In this video tutorial photographer, Glyn Dewis shows how to add a spotlight effect in Adobe Photoshop in a few easy steps that are easy to follow and repeat, and most importantly this will work in old and new versions of the software.
New Photoshop new problems
Until Photoshop version 22.2 one of the most common methods to add a spotlight effect in Photoshop was by using the lighting effects (filter>render>lighting effects).
Sadly, starting around a year ago, Adobe began a process of removing all 3D aspects from Photoshop. This is especially regretful as it was a super easy and flexible way of adding different lighting effects in Photoshop including a spotlight effect (the module still exists but it doesn’t work well and you get the message below):
You can still use the spotlight effect if you install (in parallel) an older version of Photoshop (any version up to 22.2) and do not update it. We actually did this but we are not huge fans of having two Photoshop versions on our computer just for this reason.
Luckily there are always more ways to achieve a specific result in Photoshop and this is what Dewis shows us (although to be honest the lighting effect module is a super useful tool with lots of flexibility and we would like to see it return in a new version in an upcoming update of Photoshop).
Add a Spotlight in Photoshop: a different method
In the above video, Dewis has a different method for adding a spotlight. This method does not require using the “lighting effects” module at all and is pretty simple.
Start by selecting your subject (make sure you refine your selection as needed) and output the selection into a mask (you can find this in the refine selection window on the lower right.
To create the spotlight, choose the elliptical marquee tool, and by holding the shift key keep the selection round and make a selection behind your subject. Next, select the levels adjustment layer and create a new adjustment layer of the selection.
Now we want to make the circle that we created softer (unless you are going for that hard shadow spotlight look). Disable the new adjustment layer and select the layer of the circle we created, click on the masking option on the circle layer, and feather the circle until you have really soft edges and you can use the move tool and move this circle around until you got it in the correct place for the image (or resize it with the free transform).
If you want to blend the spotlight better into the color of the background you can, if you created a background layer duplicate it and put it above all the other layers and change its blend mode to color, and put it at around 10% opacity.
What is especially nice about this method is that you can easily control the size, shape, and level of brightness of the spotlight even after you create it and move it around, and again it does not depend on any tools in Photoshop which are likely to go away soon.
Bonus video: Dewis on making super sharp eyes in Photoshop