Studio Portraits with Neon Background Effects: Take and Make Great Photography

In this video, I’ll show you how to add a neon style background to your studio portraits. Hello I’m Gavin Hoey, and you’re watching Adorama TV, brought to you by Adorama, the camera store that’s got everything for us photographers. Now when it comes to backgrounds in my home studio, I’ve got loads to choose from. I’ve got textured walls, I’ve got various pop-up backgrounds, what I don’t have is a large neon sign background, perhaps for pretty obvious reasons, but in this video, I’m going to show you how to add a neon sign to your studio portraits, now yes it’s not going to be hyper realistic it is going to be dramatic, and eye catching, there will be some photoshop involved, but before we get anywhere near Photoshop, everything revolves around getting the lighting correct, as if there really was a neon sign back there, so let’s get some lights set, let’s get a model in, let’s get shooting. So to help me out today, I’ve got the amazing Sophie, Sophie is going to be the model for this, but before we get on to lighting Sophie, I need to talk about the background. Now for this to work, a dark background is definitely the way to go, and the easiest way to manage that is just to pop up a black background. I may not stay there at the end of the video, but for now that’s how I’m going to begin. Then we need to think about the light on the back of Sophie, now remember back here is some fantasy neon sign that doesn’t actually exist, and yet the key to making this work, is to light Sophie as if it actually was there. That means I’ve already planned in my head the color for that neon sign, and it’s red, so I’ve got a red gel on my light, and I’m going to put the light in behind Sophie, now the easiest option is probably a single light popped in behind Sophie pointing at her back, but in reality there’s not enough room in my small home studio for the light to spread, and really give that glow around Sophie and get the final look that I want, so the solution for this is actually two lights either side of Sophie, so I’ve got two identical flashes, I’ve set them to identical powers they both have grids on to help control the spill of light, so my background stays black, and inside each of them is two identical red gels. Finally there is what Sofie is wearing, so if she was just wearing something matte colored it would absorb the light, we really wouldn’t see this effect so this shiny outfit is perfect for this look, let’s just take a test shot see if this works. Okay Sophie, here we go, so now we have the red going around the edges of Sophie we have that rim lit look as if there was a large neon light behind her. So we’ve got nice rim lighting on Sophie, but of course we want to see the front of her as well, so that’s where my third flash comes in. So I’ve got an explorer 400 way up here on the ceiling, with a small softbox, but of course, if we’re gonna do this gel lighting thing, maybe I want to take it just a step further, and what I’ve done is, I’ve put a blue gel on the key light, now adding a blue gel will inevitably change the exposure, remember I’m shooting it f/4, so I’m gonna check my exposure just to see how that adjusted it, it here we go Sophie, f/2.5, quite a bit more than a stop of difference in light, and once again I just need to get this light to meter at f/4, and once it does I’m good to go, okay let’s take a few shots like this, Sophie are you ready, okay here we go. I think it’s time for a change of background, I think I’ll try it for a few pictures without the blue gel, and Sam if you’re ready let’s get some smoke on the go, we’ll add some atmosphere, and texture to this. I did get some props for this shoot, I got these neon sunglasses, but for these to work what we’re going to need to do, is turn off the room lights, and adjust the exposures a little bit. I think what makes this look even better is… of course some smoke, basically everything’s coming out red now, think that’s enough smoke to last me a lifetime. So now I get to add the neon background into the photos I’ve just taken. Now for this to work you’re gonna need some software with layers. I’m gonna use Photoshop, and you’re gonna need a neon background, so maybe you photographed some real neon, that would be good, maybe you’ve used a tutorial to make your own neon, or maybe you’ve downloaded the free ones from my website, which is what I’ve done. So I’ve got three you can use. There’s a circle a triangle and a square, all completely free from So I’m going to use the square one, I’m gonna go to select, and all edit and copy, go over to my picture that I want to add in the neon background, and choose edit and paste, now I need to remove the black, and the easiest way to do that is to come to the layers, and on the layers, I’m gonna change the layer blending mode from normal to screen, and then I need to resize this to make it a better fit, so I’ll choose edit, free transform, I’ll grab a corner handle, shrink this down, drag it around, rotate it about, let’s just see, let’s go something like that and we’ll just try and fit that somewhere around about there, that looks pretty good, so I’m happy with that I’ll click on the tick to commit to that change. Now obviously the neon at the moment is in front of Sophie, and we lit the entire scene imagining that the neon would be behind her, so I’ve got to change that around, and that means making a selection. So this is perhaps the most complicated bit of the entire process, let’s have a look, so back to my layers, I’m gonna click on the background layer, that’s the one with Sophie in it, and then I’m gonna choose either the well the old magic wand tool, or the much more modern quick selection tool. It doesn’t matter which one, because I’m actually gonna use ‘select subject’, click on that button, notice that ‘sample all layers’ is not ticked but auto enhance is ticked, and that’s going to do a reasonably good job at actually selecting Sophie. Now it doesn’t do a perfect job, it missed a little bit there on her arm, and it’s missed a little bit on her hair, not that it matters too much, because these areas aren’t actually gonna cross the neon, so anywhere where the neon is crossing Sophie’s body, I just want to make sure that those bits are correctly selected. Okay once it’s good then all I need to do is go to select inverse and then I can go back to the layer with the neon rectangle on it, and this time I’m going to add in a layer mask. Now lots of ways to do this but the easiest way is on the layers panel. Find the white rectangle with the dark circle in the middle, click on that, and that will cut Sophie out. Now if you’re gonna make a big print, make sure that you refine your selection, that means going in close and using the black and white paint brush tools, just to either add or remove little bits and pieces, just to smooth off the edges, and make the whole thing look as neat as possible. It’s also worth remembering that if the color of your neon doesn’t quite match what you did in the photography, then you can use the hue/saturation setting to fine-tune or completely alter the color of that neon background. Now this is looking pretty good, but we’re not quite done yet, there’s two more things to do, the first one is to add a little bit of depth of field to my neon, at the moment it’s really, really, sharp, so let’s go to ‘filter and blur’ and ‘gaussian blur’ because there’s a bit of a depth of field thing going on in the background, so it would make sense that this neon is perhaps just slightly soft as well. So I’m gonna add a little 2 pixel Gaussian blur in there, and finally there’s the glow. Now there is actually quite a glow coming from both sides, because there’s quite a bit of smoke, residual smoke in the room, but I’m gonna increase that by making another layer, so let’s go to ‘layer new’ and, and I’m gonna call this ‘glow and then I’m gonna choose a color by clicking on the foreground color, and clicking just very close to the edge of the neon, maybe we’ll just increase that a little bit red, more like that, there we go , and then get a nice big paintbrush so we’ll get the brush tool, I’ll change my brush size, so it’s nice and big, we’ll have the hardness down to 0%, and the opacity well, let’s keep it around about 30%, and it definitely ought to be bigger than that. I’ll use the square brackets to increase the brush size, and then I’m gonna put some random little clicks just here and
there. I’ll keep changing the brush size a little bit, just to move this around, and I just want to add a nice little glow to the whole area of the picture, something like that. Now that’s quite strong, I’m gonna take the opacity for that layer down, and then I’m gonna do it all over again.. Layer, new layer, we’ll call this glow – and we’ll do the same thing again we’ll add a little bit of glow just around the edges, there we go. Notice I’m trying to keep away from Sophie, I don’t really want too much glow on, particularly on her face, but there we go, that looks pretty good, drop the opacity for that down, and that just adds that nice little glow, just to complete the blending in process of that neon background, and with a little bit of a tweak to the contrast, there it is my neon background, it is in my picture, and my picture is completed. The key to success on a project like this isn’t so much the Photoshop skills, or even the fact my smoke machine makes everything look awesome. It is the belief that in the original pictures there really was something red and glowing behind Sophie, because of course there was. It was these two soft boxes right here. Now if you’ve enjoyed this video, or you’ve got a question, leave me a comment below click on the bell icon for regular notifications of all the brand new videos right here on AdoramaTV, and of course click on that subscribe button. I’m Gavin Hoey, thanks for watching.

