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How to Match Lighting in Photoshop

Published: 14/06/2021

When creating composites, it is crucial to match the lighting of the background with that of the other elements. If you don’t do that, it is hard to make it look believable and natural. Learn how to match lighting in Photoshop so that all the elements in your composites look seamlessly incorporated.

How to Match Lighting in Photoshop

The light matching technique is used in almost every photography niche. Specifically, you need to use it in real estate photography a lot. There are many instances where we need to combine various interior views of a property or create visuals where we need to add elements to virtually fill a space (like we have done in the example below).

Whether you are creating a composite for creative purposes or to solve a practical issue, it is important to learn how to match lighting to give it a coherent, seamless look. Doing so is not difficult, as Photoshop has many tools and features that help you carry out this editing task with ease and perfection.

You can use selection tools, masks, adjustment layers, and other features to fine-tune the edits to make sure the lighting and colors match and show a good result. You can practice the methods that we are going to describe below to elevate your post processing skills in  Photoshop. 

Here are the three choicest ways to perfectly match the lighting of the background and foreground elements in a composite. 

Method 1: Match Lighting Using the Curves Adjustment Layer

The curve adjustment is one of the best features in Photoshop to fix the highlights and shadows of an object or layer. In the curves adjustment panel, moving points on the top section of the curve manages highlights while the middle section manages mid tones. The lower section of the curve is for shadow adjustment.

Importing Background and Object Selection In Photoshop

  1. Open the background image in Adobe Photoshop CC using File > Open.
  2. Make a duplicate of the background layer to make sure all the edits remain nondestructive. 
  3. Make a selection of the object from the other image using any of the selection tools in the toolbar. Here, we have selected the L-shaped sofa from another image using the Polygonal Lasso tool. We intend to fill the empty space adjacent to the kitchen with the sofa. 

Create the Composite by Pasting and Transforming Selection

  1. Copy the selection by pressing CTRL + C (Windows) or CMD + C (Mac).
  2. Paste the selection on the background image Window.
  3. Convert the layer into a smart object by right clicking on it and choose Convert to Smart Object. 
  4. If there is a need, transform the image to resize, rotate, or flip it. You can also tilt it using the perspective feature to match the perspective of the background. Select the layer, go to Edit > Transform, and select the function from the drop down.
Create the composite in Photoshop by pasting and transforming selection

Create a Luminosity Check Layer

  1. Now the next step is to add a layer that checks the luminosity level of the selection and the rest of the image so that we can clearly see the bright and dark areas of the image. This step is important to give us a clear idea of where we need to darken or brighten our selection.
  2. At the bottom of the Layer panel, choose the option to Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer.
  3. Select Solid Color adjustment layer.
  4. Choose a color that has zero saturation. For instance, the color #4D4D4D or grey is with zero saturation.
  5. From the blend modes drop down, choose Color. Now you will be able to clearly see which parts of the background and the selection are darker and which parts are bright. 

Create a Curves Adjustment Layer

  1. Create a Curves adjustment layer by pressing the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon. 
Creating a curves adjustment layer
  1. Clip the layer to the selection layer by pressing the clipping mask ion in the curves panel. Now any changes that you make will only affect the selection and not the whole image. 
  2. Use the hand tool from curves adjustment to sample the area in the subject that you need to darken or lighten according to the need.

Match the Lighting of Object With Background

  1. Adjust the highlights, mid tones, and shadows of the selection to match it with the rest of the image.
Matching the lighting of object with background in Photoshop
  1. Disable the solid fill layer by pressing the visibility icon beside its name in the Layer panel.
  2. If you are not satisfied with the result, you can always click on the Curves adjustment layer to edit it as you created a smart object of the selection earlier.
  3. Save the image in the desired format.

Method 2: Match Lighting Using the Levels Adjustment Layer

Another innovative tool for effortless adjustment of the highlights and shadows is the Levels adjustment layer. Tweaking the intensity of these effects can help us match the lighting of the added elements to that of the background.

Open Background and Selection Layers in Photoshop

  1. Firstly, locate your background layer from File > Open.  
  2. Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL / CMD + J to duplicate the background layer.
  3. Open the other image from which you need to cut out an object for placing onto the new background.

Create the Composite by Pasting Object and Transforming

  1. Make a selection of the object using a selection tool from the toolbar. Be as precise as you can while making a selection. Zoom in the image to make sure the selection is refined.
  2. Copy the selection and paste it on the background image. Transform it as needed to match the perspective of the background. 

Assess Luminosity Levels By Creating a Solid Fill Layer and Blend Mode 

  1. At this point, you can create a solid fill adjustment layer and choose the grey color (#4D4D4D) and choose the Color blend mode to view the dark and light areas in a clear way. 
  2. After that, click on the selection layer in the panel. Go to the Filter menu, and select Convert for Smart Filters. Smart filters are an important Photoshop feature to make the edits reversible and non destructive.
  3. Go to the layer panel again, and select the object layer.

Use Levels Adjustment to Match the Lighting

  1. Click on the icon for Create a New Fill or Adjustment Layer. Choose Levels from the dropdown menu.
  2. The levels panel helps adjust the brightness levels using three factors. 
  • The Black Point, which defines the darkest area of the image. Its default value is 0.
  • The White Point, which defines the brightest area. Its default value is 255.
  • The Midtone defines the middle tones of the image. The slider is set to the value of 128 by default.
Using levels adjustment to match the lighting
  • Clip the Levels Adjustment to the subject by right-clicking on it and choosing Create Clipping mask.
  • Now adjust the black point, white point, and the mid-tones to match with the background. 

Save the Composite

  • Once your object’s lighting matches the environment, save the image in PSD to retain the layers or in JPEG format if you want to use it externally.

Method 3: Match Lighting Using the Threshold Adjustment Layer

Here is another unique feature that not many people use in Photoshop, but it really helps with the editing processes like these. When applied to a layer, the Threshold adjustment layer converts it into a black and white image. The powerful tool lets you clearly see the light and dark areas of the image.

Matching lighting using the threshold adjustment layer

You can use the Threshold Adjustment layer in combination with the curves or levels adjustment to match the lighting and colors in a composite.

When you apply the threshold adjustment to a layer, you will be able to tell whether you need to bring the highlights of the object down or up. After that, simply add the Levels or Curves layer and clip it to the object. Make sure not to lower the levels too much, as it will add a bizarre, unnatural appearance to your creation.

Conclusion

To make sure that the lighting matches seamlessly, try to make a composite out of images shot in comparatively similar lighting. Matching an object selected from an interior view to that of an exterior view will look unnatural. Learn and practice these techniques to master the art of light matching to create convincing composites in Photoshop.

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