Ren­der light and shade on the face

Jana Schirmer ex­plains how she de­cides the best light­ing for a por­trait and ren­ders the il­lus­tra­tion

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Issue 122 June 2015 -

Jana Schirmer de­cides the best light­ing for a por­trait.

Whether I’m paint­ing a por­trait from life or cre­at­ing a piece from my imag­i­na­tion, I use pretty much the same ba­sic work­flow for all of my dig­i­tal il­lus­tra­tion. I al­most al­ways start with a sketch, in which I try to nail the com­po­si­tion and think through what I’m aim­ing to do. If you don’t have too much prob­lem-solv­ing to do when you’ve started paint­ing, the process seems much faster – and it feels bet­ter if you don’t ex­pe­ri­ence ran­dom prob­lems all the time dur­ing paint­ing!

I find that paint­ing is eas­ier if you put down lo­cal colours first and then work on the light­ing. The key to this ap­proach is us­ing Pho­to­shop’s layer blend­ing modes, es­pe­cially Mul­ti­ply. As well as giv­ing you con­trol over the light­ing and shad­ing through­out your im­age, this makes it very easy to ad­just the colours in it and try out dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions, with­out hav­ing to do any te­dious re­paint­ing.

In this work­shop I’ll re­veal how I set up my layer or­der so that ev­ery­thing is ‘ just so’. I’ll mostly fo­cus on how to light the face, but I’ll also talk a lit­tle bit about the fi­nal steps I use to make the fin­ished im­age look more or­ganic and less sharp and dig­i­tal. I hope this will give you some idea of the many pos­si­bil­i­ties you have with this tech­nique.

3 Pick­ing lo­cal colours

Once the flats are done, I can eas­ily try all kinds of lo­cal colour vari­a­tions. I sim­ply lock the Trans­parency on a flats layer and fill it in with a colour. I wanted to try a ver­sion with warm lo­cal colours and one with cooler colours. Even if you start with a clear vi­sion of the colours, it’s still fun to try out slightly dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions. This ap­proach is par­tic­u­larly use­ful be­cause the out­comes can be so unique – ones that you might never have thought of!

4 Layer or­der

Keep­ing my lay­ers or­gan­ised helps my work­flow. I keep the two lo­cal colour vari­a­tions in two dif­fer­ent groups so I can switch them on and off when I want to. At this stage I also start to plan the light setup. I add a new layer in Mul­ti­ply mode and sketch in my idea for the light di­rec­tion. I try two slightly dif­fer­ent light set­ups for this im­age – see the next step…

5 Set­ting up light and colour

I try both light lay­ers on both colour ver­sions to see which one I pre­fer. I think the ver­sion with her face com­pletely in the shade would have made a more in­ter­est­ing im­age with some bounce light, but I de­cide to go for the ver­sion with the more di­rect light on her face. This means that there will be some light vari­a­tion in the im­age.

6 Play­ing around with pos­si­bil­i­ties!

It’s fun for me to imag­ine the many dif­fer­ent ways you can set up the light and colours in any pic­ture. Here I change the colour of the Mul­ti­ply layer with my shad­ows us­ing Ctrl+B. I think do­ing this al­ters the mood a lot! So I go with the ver­sion I like the most, which is a mix be­tween the first and the last one.

7 Adding bounce light

With my light di­rec­tion set, I add bounce light. I make the fab­ric she’s hold­ing look a bit translu­cent so it casts some colour on her face. I also add a warm tone to sur­faces fac­ing down­wards to sug­gest bounce light from be­low. For this I cre­ate a new layer and set it to Add. I love this layer mode, but you must use a pretty dark colour – if you use a bright one, it just turns out white-ish.

8 Adding am­bi­ent oc­clu­sion

I feel the pic­ture needs a bit more depth. So I cre­ate one more Mul­ti­ply layer to add more shad­ows. (The inset shows the shadow layer with­out the im­age.) This is rather sloppy com­pared to how other artists set up their am­bi­ent oc­clu­sion layer. The more you think this through, the more re­al­is­tic it will look. My favourite tool for this is a Soft brush and the Lasso tool…

9 Re­fin­ing the edges

I love us­ing the Lasso tool to keep my edges clean. Here for ex­am­ple, I use it for the nos­trils to cre­ate a deep shadow in­side them. I also use it for the eyes to make them ap­pear deeper. If the “march­ing ants” bother you, press Ctrl+H to hide them. Press the same short­cut and they reap­pear. I find this es­pe­cially use­ful when work­ing with very small se­lec­tions.

10 Cre­at­ing new lay­ers

I merge all my lay­ers into a new layer (Ctrl+ Shift+Alt+E), then use my masks from step 2 to ap­ply the im­age on them. I Ctrl-click the mask layer thumb­nail to pro­duce a se­lec­tion of them, then press Ctrl+J on the im­age layer to cre­ate a new mask from the se­lec­tion. I keep Pre­serve Trans­parency on the lay­ers be­cause I don’t want to draw over my masks yet. Now I start ren­der­ing and paint over the out­lines. I also add some high­lights on her face in the ar­eas that aren’t cov­ered by the shadow.

11 Vary­ing lo­cal colour of the face

At this stage, I felt the skin could use a bit more colour – like some red to the cheeks and nose and a tiny bit of blue or pur­ple un­der the eye. When paint­ing men it helps to add more blue tones to the beard area. This is also a great way to in­clude makeup, like eye liner or eye­shadow, or tat­toos. It’s painted on a Mul­ti­ply layer, so you can just re­duce the opac­ity if it’s too heavy.

12 More de­tails!

I add some de­tails like eye­lashes. (I leave th­ese till near the end since they can be a bit dis­tract­ing when you’re fig­ur­ing out the form of the eyes.) I also add some skin spots on a Mul­ti­ply layer with a brown­ish colour. Adding high­lights to the eyes and lips is a great way to sep­a­rate the dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als in the face. I make sure I in­clude bounce light in the eyes as well as the skin.

13 Rough up the edges

Some artists can paint with awe­some brush­strokes right away, but un­for­tu­nately I’m not one of them. I usu­ally go over a pic­ture with big­ger brushes in the end be­cause the edges do look a bit too clean with ev­ery­thing sep­a­rated by masks! Now is a good time to drop ev­ery­thing on to one layer and get rid of the hard, dig­i­tal-look­ing edges and in­clude some nice brush­strokes.

14 Fi­nal­is­ing the pic­ture

I also added some strands of hair, fur­ther soft­en­ing that ex­ces­sively hard-edged dig­i­tal look, and I cre­ate a new Add layer to em­pha­sise the bright light com­ing from above by in­tro­duc­ing a bloom with a big Round Soft brush. I also brighten all the light ar­eas in the im­age on the same layer to make them a bit more con­trasty to the shad­ows. That’s it! It’s done!

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