Tutorial: rim lights in Photoshop for better photos

Posted by David Khoirul
Look at this photo below and guess where it was taken, who took it, and using what camera. Can you believe when I say Sury captured that self-portrait in Bogor with a one-mega-pixel front camera of Oppo Find Piano? The background, which looks like a European city, is also fake, a result of Photoshop editing. But how do I make that look real? That's the reason why I'm writing this post.

photo of woman with rim beautiful rim lights in photoshop


As a teacher, every year Sury has a vacation with students, parents and all of her teaching colleagues. Sury went to Bogor somewhere around October 2013 for the vacation and dropped by a traditional market when she took that photo. She used the front camera, which is very low in resolution, and sent it to me via Wechat. I liked that picture so much; she looked gorgeous with the hat and yellow jacket.

The first time I saw the photo, I said to myself, "Damn, I have to edit it." And since I din't like the background, I typed "city" in Google and found a picture of crowds and buildings, possibly European, with a bus running slowly. I forget from which site I got that background photo--I wish I could put a credit here if I had remembered it.
tutorial rim lights or back lights or kicker in photoshop fake


I used Photoshop CS3, my main editing tool, the one that, for me, is fast, very light and more than enough to do almost any image processing. CS3 already has Lens Blur, a feature which I often overuse whenever I edit photos. If you want to use other versions, I recommend CS4 above because the older ones, before CS3, do not have the Lens Blur Filter.

The process involves very basic Photoshop skills, not necessarily mastering all the tools and features in the software. What you need to know is only layer, selection and brush.


Fist of all, I select the main portrait, separate it from the background, and duplicate in a new layer. Press CTRL+J for a shortcut. Then I add the background layer, the picture of a city, just below the portrait. And as you can guess, I made that background blurry by going to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur.

Next, I match the colors by adjusting values, hues and temperature. You can play with some adjustment layers to do this. In this case try Hue and Saturation, Levels, Curves and Color Balance in new adjustment layers. Play with them until you get a satisfying result.

Rim lights

Many people on Facebook, especially those in Photoshop and mobile photography groups, asked me questions as to how I added the yellowish lightings on Sury's hat, jacket and cheek. To answer that question, I posted many comments in the groups, recycling the ones I had already wrote on Facebook. Now I write the same answer here so I don't need to repeat things I already say over and over again.

Rim light is also called kicker, back light, or hair light. It's when the lights hit you from behind. In this photo, we don't have rim light of course, but we can fake it in Photoshop.

Create a new layer in Color Dodge blending mode with 75% opacity. Grab your brush--I recommend the semi-soft round. Then carefully, paint the edges of your subject. You can also select the subject first before brushing in order to avoid messing up. Do it to the jacket, hat and right cheek. It takes time but when you're done, you'll be happy with the result.

Finally you can add some sunshine effects behind the subject by creating a new layer, then setting the blending mode to screen, lowering the opacity to 50%, and putting a single stroke using a large soft-round brush, preferably orange.

Hope this tutorial helps you, guys.