Creating Mysterious Light in Photoshop

Mysterious light can be hard to come by in the natural world. Luckily, Photoshop can help us with this. The number one aspect of mystery is darkness. The goal is to make the viewer curious about what they can almost see. Strategic softness also makes clarity slightly unattainable. Use these tools carefully. Going too far will result in a mess.

Step 1: Contrast

For the sake of this example, let us imagine a photo of a woman in a room lit by the window to her right. Every lighting situation comes with contrast even if it is not very much. So, first go to your "Image" drop down and in "Adjustments" select "Brightness/Contrast." Adjust the two bars so that you increase the contrast and reduce the brightness. Finding the balance might take some tweaking because you do not want to lose detail in either end of the spectrum.

Step 2: Saturation

Vibrant colors suggest positive moods. This is not what we are going for, so go to the "Image" drop down and in "Adjustments" select "Hue/Saturation." First, decrease the saturation to a point before your image turns gray. Depending on your photo, adjusting the hue may or may not be useful, but try to use it to get a slight tint in your image. Amber and cool blue are some common choices.

Step 3: Curves

This comes back to contrast. Your saturation adjustments may have caused some unwanted side effects and the original contrast changes can be improved upon. So go to "Image," "Adjustments" and "Curves." The dark end of the spectrum is represented on this graph at the lower left hand corner. About a sixth of the way up the line, grab the line and pull it down. Make sure "Preview" is checked so you can see what you are doing to the image. Basically, you are making the darks, darker. However, you are also pulling down the entire curve, so keep an eye on the mids and highlights. You can add as many drag points to the line as you need.

Step 4: Diffusion

If you can, compare the current image to the original and see the difference. You now have a dark and moody version of the photo. But, one more manipulation can make it truly mysterious.  Duplicate the layer you have now.  On this new layer, go to "Filters," "Blur" and "Gaussian Blur." Choose a brush size that is relatively large since you will be going over a lot of space.  In a motion originating from the window and traveling into the room, blur the scene. However, do not blur your subject or you will lose all sense of definition. When you are done, blend the two layers for the final effect.

Many embellisments are conceivable in the creation of mysterious light. The atmosphere needs to set the tone of an image and Photoshop gives you the tools to make it whatever you want.


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