Painting a character surrounded by light using Photoshop is relatively easy. It's a tricky effect to recreate with traditional media, but it's one of these things that digital painting has made a lot easier to do.
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The one thing that you must bear in mind is that applying these cool-looking, easy-to-achieve effects won't make a poor painting any better. If you don't put enough effort into creating your character then the image won't work, no matter what else you do to it.
With that caveat out of the way, let's begin the process. The elements you need are an image of your character backlit (that usually means, white or almost white background, and the character in shadows with light around the edges of his/her silhouette).
This is important because if the background either isn't bright enough or the character isn't lit from behind, the final result won't make much sense.
Once these elements are in place, you just need to use Low Opacity Overlay and Screen Mode layers. In these layers, paint a white outline around the character and then blur it using the Gaussian Blur. You'll achieve a decent backlighting effect without hiding the details on the figure.
01. Start at the end
First, you need to finish the painting. Here, as you can see, I've painted all the light in the background and placed the character in shadows, lit from behind.
I strongly recommend painting the background and the character on two separate layers, as well as keeping the edges of the character clean. Doing this will make the following steps much easier.
02. Onionise it
Then, in a new layer, paint a thick white line around the character. You'll eventually blur this line and it'll become the glow that's surrounding the figure, so don't paint it randomly.
Note that you'll need to paint in the areas where the light around the silhouette of the character will be stronger. Once you've done this, use the Gaussian Blur tool to blur it (around 100 pixels).
Next you need to copy that layer several times (or repeat step two on different layers), decrease their opacity and set their mode to Overlay and/or Screen.
The number, mode and opacity of the layers is up to you. For this image I use an Overlay layer with 56 per cent Opacity, a Screen layer with 34 per cent Opacity and an Overlay layer set to 15 per cent Opacity.
Now you just need to erase the white glow outside the edge of the character.
If you've done things correctly and kept the silhouette of the character clean (so there's nothing on the character's layer) then it should be easy to select the character, invert the selection, and delete the unwanted glow. Finally, just fix whatever else needs to be fixed in the image.
05. Easy ways to select a figure
If you've kept the edges of your character clean, the easiest way of selecting it is by Ctrl-clicking the icon of the layer that your character's on. If the edges of the figure aren't clean, you can clean them using a Selection Mask.
Words: Paco Rico Torres (opens in new tab)
Paco Rico Torres is a freelance illustrator living in Spain who's produced art for several card games, magazines, books and role-playing games. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX (opens in new tab) issue 93.
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