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An Illuminating Hour with Witchoria

By Charles Purdy

Victoria Siemer, also known as Witchoria, is a visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York. She works primarily in the digital realm, creating quirky, surreal photo manipulations. Her work often addresses the pleasures and pitfalls of romantic relationships, so we thought, “Who better to join us for a Valentine’s Day date with Photoshop?” In our live “Create With” session on February 14, 2017, Witchoria shared her Adobe Photoshop CC techniques for bringing a daytime photo into night, adding illuminated text to an image, and creating a GIF that mimics flickering neon. (You can watch the entire hour-long session at the bottom of this page.)

See more of Witchoria’s Illuminated series on her Behance page.  

STEP ONE: CHOOSE A PHOTO

Witchoria uses a lot of her own photographs in her compositions, but she has also used stock photos from providers such as Adobe Stock and public-domain images such as those shared by NASA.

She recommends starting with an outdoor photo that doesn’t have intense shadows or harsh bright light (as it is harder to give those photos a nighttime look).  

STEP TWO: ADD BLUE

Taking a cue from the way that film editors make footage shot during the day look as if it had been shot at night, Witchoria adds a blue tint to her photo (although she has experimented with other tones).

On a new layer, she draws a rectangle over her image and fills it with a dark blue color (you may have to experiment to find the right color for your image). Then she adjusts the opacity of the rectangle and sets the blending mode to Linear Light. (In Step Three, she also uses a photo filter to enhance blue tones.) Click on the image to watch her explain this step. 

STEP THREE: ADJUST LIGHT LEVELS

Witchoria avoids the Image > Adjustments menu options, because those tools permanently edit pixels. Instead, she uses adjustment layers (accessible via the half-circle icon at the bottom of the Layers panel), which allow for nondestructive experimentation. (Learn more about adjustment layers.)

She uses Photoshop’s Curves tool to adjust light levels, and then she adds the Cooling Filter (80) photo filter to remove some of the image’s warm tones, experimenting with intensity to get the nighttime look that best suits this photograph. Click on the image to watch her explain this step

STEP FOUR: ADD TEXT

Using the typeface Futura (as a nod to Stanley Kubrick, a Futura devotee), as she frequently does, Witchoria adds text on a layer.

Because she will be adding an effect that makes the letters look as if they are lit, she makes the letters themselves a light gray. Then she opens the type layer’s Blending Modes options (Layer > Layer Styles > Blending Options, or control-click on the Type layer in the Layers stack) and adds both an Inner Glow effect and an Outer Glow effect. Click on the image to watch her explain this step.

STEP FIVE: ADD LIGHT TO THE ENVIRONENT

Witchoria duplicates the background layer, drags that duplicate to be right below the text layer (the order of the other layers doesn’t matter as much), and adds a layer mask (so that all her edits are nondestructive). Then she begins “painting light” into the darkness by removing the color she added earlier, using Photoshop’s Eraser tool. She starts with the tool’s flow set very low, because the effect should be subtle. Click on the image to watch her explain this step.

She usually spends a lot of time toggling between layers, painting light in and taking it out until the effect is just right—and she recommends doing the same, as well as doing a lot of research and looking at images with light effects like the ones you’re hoping to emulate.

In the full video (at the bottom of this page), Witchoria demonstrates this process twice. As a bonus, she also shows how she turns an image created this way into a GIF that emulates flickering neon, with some letters blinking on and off:

STEP SIX: DUPLICATING YOUR IMAGE

First, she follows all the steps for making a static image (outlined above).

When she has her final image, she collects her layers in a layer group that she names Light. Then she duplicates the group and calls the duplicate group Dark. She decides which letter she wants to turn off and on—in the case of this GIF, it’s the letter N. Then she turns off light effects and erases all the letters except the N, so she can create a dimmed N (because when a neon sign flickers off, it doesn’t disappear altogether; the shapes are still visible). Click on the image to watch her explain this step.

STEP SEVEN: ADJUSTING SHADOWS AND ADDING FRAMES TO THE TIMELINE

Of course, when N turns off, the light cast by the words will change, so Witchoria subtly removes the the light that would’ve been cast by the N.

Turning a Photoshop file into a GIF is easy—just use the Timeline feature to create a frame animation (learn more about creating frame animations).

A simple way to create the GIF would be to simply add a frame with the light “on” and add a frame with the light “off,” and set the loop count to Forever. But the resulting GIF wouldn’t have the realistic “flicker” that neon light has. So Witchoria adds interval frames with the light set at midpoints between 100 and zero percent—her GIF creations in this series usually have between 30 and 40 frames, she says. Click on the image to watch her explain this process.

Watch our entire hour-long Valentine’s Day session with Witchoria: