Jun 02, 2015

How to Turn on Headlights in Photoshop

This episode is a real turn on! Car lovers rejoice: Learn How to Turn on Headlights in Photoshop! Learn all the tricks to creating realistic light, including lens flares and light streaks made from scratch.

A great way to start is to really analyze and sketch out your ideas for the photo. This can clarify what will need to be done to complete a realistic effect.

For this picture, we plan out where the beam of light will be and in which direction it will shine. We also decide that it makes sense for the light to be brighter closer to the actual headlight, and gradually decrease as it gets farther from the car. We notice that the headlight should be shown shining on the road as well. And for a special touch, a lens flare will complete the look!

Creating the Beam of Light

Select the polygonal lasso tool and create a shape that will encompass the main beam of light. Fill it with white. Now, go to Filter – Blur Gallery – Field Blur. You will see a little dial pop up, which can be adjusted to add less or more blur. You can click on another area and add an additional blur dial. This is very useful because it allows you to make the beam of light blurrier as it gets father from the car! If you need to, you can transform the beam (Cmd + T) to be at a slightly different angle, or stretch it out.

Adding Effects to the Light 

To give the high-beam a glow, double click on the layer and check the “Outer Glow” box. You can choose the color for the glow – we chose a yellowish tint here. Feel free to adjust the amount of glow as well as the opacity to get just the look you are going for! Add a layer mask and create a gradient over it to lessen the glow as it gets farther from the car.

Adding Subtle Light Streaks

This is a small adjustment but will go a long way in terms of impact! Using the brush tool, click all over and make random dots and marks on a new layer. Then, go to Filter – Blur – Radial Blur. Select “Zoom” and adjust the amount of blur. It will make the dots look like they are moving at warp speed, which will later turn into light streaks! Place the center of the layer right over the headlight. Change the Blend Mode from Normal to Screen. Then, create a Hue/Saturation layer if you need to change the color of the light. Again, don’t be afraid to transform this layer to adjust its angle or size. Go with what looks right (it might take some time to be able to recognize what looks most correct. Keep practicing!).

Adding Light to the Road 

This is the same concept we used for the initial beam of light. Create oval shapes on the ground using the elliptical marquee tool, and fill it with the same yellowish color we used for the light streaks. Add a gaussian blur to the layer and duplicate it so that it appears to be coming from each headlight. The color can be tweaked by using a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

Special Touches: Lens Flares & Gradients

Now the real fun begins! Create a stamp visible layer (Shift +Opt + Cmd + E). Go to Filter – Render – Lens Flare. You are able to choose the size and position of the flare. However, it is very limiting to place the lens flare directly onto the stamp visible layer. To get past this problem, place the lens flare on a black layer and change the Blend Mode to Screen.

Gradients are simple but quite impactful. Click on the Gradient Tool and create a gradient that goes from black to a bright yellowish orange color. Then change the Blend Mode to Soft Light. The black part of the gradient serves as a sort of vignette, and the bright part of the gradient will reflect what is happening with the bright headlights.

As you can tell, there are many little details in this technique that work together to create a realistic final look. If you take the time with each step, there will be no question that your headlights are truly turned on!




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    gale miko

    Loved this episode. I took some pictures of some old cars and have been trying to add headlights on them with no luck.I have a straight on headlight that I’m trying to get that old headlight color amber yellow. I’ll let you know if I ever get it right. Thanks a bunch for this tutorial. Came at a great time.

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    guillermo giannini rodriguez

    Super cool and interesting. You open our mind
    Thank you

  • user image

    Wow, really great. Thanks for doing these free tuts! You’re getting me very warm for buying your other tutorials by seeing this 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

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    Pat Penton

    I always learn SO MUCH from your tutorials! Thank you!! Even if I never need to do the exact thing you’re doing, there are always techniques that would apply to other things. I am always amazed at the level of details you include.

