Not everyone has the capabilities to render huge models with a ton of lights. I am one of those people where more times than not I have to manually add light to my illustrations because I don't have the computing power. At first, this method can seem tedious. But, when you think about the time that it takes to insert lights into a model and then the time that it takes to render so many lights, knowing how to do this in Photoshop can be a great resource to have as a backup. There is a typical workflow I use that consistently yields clean, realistic results without much effort. I am using the urban snow scene that I posted a few months back as the base case for this tutorial. The model was large, and there were way too many windows to try to render. The steps I used to Photoshop the light are outlined below.

1. SAVE THE REFLECTIONS - For scenes like the one above, I rendered the glass of the surrounding buildings with a strong reflection. This allows me to copy the reflections to their own layer and use them later on as an overlay. To copy them to their own layer, select the "polygonal tool", then select the glass of the windows you intend to light. Right-click on the selection and choose "Layer via Copy".


2. PAINT IN THE BASE LIGHT - Next, I created a new layer called "glass light". Again, I selected the glass part of the window. To speed things up, you can ctrl+click the reflections layer in the previous step instead of using the polygonal tool to reselect all of the glass. With the glass selected, choose the "Brush" tool, select a soft yellow paint color, select a "Soft Round" brush, and lower the opacity of the brush to around 15%. Begin painting color with most of the light at the bottom of the window fading away as you move towards the top of the window.


3. HIGHLIGHTS - This is one of those steps that is easy to forget or to treat as not important. In reality, it is the most crucial step in creating successful lighting. Without it, the light looks flat. Begin by creating a new layer and setting the blend mode to "Overlay". Select only the surfaces facing the window that would be hit by the light coming through the glass. A good way to determine this is by looking for surfaces that are 90 degrees to the glass. With the selections made, choose the "Brush" tool, select a soft yellow paint, select a "Soft Round" brush, and set the opacity to around 35%.  Begin painting in the highlights. If the highlights seem weak, you can amplify the results by duplicating the highlight layer.


4. SOFT LIGHT GLOW - Another subtle, but important step. Create a new layer and choose an off white paint color. Choose the "Paint" tool, select a "Soft Round" brush, and set the opacity really low to something like 12% to 15%. Begin painting around the window edges being careful not to overdo it. 


5. BRING BACK THE REFLECTIONS - The last step is to retrieve the reflections layer created in the first step. Bring that layer to the top of the layers pallet, and set the blend mode to "Screen". This will amplify the reflections since they were most likely diluted from the painting in the previous steps.





PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (19)

been waiting for this a long time, thx very much, also wanna know if you can give some tips on the street you did on the highrise partial rendering

February 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwade

nice work! thx for sharing! ;)

February 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermsrl


February 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavy

i am one of your follower...very nice tutorial. :)

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterzernan suarez

Hi Alex, just want to thank you for all your nice post. I have been following your blog for about 6 months and I just defended my thesis work last week successfully. It turned out to be good. I learned a lot from your blog and it is very professional! Thanks again.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan


Thanks for the STEP BY STEP instructions, especially on this last post with window lighting and reflections. Very useful and easy to follow!

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Barghout

amazing work Alex!!!I've never seen such creative work in my country!!
i will share the blog with my classmates . and keep following!

March 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLin

good job
what resolution do you get the renders?

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMacarq

Alex, just curious what you used for lights in the tower in krykethea? they do not seem like omni lights or spot lights? thanks for the tutorial, always looking for ways to cut down render time

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick Van

@ Nick,
I place simple rectangles throughout the building in Sketchup. Then I paint them a color (doesn't matter which color). Then in Kerkythea, I tell that color to emit light which is done under the material editor. I find this route much easier and much faster than trying to place lights in Kerkythea.

March 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterALEX HOGREFE

Love the simplicity of it all. Really clever way to avoid rendering meltdown!
Alex, when you render the image do you use all-layers at once, or do it separatly?
For instance,do you render the reflection layer aside from the other layers?

March 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHugo

Hi Alex,

I am one of your silent followers. Your work is excellent, and you generosity admirable.

Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.

March 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlfie

I render everything at the same time typically.
Thanks for following!

March 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterALEX HOGREFE

Alex, great tutorial! Also nice to see a tutorial which explains why, and not just how, one makes the changes.

One question. What creates the shadows of people on the pavement (sidewalk) in the original render?


April 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterScott's


Great work and thank you so much for sharing..........can you explain how you created the glass curtain-wall on the main building.....Regards

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn J. Pandolfino AIA

These delhaes construction are very difficult to Disciples my understanding. It is very complex and interesting, but I did not get this stage of development yet.

April 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterConstruction Family

Awesome tutorial! Thank you very much!!!

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJonatan

Lovely post! Thank you so much for showing how to better renderings in Photoshop - most of the times we get so pressured to get everything right in the renderings softwares that we forget how important the post-rendering is! :)

November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElena Lenkova

Like it thanks for the tutorial the picture looks much better with higher resolution.

January 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>