How to Apply Rim Light in Photoshop [Pro Hollywood Technique Revealed!]

In this video, you’re going to learn EXACTLY how to professional movie poster designers create and apply rim light in Photoshop

The technique that you are going to learn today was used by Lisa Carney, who is a professional finisher (movie poster designer), on the X-Men: Days movie poster. Lisa has also worked on movie posters like Spider-Man: Far From Home, Mary Poppins Returns, Hereditary, and more!

When you are creating Hollywood movie posters, attention to detail is always a must, and the rim light effect helps to highlight each of the characters and not drown in the number of other elements incorporated in the final image. 

Are you ready to learn this Hollywood technique?

Start with a Prepared Document

On the Layers panel, there are two groups that contain all the images used in this tutorial:

  • Background
  • Woman

The Background group contains 3 different layers: Black, Warm, and Cool.

The Woman group contains the removed background in a layer mask, a Warm filter, and a Cool filter.

These Photo Filters will be used to set the temperature of the photo when we compile all the assets later.

How to Create a Photo Filter

To create a Photo Filter, go to the bottom of your Layers panel and click on the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Photo Filter.

On the Properties panel, click on the Filter drop-down menu and select the Warming Filter or the Cooling Filter.

Create the Rim Light from the Highlights

Starting with the Black background first, use a technique called a “Channel pull” where you use an Alpha channel to pull the highlights of the photo and use that extraction for the basis of our rim light.

Go to your Channels panel and see all the RGB channels that make up your photo.

Create a new channel by clicking on the Channel icon. Initially, it appears as black to indicate the lack of channel.

Next, make a selection around the highlights of the image. To do that, you have 2 options:

  • Hold Ctrl (Windows) or Command (macOS) and click on the RGB composite thumbnail to load the bright areas as the selection.
  • To load the brightness of the image with a shortcut, press Ctrl Alt 2 (Windows) or Command Option 2 (macOS). Take note of the right side of each channel to see which number corresponds with each channel. 

For example: To load the Blue channel, press Ctrl Alt 5 (Windows) or Command Option 5 (macOS).

With the brightness selected, fill the selection with the color white. Since you have white as my Foreground color, you can press Alt Backspace (Windows) or Option Delete (macOS).

NOTE: If your layer does not automatically fill, go to your Layers panel and make sure a Group is selected to perform the action.

Then, press Ctrl D (Windows) or Command D (macOS) to deselect.

With the Alpha channel selected, go to Image > Adjustments > Curves. You can use this adjustment to give the channel more contrast and make the highlights pop by creating an “S” curve.

Click on this area to create a point and drag it downwards to darken the shadows.

Then click on this area to create another point and drag it upwards to brighten the highlights.

The “S” curve should only be the foundation, so feel free to fine-tune the curve and reveal the more details of the image.

Then, press OK to close the window.

On your Toolbar, select the Dodge tool and set the Range to Highlights.

PRO TIP: To reduce or enlarge the brush size, you can press the [ or the ] key on your keyboard.

Use the Dodge tool to bring out some of the highlights of the image and expand the area where the rim light effect will be applied.

With our Alpha channel numbered as 6, press Ctrl Alt 6 (Windows) or Command Option 6 (macOS) to load the luminosity of this channel as a selection.

Click on the RGB channel to enable all layers and then go back to the Layers panel.

Create a new layer and rename it as “Highlight Channel Pull.”

Set the color white(#ffffff) as the Background color. 

Then, press Ctrl Backspace (Windows) or Command Delete (macOS) to fill the current selection with white.

Deselect the selection by pressing Ctrl D (Windows) or Command D (macOS).

To further enhance the effect, create a new layer underneath the Highlight Channel Pull layer.

Go to the Woman group and copy the layer mask of the subject by holding the Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) key, then clicking-and-dragging the layer mask onto the new layer and releasing the mouse.

Create the Container layer

Sett the color black(#000000) as the Foreground color.

