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How to Make Amazing Highlights in Photoshop

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Jan 07

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Adding Highlights

In order to make the existing highlights in this image stand out even more, first we make the lights and midtones of the image darker using a levels adjustment layer. After that we use our channels to select out our highlights and paint white over the selection on a new layer. Duplicating this layer adds even more highlights which can be made visible or invisible using a layer mask.

Lightening the Background

Since the background ended up darker than the original image, we paint white over the affected area and use layer blending modes to make it look just the way we want.

  • davechud

    Very cool – I’m definitely going to try this. I think this would make a very cool series of my friends along a wall. Any chance you got the word on what the goop was? I’m guessing it’s something like runny paste made of corn starch and warm water.

  • Pingback: How To Create Spectacular Highlights In Photoshop @ Spotofoto

  • Simon Dein

    Hey guys :) So cool to have my image featured at phlearn! The goo is vaseline as you guessed…so I guess i now owe you a phlearn-pro…

  • Lawrence Smith

    awesome Image bro!

  • Pingback: How To Create Spectacular Highlights In Photoshop | Photo Junkiez

  • Simon Dein

    Thanks mate!

  • Waseef Akhtar

    great work, Simon! you deserved it.

  • Waseef Akhtar

    wow. After years of playing with PS, I still get confused when it comes to highlighting images. I get confused in choosing the Curves, Levels or Color Range. I mean every image speaks differently and selecting it out is different in all. Any tips I should get to make the work easy and better for myself?

  • oliver.schaller

    congrats, awesome image, great work in photoshop!

  • Eddie Sebastian

    Fantastic episode, Aaron. Been away for a bit, glad to be back. :) Have a lot of catching up to do.

  • Sami Lane

    awesome as always, but i wish to learn how to get that white skin look, i searched everywhere, no one knows it ! please do a video on that it would help soooooooooooo much

  • Pingback: How To Create Spectacular Highlights In Photoshop | Fstoppers

  • Pingback: How to Add Amazon Highlight Using Photoshop ‹ Abel Flores Photography

  • Isaiah

    Stay out of the sun for a long period of time.

  • Pingback: How to Make Amazing Highlights in Photoshop | Creative Photography 101 |

Episode Transcript

Aaron Nace: Today I’m going to show you how to make some awesome highlights in Photoshop.

Hey guys and welcome to Phlearn my name is Aaron Nace. You can find me on Twitter @Aknace and today we’re editing one of your images. This is Simon’s image. He won our contest. If you guys want to enter our contest be sure to click we’ll leave it a link down below every single Monday we have a contest you guys can submit your images and have them edited to your own Phlearn as well as win a Phlearn Pro.

We’re editing Simon’s images, it’s an awesome image. What we’re going to do is we’re going to kind of take the overall levels of the image and play with them a little bit and then really bring out some of the really nice highlight detail in the image. I think you guys are going to love this tutorial. It’s not too hard and it’s going to add a lot of pop to your images.

All right so getting into this image, we have, this is our image that Simon submitted. It’s just awesome. Here’s a before, which we can see is a subject covered in some kind of a goo. If you guys have a guess on what this goo is, let me know. I don’t know it’s kind of interesting. Here’s the after that Simon submitted. Very, very cool.

Now a lot of you guys might be thinking well he just turned it black and white that’s really not that hard. That’s really not the case, this image has a lot more done to it than just turning black and white. It is really hard to get this look. Just to kind of show you guys, it’s not the case. Just grab an adjustment layer let’s go over here to black and white for instance and there we go. This is black and white. Even if you play around with your levels here, you can see it’s not just like a straight interpretation.

The difference between that and this is really quite a bit. There’s a lot of dodging and burning a lot of playing out with the shadows and highlights and really quite a big change happened. It’s not just turned black and white.

Another thing, I trimmed an ear a little bit there just for some symmetry and that looks really good, and then the eyes have been colored. Awesome image. One thing that I would like, I was looking at this image, seeing this reflection here really, really nice reflection there on her chest.

