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Mysterious Lighting Effect Tutorial for Photoshop

Here’s a nifty little lighting effect that we can create in Adobe Photoshop using the Lighting Effects filter. It’s a really simple way to give a flat graphic some flare!

What We’re Making

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you a nice and easy way to use the Lighting Effects filter in Photoshop to add a mysterious ambiance to almost any graphic. To see the effect in action, hover over the image below:

Demonstration of the Lighting Effect we are going to make with Photoshop

Getting Started

This effect typically works best on graphics that are a bit less saturated and bright. You’re welcome to use our original graphic to try this effect out on, otherwise, we suggest you do the following if you’re working with a bright graphic with vibrant colors.

  • Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation
  • Decrease the brightness and saturation of your graphic until you feel like it’s more fitting for this effect.

Once you have a graphic ready to use, continue on to the next part of the tutorial.

Single Layer Graphics Only!

Before continuing, please make sure that your graphic is contained on one layer only! The method we will be teaching in this tutorial requires that you are working with ONLY 1 layer. To merge all of your layers into one, select all of your layers in the layers palette, and go to Layers > Merge Layers (Ctrl + E).

Another Easy Way to Merge Layers

CJ.H pointed out another really great way to merge layers for our purposes here without getting rid of our other layer data. By using the shortcut Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E, we can merge all layers below our currently selected layer, and place the merged copy on top! Simple, and very effective! Thanks CJ.H!

Render the Lighting Effect

This effect essentially centers around the lighting effects filter. If you’ve ever worked with the filter before, you may already have a few guesses as to how to accomplish this. However, you have nothing to worry about if you have no experience with this filter, because we’re going to go through the process, step by step.

First, go to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. You should be immediately greeted with a bunch of confusing settings and a thumbnail of your image:

Default Lighting Effect Settings

This is simply the default lighting effects settings. We’re not going to use them, but I’d like to quickly explain what a few of the different settings do:

Style – From here, you can select one of many preset styles that come with Photoshop, or use the “Default” lighting setup (shown above).

Light Type – There are 3 different lighting types, including Spotlight, Directional, and Omni. From here, one can control the color of the light (on the right), intensity (brightness), and focus (how hard or soft the light is).

Properties – From the properties settings, a user can adjust the properties of all lights, such as Gloss (how reflective the surface seems), type of material (should it appear more like a plastic or metallic surface), exposure, and ambient light (which the color of can be changed if desired on the right).

Add a new Light to your Lighting Effects

You’ll also notice this icon underneath your preview area. To add a new light to the scene, drag and drop from this icon into your image area. To remove a light, drag it from the image area into the trash icon to the right.

Configure the First Light

Be sure your Light Type is set to Spotlight. There are 4 handles surrounding the center of the light: The Handle with the line extending towards the center along with the handle on the opposite side determine the length of the light. The other two handles determine the width. Additionally, the center of the light can be dragged to reposition the light.

From any of the 4 handles, the light can be rotated. It’s also important to know that the handle with the line extending towards the center is the source of the light, meaning that the light will appear to come from that direction.

With all this in mind, reposition your first light source and settings to reflect what is shown in the diagram below:

Configure the first light to look like this

Configure the Second Light

Add a new light into the image (as mentioned earlier, drag a new light from the lightbulb icon into the image area), and configure it to look like this. We want it to appear as if it’s a single ray coming in, separate from our large, first light source, so we want it to be thin, and coming in at a slightly different angle.

Configure 2nd Light

Switch Between Lights

You may have noticed that as soon as a new light was created, the settings and handles for your other light disappeared. They can STILL be editied! To switch between lights, just click the white center of the light.

Doubling Up

Often times, you’ll need to double up lights in order to create bright streaks of light streaming in over your graphic. To do this, simply add an additional light source that’s approximately the same width and length, and going in about the same direction as the light you’re trying to increase the intensity of.

When you create a light to double up with, you may want to decrease the intensity and focus by pretty large amounts, as we’re simply trying to increase the overall intensity of the first beam. We don’t want to give the light source an overly hard appearance.

Doubling up light sources to increase intensity

Add More Streams of Light

Add another stream of light, coming from a different angle, in a different area of the image. It should appear as if the streams are being separated by an object in the way, such as light pouring through bars of a jail cell, or something of the like.

The Final Configuration of Light Sources


Just Press OK to apply your lighting effects filter, and you’re all set to go. If things don’t turn out looking great, just undo the filter, and go back to Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. It will keep the setup previously used, so you shouldn’t have trouble making any modifications!

Final Result

Save for Reuse!

If you develop a lighting effects filter that you’d like to use some other time elsewhere, be sure to click Save in the Lighting Effects settings box. You’ll have the opportunity to create a custom lighting effect that you can use whenever you’d like!


