Dramatic Lighting Effects Using the Gradient Tool in Photoshop

One technique used a lot, particularly in comics like Penny Arcade, is the use of dramatic lighting. Through a lot of trial and error and experimentation, I finally figured out a method to achieve this look. It turns out that the technique is really easy.

Here’s what I started with:

Dramatic Lighting Tut using Photoshop

Here’s the end result:

Dramatic Lighting Tut using Photoshop

So how do you fake dramatic lighting in Photoshop? Jump past the break to see how this technique was achieved.

The Technique

Step 1: Make a new layer above the color and ink layers in your Photoshop file.

Step 2: Activate the gradient tool (keyboard shortcut G) and make sure it’s set to Radial. Select the black to white gradient. You may have to tick the “Reverse” box so your gradient looks like the version shown below.

Dramatic Lighting Tut using Photoshop

Step 3: Make a rectangular selection which will define the space you want to apply the lighting effect on. Click and drag the gradient tool. The starting point of your drag will define the “Source”, or the brightest area, of the light.

Dramatic Lighting Tut using Photoshop

Step 4: Change the layer mode on your Gradient layer to Soft Light. At this point you may want to adjust the gradient’s opacity.

Dramatic Lighting Tut using Photoshop

Step 5: Revel in your awesomeness.

Here’s another example where I’ve used this technique:

Cabin forest

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