No doubt you have heard someone be complimented with the effusive expression, "You are positively radiant!" I love the sentiment, but I've never quite seen it in real life. Who has skin that actually glows? Perhaps I'm being too literal. Nonetheless, regardless what you think of this in real life, you can create a radiant glow in your digital portraits through some clever photo editing trickery. Using a technique similar to the Orton Effect--which works very nicely in still life and landscape photographs--you can add a warm and romantic glow to your portraits. Here's how.
Start With a Portrait
Begin by opening the photo that you want to tweak in your favorite photo editor. For starters, choose a portrait of a single person in which the overall exposure is about right, and the person fills a lot of the frame.
I'm going to use Corel's PaintShop Pro X4 this week, though the steps are straightforward enough that you can very easily apply them to Adobe Photoshop Elements, GIMP, or any program that supports layers.
Make a Copy
We want to stack two identical copies of the photo, so make a duplicate layer. In PaintShop Pro, choose Layers, Duplicate, and then click OK. You should see a second layer appear in the Layers palette on the right side of the screen.
Time for Some Radiance
Now it's time to add that dose of radiance to your portrait. We'll get the digital equivalent of rubbing your subject with a dash of radium by applying a little Level and Blur.
Make sure that the top layer is selected in the Layer palette, and then choose Adjust, Brightness and Contrast, Levels. Because PaintShop Pro's Levels tool remembers the settings from the last time you used it, it might already be set to some wacky position. Fix that by clicking Reset to wipe out any setting that's already there. Also, I suggest that you select "Preview on Image," so as you move the sliders, you can see the effect they have on the actual photo.
Now drag the white point (the one on the right) towards the left. As you do so, you should see the image get brighter. Tweak the image until it pops, but it's not washed out. It can also be helpful to tweak the position of the slider in the middle so that you bring the levels up overall without overpowering the midtones. When you're satisfied, click OK.
One more tweak: Choose Adjust, Blur, Gaussian Blur, and dial in a radius that gives you a fairly blurry image. Don't set the blur so high that it removes all the detail in the photo, but make the effect fairly strong. I wish I could recommend a setting for you, but this filter's intensity is affected by the resolution of the photo, so your results will differ. Experiment. When you find a setting you like, click OK.
Bring It All Together
It's time for the big payoff. In the Layer palette, change the mode from Normal to Screen. Immediately, you should see a change in the photo--it should look somewhat radioactive. Don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong. We'll fix it.
Grab the opacity slider and reduce the effect until it goes from "difficult to look at" down to "pleasantly romantic." Where you land is a matter of taste, of course, but you can see my final version on the right.
Hot Pic of the Week
Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.
Great news! For a limited time (from March 1 till August 31, 2012), Hot Pic of the Week winners will receive one free downloadable copy of Corel PaintShop Pro X4.
Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.
This week's Hot Pic: "The Mask" by Robin Bravo, Gilroy, California
Robin writes: "I recently read your article on creating the Orton Effect using Photoshop Elements, so I applied it to this picture of a Mardi Gras mask that I took at Disneyland last Christmas. I followed your directions and pulled back the effect to 85 percent. Pretty cool!"
This week's runner-up: "Light At the End of the Tunnel" by John F. Mostler, Brick, New Jersey
John says: "While visiting Florida, I stopped at Fort Clinch. While exploring and taking pictures, I noticed a bright light emanating from the end of the tunnels that led through the walls. This picture was among the most interesting."
John used a Kodak P850 digital camera.