I thought that detail was nice I would like to see this brought out in the overall image a little bit more you know being able to see that detail here in her face. You will run into a problem, let’s create a new layer, and I’m just going to paint with white here on a brush, you’re going to run into a problem if your image is too light.

You can see I’m painting a highlight here on her nose, you can’t really see it there on her cheek, and you kind of see it there and over there you can kind of see it as well. On her cheek, I mean on her nose rather, it’s pretty much already white. If I were to try to add highlights to her face right now, you wouldn’t really be able to see them because it’s already so light.

What we’re going to do is I’m going to take down the overall brightness of the image and then we’re going to bring back up certain areas. You can do this on any image you work with. You can just take the overall brightness down and then bring those highlight details in there and it really helps people pop out.

The first thing I’d like to do is go ahead and bring down the brightness. We’re going to grab an adjustment layer here, and we’re going to go to levels, and I’m going to click right over here, you have your input levels and your output levels. Now most people stick with their input levels.

You can take your mid-tone slider and kind of drag this either way and have some fun with that. This button will just undo that. Here we’ll take everything that’s to the right of this and turn it completely white which is a cool effect but we’re not going to be doing that today.

This basically takes your black level and takes everything that’s to the left and turns it completely black, compressing it against the ground basically. Now a lot of people ignore the output slider right here. That’s actually in my opinion the more powerful one. Take a look down here. On the bottom end what we do, if I bring this, it takes the black point and brings it up.

It just makes the darkest point in your image a little bit lighter. The right side will do the opposite. It takes the lightest point of your image and makes it a little bit darker, so all the way down to the black or whatever. What we’re going to do is we’re just going to take this down and not go like super dramatic but just take it right down to about there, so now the lightest point in our image is not white.

It’s something around like 80 percent gray, which means we’re kind of opening ourselves up for an opportunity to get that really nice highlight on over top of the skin. Okay, now there’s a bunch of different ways you guys can do this, just kind of looking at this image because we have lost a little bit of the details here after this conversion happened, what I’m going to do is I’m going to go all the way back down to the original where we can see, look at all that really nice detail there, this highlight detail.

We’re going to go all the way back down to this and get our information from this layer. Now, there is one slight difference between this layer and that layer. It’s the ear is just a little bit different so I’m going to take care of that. I’m going to, I’ll show you why we need to take care of that in just a second.

Okay, so we’re going to use our channels to draw out the color from, draw out the highlights rather from our background layer. Make sure all your other layers are invisible, you just want your background layer. We’re going to go to channels, and then we’re going to click on red channel, green channel, and blue channel.

What we’re looking for here is a big difference, I have a blue copy because I’ve already done this, we can just delete that, you’re looking for a difference between the highlights and the shadows. The larger of difference the larger of a contrast you see, the easier you’re going to be able to bring out all of the highlights and shadows.

You can see here on the red channel I can’t really see a difference, green is okay, and blue is even better. What we’re going to do is duplicate our blue channel. Click and drag that down to the new channel icon, we have a blue copy here and I’m going to hit Command + L and that brings up our levels.

You can go to Image, Adjustments, and Levels also. Okay so now with our levels now what we’re going to do is that we’re going to take this mid-tone slider, just like we did before and I’m going to really crank that to the right and then bring this to the left.

What’s it’s doing is it’s isolating our highlights a little bit more. You can see that not a whole lot of detail is visible here in the rest of the skin, but the highlight area is light. The reason we use channels is to make selections. Channels are really great for making selections and if you have a light area against a dark area, it’s going to select the light area and not select the dark area.

It’s perfect, that’s exactly what we want. Now what we’re going to do is I’m going to hold down Command click right here on our thumbnail which is going to select out the letter areas. It doesn’t look like everything is selected, but it is. Anything that’s lighter than complete black will be selected. Okay, so now we’re back to our layers and you can see our selection is still active.

What we need to do is create a new layer right above that and I’m just going to use my brush tool and we’re just going to paint white. Let’s use the nice kind of hard brush to paint white and I can choose where I’d like to put it, not only that but I can play around with this layer later.

