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Dramatic Cross-Lighting Tutorial For Those Who Have Just One Strobe

Posted in Tutorials | 1 comment

I know that I have been doing quite a few reviews lately, so here is a photo-editing tutorial. For this particular tutorial you are going to need an off-camera flash and something to bounce off of.  Reflectors are used to redirect light exactly where you want it. They usually come in white or silver for natural lighting but also gold to provide a warmer light. Now you can go HERE and spend $59.00 on a little round reflector, or you can go to Crazy Clarks and buy one of those sunshades that you put inside your car to prevent it from getting hot in a parking lot for five dollars. I went with the five dollar option, which has its downsides. Since they fold up the light is harder to control, but they are quite large and I have found work quite well.

Setting up your lighting is key. With cross-lighting you want to have a large amount of light on one side of your subject, and then a weaker light on the other side. You’ll get best results with two strobes, but I just have the one and if you are reading this, then you probably do too.

So to start with here is a little diagram that I have made using a fantastic resource from Kevin Kertz. If you have photoshop then you can download the template HERE. It really helps you keep track of what lighting set ups you were using when and for showing others how you want your lights set up.

The arrows show the direction of the light going from the strobe and bouncing off the reflector. Just in case you are still confused by my nonsensical ramblings, here is a photo of the set up I used on the day. Flash to the right, reflector to the left. If you are still confused…I don’t know what to do. You can call me and I will try to explain it in more depth. Another tip for dramatic photos is to underexpose the background. If the flash is set to full power it is really going to light up your subject , so don’t worry about the focal point being too dark.

OK!!! Finally, on to the tutorial. Here is the picture we are starting with.

Pretty good start if I do say so my self. Whack that bad boy into Adobe Camera Raw. For those of you who didn’t read my bit on Camera Raw, shame on you, but more to the point the picture you are working with needs to be a RAW file. In Nikon this is .NEF and on other cameras I’m sure it has other names.

I like to start with upping the clarity and the contrast. I think the high clarity makes it look more dramatic, so I’m going all the way to 100, but the contrast is only going to 51.

It’s looking a little dark, so I’m gonna up the fill light, exposure and brightness.

While color is nice, this time we are going to lower the saturation down to -33 and up the blacks just a little bit for more of an edgy look.

That’s all for the basics page, now onto the tone curve. Again we are going for that edgy high-fashion look so lets lower the lights and up the darks.

  • Highlights – -13
  • Lights – +1
  • Darks – +8
  • Shadows – +20

I’m going to do the sharpening in Photoshop using an unsharp mask, but if you want to do it here, then go for it.

Last but not least for the RAW process, Drag the vignette all the way down to 100 and then make the midpoint around 35

And after all of that, you end up with this!

After all that I’m going to take the image into Photoshop and remove the reflector using a mixture of the clone and healing brushes, then use that unsharp mask and last but not least add a multiply mask to make the clouds look even moodier. These are all things that just tweak it that little bit more. If you REALLY want to know how to do this, then I’ll tell you but there is a lot of tedious man hours that go into it and I don’t feel like doing it again. Now that’s blog commitment! =)

So after all the photoshop stuff, this will be the final product! Dramatic, no?


Once you get the process down it becomes much easier and you can try doing some shots like these!

1 Comment

  1. Dear Jimmy,
    I put your website up on Stumbleupon but the title just came up as – (just a hyphen) why would that be?

    Jimmy Fan

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