Then, press Alt Backspace (Windows) or Option Delete (macOS) to fill the selection with black.

If you hide the Background layer, you can see the cool rim light effect!

Rename the new layer as “Container” and set the Blending Mode to Screen to make the black pixels invisible.

Next, select the Highlight Channel Pull and press Ctrl Alt G (Windows) or Command Option G (macOS) to clip it to the layer below

Reveal the Rim Light effect with a Mask

Create a New Layer Mask by holding Alt (Windows) or Option (macOS) and click on the Layer Mask icon to hide all the pixels on the Highlights Channel Pull layer.

Select the Brush tool on your Toolbar and set the Foreground color to white(#ffffff) 

Use the Brush tool to paint on the subject where you want to apply the rim light effect.

If there are some areas where you want to add highlights, click on the New Layer icon to create a new layer and press Ctrl Alt (Windows) or Command Option (macOS)

Then, rename the layer to “Painted Highlights.”

Use the Brush tool to paint on areas where a highlight would add a more dramatic effect to the phoo. (e.g. the outline of her earrings or parts of her garment)

Use the Color Balance Adjustment to Colorize the Rim Light

Since our image is in black and white, apply color to the image by clicking on the New Adjustment Layer icon and selecting the Color Balance.

On the Properties panel, click on the Clipping Mask icon to clip it to the layer below.

On the Tones’ drop-down menu, you can switch between Shadows, Midtone, and Highlights to apply color.

Starting with the Highlights, make sure to check the box for Preserve Luminosity.

If you are working with a warm background, start with the warm highlights by adjusting the slider and dragging it to the right to add more Red.

On Midtones, you can add more Red and a tiny bit of Yellow.

On the Shadows, you can add more Red with no Yellow.

Through the Color Balance, you can individually add more shade to your image.

If I go back to my Container layer and set the Blending Mode to Screen, I can see the adjustments made from the Color Balance.

To see how the effect looks on a warm background, select the Container layer > hold Shift > select the Color Balance layer > press Ctrl G (Windows) or Command G (macOS) to compile all the layers into a Group.

Then, rename the Group into “Rim Light.”

Adjust Contrast with a Curves Adjustment Layer  

Open the Woman group and color grade the subject with the Warm Filter by enabling the layer.

Open the Background group as well and enable the Warm background layer to apply it behind the subject.

Since the subject is backlit, you can enhance the effect by darkening it by going to the bottom of the Layers panel and clicking on the New Adjustment layer and selecting Curves.

On the Properties panel, add another S curve by following this formation:

Since you have applied a background, you can now adjust the rim light effect by reducing the Red and adding more Yellow to match it accurately with the background.

Add More to the Effect

Take this time to add more to the rim lighting effect by fine-tuning details or adding new adjustment layers. You can add a new layer in the Rim Light group and use the Brush tool to paint more light on the subject.

Switching the Background and Photo Filter

If you don’t see the current composite fit for the style you want to execute, you can easily switch the background by going to the Background group and disabling the Warm background layer.

Then, enable the Cool background layer.

Go to the Woman group > disable the Warm Photo Filter > enable the Cool Photo Filter to match the color temperature of the background perfectly.

Under the Rim Light group, you can go back and adjust the Color Balance and click on the Reset icon to reset the sliders to the default adjustment.

Then, set the Tone to Highlights.

From here, drag the sliders to add more blue tones to the highlights by increasing the amount of Cyan and Blue.

For the Midtones, amplify the Cyan and Blue.

On the Shadows, you can add a bit of Magenta for a pop of color. This adjustment relies entirely up to you, depending on the background you are working with.

The Color Balance helps you add hues from your background and amplify the current colors in your subject to match them together.

Since you are working non-destructively, you can undo these adjustments, disable these layers, or refine the layer mask by using the Brush tool and painting with black to hide the applied effects.

Tutorial Files

Download “285 – Rim Light Tutorial Files” – Downloaded 8030 times – 3.32 MB

Final Image

Drag The Slider To See Before & After

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