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Adding a Light to the Background

This is a really simple technique for adding a background light behind your subject, like you lit it that way when you took the shot, and thanks to Lightroom’s masking tools, it’s not only super-easy (way easier than actually setting up a light behind your subject in real life), but you can change the intensity of the light and even add a colored gel to it after the fact.

Step One:

Here’s our original image. When I took the shot, while I did add a kicker light to one side, I didn’t light the background, but of course, we can easily add one here in Lightroom. Click on the Masking icon in the toolbox beneath the histogram, and then in the panel that appears, choose Radial Gradient (as shown here. Or just press Shift-M). This tool allows us to create and affect a round or oval-shaped area of our image.

Step Two:

First, drag the Exposure slider over to 2.00. That will probably be way too much, but it’s just a starting place—we’ll dial in the right amount of brightness once the light is in place. Making it really bright from the start like this makes it easier to see the effect as you apply it, so I tend to start at a really high number, like +2 stops. Now, click-and-drag out your light. If you press-and-hold the Shift key, it makes your gradient a perfect circle (like you see here). If you don’t, it makes it a free-form oval that you can shape either as you drag it out, or afterward by clicking-and-dragging the little white dots (they’re actually control handles) on the top, bottom, and sides. If you need to reposition it, click on the black edit pin in the center and drag it right where you want it.

Step Three:

Now, of course, the problem is: our spotlight goes right over the front of our subject, instead of just lighting the background behind her, but we can fix that with two clicks (well, Lightroom can fix it for us). Go to the Masks panel and click on Mask 1 to reveal the Add and Subtract buttons, because we need to subtract our subject from that bright light we just added. So, click on Subtract, and from the pop-up menu that appears, choose Select Subject (as shown here), and Lightroom will automatically remove our subject from that Radial Gradient mask (as seen here). It even did a really good job here at keeping her hair intact, too. The final step would be to go back to the Exposure slider and lower the brightness of the light to where it looks good to you by dragging it to the left. Now, the technique is done, but if you want to add a colored gel to your light (totally optional), go on to the next step.

Step Four:

To add a colored gel, first go to the Masks panel and click on Radial Gradient 1 to activate it again (Subject 1 should still be active, because that’s what we used last). Next, scroll down to the bottom of the sliders, to Color, and to the right of it, you’ll see a white box with an “X” in it, which is letting you know that no color tint has been applied. To add a color tint, click on that box and a Color Picker appears (seen here, below right) where you can click on any color you’d like to add as a tint to your light and it’ll apply that color (as shown here, where I clicked on a blue color). As you click-and-drag your cursor around the Color Picker, the colors change live, in real time, so when you find one you like, just stop, then click the little “X” in the left top of the picker to close it, and you’re done. Note: If you add a color gel and later decide you don’t want it, just double-click on the word “Color” and it will reset the color to none.

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