Whenever I’m doing this I really don’t like being able to see all these little marching ants, I like knowing that I have a selection that’s cool but I don’t like them, I think it gets in the way. I am going to hit Command + H and that’s just going to ask you if you want to hide Photoshop or the extras and we’ll say hide the extras. My selection is still active, you can hit Command + H and go back and forth, it’s just going to not be visible.

Okay, so the selection is active, and now with a white paintbrush everything is normal, I’m just going to start painting, and it’s using that selection that I already made from my channel to now paint. It won’t paint anywhere else basically. It’s only going to paint wherever I already had selected. In this case, it’s focusing on the highlights.

I’m going to use layer maps in just a little bit. There we go. I’ve gone ahead and painted all those highlights. Let’s put a layer map on there and just make our brush a little bit softer and paint black, just for like this edgework and things like that. All right, just make sure that you deselect when you start playing on your layer map.

Very nice, so we can see we brought out those highlights, now and there are many ways you can do this. What I’m going to do is I’m going to take this even a step further. All you have to do is duplicate that layer and you have even more highlights. In this case I really don’t want this layer to be visible everywhere.

This is where like just you know the really, really nice details come out. We’re going to take our layer map and I’m just going to fill it with black. I’m just going to hit Shift + Delete, and fill with black. That’s going to make everything on this layer invisible. How we’ll just go in here and like the really nice details, we’ll just paint white on our layer map.

That’s just going to bring that extra layer in maybe a little bit here on the lips. Anytime you want I’m just trying to be careful because if I completely paint that in you’re going to lose that really nice detail and we really don’t want that. All right so here in like the eyebrows and here in the eyes.

Again remember the only thing visible in this layer is the highlights, are the highlights rather. That’s what I’m trying to maintain and a little bit of sculpting on the cheeks. You can see there just adds a little bit more dimension to the image.

All right, and I do this a lot, you’re like watching me like turn my layer off and on. I do that a lot in Photoshop just trying to see like the before and after really quick. All right, and paint that white in there as well. Very nice. What we’ve done, is we’ve taken an image that was already great.

Let’s just go ahead and shift click all those layers and hit Command + G, so here’s our before, it’s really not that different. I know the overall image is a little bit darker. I’m going to show you guys a way to lighten the background, but it reads a little bit different. It’s not going to read like okay, it’s a dark image. It’s just going to read like it has a little bit more detail.

What I mean by read is like you see it and that’s like kind of your impression of it. There’s the before, and there’s our after with that little bit of nice detail here in the nose area. Now if you want to you can go in this level’s adjustment layer and still kind of play around with it.

Let’s go into our levels and say you want a little bit less contrast or more contrast all those highlights that we’ve painted, those are above this layer so you know we can do really quite a bit you know playing with our contrast here, and those highlights will stay in place. Let’s say we like something like that we can go either darker or lighter, that’s over here and then our highlights are on these other two layers.

Again very cool. Now if we do want to, let’s just grab a new layer and I’m just going to grab my brush tool and maybe we’ll just paint white here. There we go, on the outside of this and I’m going to do the same thing on this side. Okay, make sure we get something relatively even here.

Then you can use all kinds of, I would have just normally used the channel selection but because her ear changed, we couldn’t have, it would have been a different selection. I’m going to double click on this layer to bring up our blending style and here down where it says blend this, I’m going to have this not be visible where the underlying layer is darker so the hold Alt + R option down click on this little slider and just bring it from the left to the right.

That’s going to blend in really nicely and kind of like broke the boundary a little bit which gives us a little of that milky look, I kind of like that in this case but if you want to go ahead and refine that edge a little bit more let’s bring that in. You can see it will wind up blending in quite well with the rest of your image. I’m going to give it a little bit of a blur as well, just so it does blend in just a little bit better. We’ll lower the opacity, there we go, so lightening the background but doing it in a way that doesn’t really distract from the overall image.

All right guys, so anytime you’re editing an image in Photoshop if you want to bring out your highlights if the image is already too light just grab that slider, bring it down a little bit, you can then use channels to select out your highlights and then paint them back over top of everything and you will have something that really stands out from its background. Thanks so much for watching Phlearn. This is the end of the episode have an awesome day and an awesome life. I’ll Phlearn you later.

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