  • user image

    Layers are kicking my but, I just can’t rap my head around it; can you help me? I’m and old guy of 73 so it takes me longer too get it. HELP!

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    Preston Shirley

    Some nice tips for other images. Turned into a top notched car image. Thanks.

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    Ashraf H-K

    I just wanted to thank you so much for these Tutorials .. you’re doing a great great Job!!

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    Don Funderburg

    I have another episode where you added street light and this will just help reinforce your teachings on producing light with the dimming effects as light reaches further and further out. I always look forward to you emails each week. I’m being exposed to wonderful things, now if I could just retain what I’m learning.

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    Thank you for the awesome tutorial! I’m new to Photoshop and have been going through and watching many of your tutorials! It’s great to see all the different things one can do with Photoshop! You really DO make learning Photoshop and photography fun! LOL Keep up the awesome work!

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    Don Funderburg

    As I watched this a second time I realized we are being introduced to tools I did not even know about and then some of the possibilities of what I can use them for and how. Great job.

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    Ivo Gonzalez

    Thanks Aaron
    Great video.
    Thanks for sharing with everebody.
    Phlearn is one of the best places to learn more and more about photoshop.
    If a photographer is serious about post processing cannot miss these tutorials.

  • user image

    Aaron you are amazing! Thank you for the tutorials you make they have helped me immensely !

  • user image

    Great short Aaron. I like the use of the field blur vs the old way you used for adding a light beam (although that was pretty sweet too). All your tips and “tricks” really add depth to my images – thanks again.BTW – love my phlearnmethod actions!

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    Lorenz Onyekachi

    Hey Aaron, thou art a Wizard! I’m simply blown away.
    Thanks a Ton!

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    Jordan McFall

    Yay! this is so good thankyou Phlearn! No one…and I mean no one in the world does good automotive tutorials so thanks!
    If there is someone who does that you know of please let me know! I would love to learn an automobile editing workflow!

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    Dale Hardin

    As always, the tutorial was easy to follow and very informative. Had not used the blur gallery before, could you expand on that in another episode?

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    John Cantwell

    Really great tutorial Aaron, as always! Useful in many lighting situations. May I ask, the nifty animated transition graphic that appears between clips, with the heading of the next section; is that a option from your video edition software (I use Premiere Pro) or is it custom job? Thanks again for your excellent tutorials! John from Australia

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    Len Crainer

    really informative…I can think of other places this could work…Lighthouses

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    Mario Mifsud

    Excellent helpful video with good explanation. Thanks for your full support.

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    Great Tutorial, this can lead to many other brilliant possibilities with lighting.. Thanks for sharing Aaron

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    photo editor

    wow! so amazing and lovely tutorials for make on headlight using Photoshop …thanks for step by step details and also video tut..!!

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    Antonio Carlos

    Great tutorial.
    How to create realistic clouds in Photoshop?

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    Andrea Fine

    What an excellent explanation. And so much fun. I’m sure it’ll come in handy in the future.

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    Great tutorial! Question though, just before the last gradient you applied a lens flare and went though some discussion about being frustrated that it applied it to the image and thus created the lens flare as a layer by itself so that the color could be changed (without affecting the image of the car). The next step was creating the gradient, however, looking at your layers palate the lens flare was not on it’s own layer. Did you decide to merge it to the image after you altered the color? Is there a reason you wouldn’t want to keep it as a layer by itself, allowing you to alter the file at a later time?


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    For anyone that might not see the Focus Wheel thing since I had that issue you can turn it on by going to View > Show > Edit Pins.

  • user image

    I love it so much!! Thank you! It is amazing but just yesterday I was looking for a tutorial with creating beams of light! This is much better than what I had found!! Thanks again,

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    Morney Hans

    Hi i enjoyed your tutorial so much.Here is my attempt…Im a huge fan of Phlearn..thanks for making Photoshop fun!…Because i never used Photoshop before i’m learning so much!