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Painting with Depth in Adobe Photoshop, Part 2

Using lighting, range and contour options to affect the appearance of depth By Dave Nagel
As we saw in our last tutorial on Adobe Photoshop, it's entirely feasible to paint with depth using the program's built-in paint engine combined with layer styles. But there's more to it than simply applying a Bevel and Emboss layer style and painting away. All of the settings of your layer style can affect the appearance of depth in your brush strokes when you're trying to create thick, wet, chunky or other impasto-like effects.

We've now learned the basic technique of painting with depth in Adobe Photoshop. (If you haven't already done so, you could probably benefit by going back and taking a look at this previous tutorial, which you can find by clicking here.) So this time around we'll explore three of the options that have the greatest impact on the appearance of depth in your impasto-like brush strokes: lighting, contours and range.

The most obvious of these is lighting, where the angle and altitude affect highlights and shadows, which, in turn, affect the appearance of depth in the brush stroke. To begin, we'll start where we left off in our previous tutorial. Here's the basic image composed of a long and winding brush stroke using the settings I showed you last time around.

Now, double-click the "F" symbol in the Layers palette to open up the Layer Style dialog. Select Bevel and Emboss, and then, if you haven't already, disable the "Use Global Light" option down in the Lighting section of the dialog.

The first way you can use lighting to affect the appearance of your brush stroke is to change the angle of the light. The Angle setting simply swivels the simulated 3D light around your layer so that it falls on the contour of your Bevel and Emboss effect from a different direction. Our base image, seen above, uses an angle of 120 degrees. Simply adjust this to cast the light from a different direction. Here are two examples using different lighting angles, without changing anything else.

Angle: 0 degrees

Angle: -85 degrees

As you can see, change the angle doesn't fundamentally alter the appearance of depth in the stroke, but, depending on the brush you're using, it can make a significant different in how the texture of the stroke appears.

Where you'll really begin to see differences is when you change the Altitude setting of the Bevel and Emboss light. The Altitude determines where the light appears over the layer. If it's low, you'll see a sharpening of details in the image; if it's in the middle, you'll see detail, but the highlights and shadows will lose some of their intensity; and, if it's high (up to 90 degrees), you'll see something of a shiny effect being created. Here are examples of our base image with various Altitude settings. (The Angle setting for each is -85 degrees.)

Altitude: 2 degrees

Altitude: 20 degrees

Altitude: 60 degrees

Altitude: 83 degrees


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