46 Replies to “Studio Portraits with Neon Background Effects: Take and Make Great Photography”

  1. Great Video Sir Gavin! You are my favorite tutor on the Internet. Thank you Sir. Greetings from Chowdry Photography, Bangalore,India.

  2. Great video, but couldn't you have copied the layer mask for the original neon sign for neon enhancements and then it wouldn't matter too much about where they were added. I may be totally wrong and would love to know what you think.

  3. This was great and I am going to try it. One question; where did you get such a large collapsible background? It was a full foot and a half taller than you and probably 7 feet wide (or do things look proportionately bigger on my laptop?). Where did you get it. the largest collapsible background on Adorama's site is 6×7.

  4. Such good tutorials, I really think the best. Straight to the point, lots of information, easy to follow and great results! Thank you, learned a lot about (studio)photography from you.

  5. Fabulous video, very inspirational. Plus you teased us with how fast you collapsed that popup background….I struggle with them… made it look easy.

  6. What a fun image, Gavin! You sir, are excellent, in your thought process, preparation, and photography. And… Aside from her obvious beauty, I've always thought that Sophie has amazingly-smooth skin. Very well done, and fun to watch!

  7. you are the MASTER! thanx for another amzing and reaaaally creative tutorial! We are so many photographers with small studios that with you knowledge, can make amazing photos as you do! thanks

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