  1. Add point Subtract point
    kenichifc (0 Points) December 14, 2010 at 7:46 am

    thanks for tutorial. Love it, simple and effective :D

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  2. Add point Subtract point
    tartaro (1 Point) October 16, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    very interesting.. tkz!!! :D

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  3. Add point Subtract point

    thanks a million!! it helps a lot for design projectsss!!

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  4. Add point Subtract point
    At A Glance Decor (2 Points) August 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Very informative. Thank you

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    At A Glance Decor (1 Point) August 19, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    The lighting effects are beautiful. i am a interior designer and find this most informative.

    Sharon Renshall
    President of At A Glance Decor

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  6. Add point Subtract point

    its so complicated
    too hard 2 understand all….

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    Sahus Pilwal (2 Points) June 26, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    So realistic you wouldn’t even know it was created using the lighting effects in Photoshop. Thanks for the tut much appreciated!!!

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    JASKNi (1 Point) June 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    great tutorial.
    thnx a lot for u.

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    Andrea Evans (1 Point) April 30, 2010 at 6:04 am

    The appropriate lighting chage the mood.

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  10. Add point Subtract point

    Wow, this is an amzing tutorial . . .

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 2, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Excellent post. Thanks24

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    ฟังเพลงใหม่ (1 Point) February 2, 2010 at 1:34 am

    Excellent post. Thanks17

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    โค้ดเพลงhi5 (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 2:50 am

    Excellent post. Thanks12

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  14. Add point Subtract point
    ดาวน์โหลดเพลง (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Thanks for your post , Great post.

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  15. Add point Subtract point

    Nice effect! Thanks 4 sharing!

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    Jasley Ricardo (1 Point) July 22, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Thanks, very simple and useful…

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  17. Add point Subtract point
    huwaw69 (1 Point) May 3, 2009 at 4:14 am

    Wow simple and easy effect, thanks man!

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  18. Add point Subtract point

    wow its a beautiful effect… i love this…

    thnk you very much…

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    Luke Anderson (1 Point) November 22, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    Davic, nice site and work! Any chance you could make a wallpaper of the clouds and the lighting effect. Would be great and really apreciated =]


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  20. Add point Subtract point

    very nice work David, thank you for sharing. I like it

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  21. Add point Subtract point

    Nice! Did the same thing couple of months ago, check theme here Clicky

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  22. Add point Subtract point

    very useful tutorial, thanks =)

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    Ryan Person (1 Point) June 16, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Nice. Great example of a classic effect!

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  24. Add point Subtract point

    Nice effect.. Simple Lucid and well explained..

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  25. Add point Subtract point

    Oh, yes, sorry if I didn’t explain that well enough! It’s really great that you can save styles to use again and again. Thanks David!

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  26. Add point Subtract point
    David (1 Point) June 3, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Good tutorial. I assume the ‘mysterious’ style is the style you saved at the end of the tutorial when you created it? I couldn’t find it in the drop down list :P

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  27. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks Timothy and Elvis. We’re getting closer and closer to having a new posts every day, but we’ve certainly got some great discussion on a day to day basis already here, and in the forums!

    Thanks for sticking around!

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  28. Add point Subtract point
    Timothy (1 Point) May 31, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    just another of those really nice tutorials. i love the way u construct them, and the pictures make it really clear. i check this site every day for new tutorials :D

    keep it going :)

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  29. Add point Subtract point
    elvis (1 Point) May 31, 2008 at 3:25 am

    another good tut.
    short, sweet and clever.

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  30. Add point Subtract point

    Excellent Tip CJ.H! I’ve added your suggestion into a tip in the Tutorial! Thanks!

    @ Josh, delmar, & Drupal Museum – Thanks folks! Always appreciate the feedback!

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    Josh Drake (1 Point) May 27, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Great tutorial! Lighting effects are simple to create, and they can really spice up a bland image.

    @delmar – This tutorial is only meant to show you the technique, so that you can use it on your own images. If you want to see it on a better image, then you can try it out for yourself! ;)

    Thanks for the tut!

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  32. Add point Subtract point
    delmar (1 Point) May 27, 2008 at 10:25 am

    nice but not the best image to show it

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  33. Add point Subtract point
    Drupal Museum (1 Point) May 27, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Very useful and simple effect. Can’t wait to try it out.

    @CJ.H – That keystroke is priceless. Never knew that one.

    Thanks to both of you.

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  34. Add point Subtract point
    CJ.H (1 Point) May 26, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    I love this filter, It makes all of my work look better.

    Oh, and a useful tip for merging all of your layers is Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E. That way it wont disrupt the layers below, it will just make a new one that reflects everything below it, and put it on top.

    Try it out if you cant understand what Im saying.

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  35. Add point Subtract point

    Great affect easily achieved in just a few steps. The final result looks amazing!

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  36. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks Jonathan and Dom! Glad you both found it useful!

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  37. Add point Subtract point
    Jonathan Solichin (1 Point) May 26, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    That’s one pretty slick effect. Thanks

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  38. Add point Subtract point

    Cool! really dramatic effect.

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