Create a realistic rim lighting effect
Add edge contrast to help define your subject
Rim lighting is a lighting/photographic technique frequently used to create a dramatic or idealistic effect on a subject. The actual process to obtain it in camera involves backlighting the subject so the edge, or rim, becomes visible though the shadow of the primary light source.
While practically setting up a back light is not at all difficult, and the results are frequently superb, sometimes you simply don’t have the ability to do so. In those cases, there’s a solution to be found using Photoshop. In fact there’s several different ways to approach it, but we found that using the Lighting Effects filter provides the most realistic results. In this short tutorial we will walk you through the process of doing just that. So grab the starter image from the disk and follow along on our adventure in simulated rim lighting!
Turn on the Lights
To help visualise the actual edges of the subject add a Levels Adjustment Layer. Then move the light handle to the left to create extreme contrast. This is just to serve as a visual guide, not a final effect.
Non destructive editing
Duplicate the background layer and turn that duplicate into a Smart Object with Layer>Smart Object>Convert to Smart Object. This will ensure that the future edits are always adjustable and the original image is still preserved if needed.
Find your Path
Use the Pen tool set to Path to carefully trace along the edges of the flowers. Tend towards the inside of the edge so no background is included. Don’t forget to add the “holes” by using the Subtract Front Shape mode.
Select the paths and go to Layer>Vector Mask>Current Path to isolate the flowers. Then delete the Levels adjustment layer. Hide the background and closely inspect the mask, making adjustments to the points as needed.
Click on the mask thumbnail and open the Properties panel. Here there are controls for both the density and feather edge of the mask. Adjust the feather to 0.8 pixels. This will give a subtle, soft edge to the cutout.
Go to Filter>Render>Lighting Effects to add illumination to the left side of the plant. Here we used the Infinite light with a soft blue color angled to the top left as well as a soft spot light in a similar position.
Add a layer mask and grab the Gradient tool set to radial and going from black to transparent. Use this to mask out the lighting effect from the right side of the image. Then use a soft edged, black brush to further touch up the effect.
Add a new layer above the background. Ctrl/cmd+click the vector mask to create a selection. Inverse the selection (Select>Inverse) and then use a soft, blue tinted, radial gradient to add a touch of light behind the flowers.