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There’s nothing better for portrait photography than that low, soft light of the late afternoon. That sweet Golden Hour is every photographer’s best friend, and should be taken advantage of as much as possible whenever you’re planning on a portrait shoot. Look up the Golden Hour for the date and location, or simply plan on shooting in the last few hours before the sun sets.

When shooting, placing your subject directly in front of that low light to create a dreamy backlit effect. You’ll never shoot portraits the same again.

Start by opening your photo in Photoshop. If you shot in RAW, you can edit the following steps in Camera Raw. If not, carry on!

Create a new adjustment layer and select Curves. My photo is very blown out, and I want to bring some detail and shadows back into the picture. Place a single dot on the line toward the bottom left corner. Pull the point down to bring more darkness into the shadows. Place another dot higher up on the line and pull it down as well to make the highlights darker. Continue adding points and tweaking the curve until you like the overall exposure of the picture.

Create another adjustment layer, and select Hue & Saturation. In the dropdown menu next to the icon of the hand, select Yellows. Increase the Saturation and tweak the hue until it has a warming effect on the light coming through the window.

Do the same with the Reds and Magentas. These settings will be different for every photo, so keep tweaking until you like the way it looks.


Once you’re happy with those adjustments, click Command + Shift + E to blend all of the layers into one. Duplicate this new, single layer.

Right click on Healing Brush Tool and select the Patch tool. Zoom in on your subject’s face and circle any shadow you want to get rid of, then drag the selected area onto the patch of skin that you want to copy and blend. Continue spot toning highlights and shadows until the light falls just the way you want it to.

Click on the eyedropper tool and select a color from the highlights on your subject’s face. Then select the brush tool and resize it to the area you want to highlight. Decrease the Opacity to around 15 percent, and slowly start adding highlights into your subject’s face. Continue selecting different shades and contouring around the model’s face until the lighting falls where you like it.

Go down to the arm and use the brush tool to add more highlights and contouring to the limbs. Make sure to keep the opacity down and change the tone often so it keeps looking natural.

Now we’re going to add some contrast to the subject, but not to the background. Merge the current layers using Command + Shift + E. Create another adjustment layer and select Curves.

Create two points in the bottom left corner of the Curves line. Pull down the second line in the center to increase the overall contrast. Then press Command + i and select the Brush tool. Brush over the model to apply the contrast effect only to your subject, rather than to the background.

Make a final adjustment layer and click Selective Color. In the dropdown menu, select Yellows and Magentas and increase the warm hues for both. Select White under the dropdown menu and bump up the Yellow and Magenta sliders. Continue tweaking these selective color settings until you’re happy with the tone of your image.

Use these techniques for all of your future portrait photoshoots for dramatic backlit images.

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