat everything we have done so far, but with varying opacities. Overlay and underlay your new circles above and below the others on the canvas. The aim is to create a dreamy feel of abstract objects floating in space. 

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You can also stroke some of the circles by using the Elliptical Marquee Tool again. Right-click and select stroke. Set the width between 1-15px.

Create some very small filled circles of a single shade. These will form the ends of smooth lines to add interest.


Step 5

STEP 5

It’s now time to whip out the Pen tool. Select it, hold down Shift, and drag it to create a smooth curve. Repeat this in the other direction. You should get something similar to the image shown. Right-click on the canvas and select Stroke Path. Use the Brush tool with a hard round brush.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

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Step 6

STEP 6

Use the line to connect two of the circles and make them the same colour. Repeat with more lines, creating more small circles if necessary. 

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Step 7

STEP 7

Now we are going to use patterns and textures to help build the composition. Download the pattern sets from bit.ly/3oV1ti and bit.ly/6uSKzU.

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To load these, create a circle with the Elliptical Marquee Tool. Go to Fill > Use: Pattern. Select Custom Pattern and then Load Patterns. Load your desired Pattern.


Step 8

STEP 8

After you have created your pattern, we really want to make it pop. So with the pattern still selected go to Filter > Distort > Spherize. This will turn the pattern into a 3D sphere. Burn the edges with the Burn Tool if needed.

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Step 9

STEP 9

Repeat Step 8 with different patterns. You can also use the Twirl technique shown earlier.

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Step 10

STEP 10

It’s now time to add some lighting. Using a soft round brush with various blending modes (Screen, Multiply, Overlay and the like), then brush different colours over your shapes to create hazy spotlights and glows.

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Step 11

STEP 11

We are now going to play around with the brushes. Go to Window > Brush. With a hard round brush, select Brush Tip Shape, set the spacing to 700%, and Turn on Shape Dynamics, Scattering, Color Dynamics and Smoothing. 

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In the Shape Dynamics tab, set Size Jitter to 100% and everything else to 0%. In Scattering, change Scatter to 100%, Count to 1 and Count Jitter to 0%. In Colour Dynamics, set Foreground/Background Jitter to 75%, Hue Jitter to 15%, Saturation Jitter to 20% and Purity to 0%.

Brush in circles with different colours. 

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Step 12

STEP 12

Using the Polygon Tool and Custom Shape Tool, make some geometric shapes – I used polygons and diamonds. Burn these shapes using the Burn tool as shown earlier. Arrange in a pleasing fashion.

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Step 13

STEP 13

Next, build up the flow and movement of the piece. Using the Line tool, create lines going up and down. I used a white colour and brought the opacity down to soften them and make them work on the viewer more subtly. Erase the sharp edges if needed.

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Step 14

STEP 14

Add a few more lighting effects to balance out the composition and you’re done.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

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