photoshop creative

Master Render Flame

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
August 3, 2016

Use a simple CC feature to create an incredible composition!


1. Begin with a sketch


When trying to pull off any composite, proper planning is essential but even more so when a client has a specific idea in mind. Having a sketch will allow you to explain your vision to your talent or client, or in this case allow the client to explain their vision.

2. Light the photoshoot


Whenever you plan to have a lighting source, such as fire, close to your subject’s body in your final image, it’s very beneficial to create a stand-in light during the actual photoshoot itself. By placing CTO gel inside of a globe modifier you are not only able to get the global light you need, but also the orange colour cast as well.

3. Process your subject before masking


It’s always good to process your model image before you do your masking. There are many different methods or presets that aid in processing but they sometimes leave the edges of your subjects with haloing or hard lines. To avoid having lines or haloing in your final image, process first. This way you can make sure your masks are tight enough that any haloing or hard lines get eliminated.

4. Mask the body


The key to any great composite is having very clean masks. Focus on the body and clothing first. Always add a layer mask so you can use black to remove and white to add back. A pen tablet comes in handy. Take your time. Zoom in to 500% and with a black Hard brush, set at 8 pixels, follow the outline of what you want to extract. If you make a mistake, just switch your brush to white and paint it back. To make sure you are masking out everything that needs to be transparent, press the \ key and your mask will turn red. Press it again to turn it off.

5. Mask the hair


When you have contrast between the hair and background, extracting the hair is much easier. Duplicate your subject and add a Hue adjustment layer and a Levels adjustment layer. Bring the Saturation all the way down on the Hue layer. With the Levels layer move the left and right sliders towards the middle. The idea is to make the background as white as possible and the hair as dark as possible without distorting it. Use the Quick Selection tool to select the face and all the hair. Then you want to use Refine Edge to refine and apply your mask.

6. Prepare the background


The main problem with the background image is it was taken during the day instead of in darkness. This is a simple fix. First you want to follow the same procedures from Steps 3 and 4 and extract the buildings by masking the sky. After that you want to drop an image of some dark storm clouds behind the city image. Use a Curves adjustment clipped to the background or the clouds to get the exposures about the same. Group the two images and clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to the group and bring the Saturation down to about 50%. Colours aren’t as vibrant when it’s dark and cloudy.

7. Make the eyes pop


Making the eyes of your subject pop can really add emotion into the image. The key is to keep it subtle but effective. Create a Curves adjustment layer on top of all the other layers. When you do this it will have its own mask already filled with white. You want to fill the mask with black and grab a white brush. Paint in the mask only over the pupils and iris. Now you want to make an S shape on your Curves layers. On your graph add a point about a quarter of the way up, one in the middle, and one about three-quarters of the way up. Leave the one in the middle and bring the top one up slightly and the bottom one down. You can now adjust the opacity of this layer if the effect is over the top.

8. Colour match the subject and background


Use an individual Curves adjustment layer on top of the background layer. Make sure it is clipped to only the background layer by selecting Layer>Create Clipping Mask. Use the RGB channel to adjust the exposure so that it matches the model. Next use Channels to match the temperature of the model. You may want to repeat this process on the model. You will end up blending the two images even more when you get to colour grading.

9. Adjust shadows and highlights


If you feel that your highlights are too bright or not bright enough you can adjust them without affecting your shadows. Add a new Curves adjustment layer above all other layers. Adjust the RGB channel accordingly. This is just like Step 8 but we are using the RGB channel instead of the blue channel. With your Curves adjustment layer selected go to Layer>Layer Style>Blending Options. At the bottom of the window you will see two sliders under Underlying Layer. Hold down Alt/Option then click and drag the right corner of the black slider all the way to the right. This will cause the Curves to only affect the highlights in the image. Do the opposite for shadow adjustments.

10. Use Render Flame on the background


The Render Flame filter is a great way to create custom flames quickly and effectively and it’s relatively easy! For this composite we want to put some flames on the buildings in the background. Create a new blank layer above your background. Grab the Pen tool and create a path where you would like the fire to go. Next go to Filter>Render>Flame. A dialog box will open up. You can adjust the type of flame you want, the direction, the width, and much more. Choose the quality you want the flame to be rendered at. Once you get your flames the way you want them, click OK. Deselect your path and you will have a custom flame on its own layer. Turn the blending mode to Screen.

11. Render Flame on the hand


For this image you want flames to look like they are riding up the fingers of the subject. This is where Render Flame can be more effective and beneficial than using real photos of fire. You are going to want to focus on one finger at a time. Follow the same procedure as Step 10 but make sure to put each flame on its own layer so you can Transform and Warp it if you need to. Since we are going to use a photo of fire for the main fireball, make sure that your finger flames go past the fingertips and flare out so they blend with the real fire elements.

12. Create sparks


To create sparks you will reverse the process a little. Create a new layer and grab a Hard Round brush set at 8 pixels. Start drawing very small dots and dashes about the size of sparks. Use the Magic Wand tool to select the negative space of the layer then inverse the selection. Next go to your Paths panel then click the Make Work Path from Selection icon. Follow the procedure from Step 10 and make sure to change your blending mode to Screen. Add a Motion Blur to give the sparks some motion.

13. Add real fire elements and smoke


Although you are using Render Flame to create custom fire elements, it’s hard to beat the real thing. For the main fireball use a real photo of fire on a black background. Put the fire on top of the layer you want it to be over and turn the blending mode to Screen. On you keyboard hold down Cmd/Ctrl+T. This will allow you to transform and size your flame. Follow the same steps to add fog and smoke. A great smoke and fog package can be bought at Use a Levels adjustment layer to adjust the amount of fog or smoke.

14. Enhance the flame’s glow on the body


Add a blank layer above your subject. Grab a Soft brush, change the Opacity to around 20% and make it orange. Take your brush and paint over your subject where the light from the fire should be hitting them. Clip the layer to your model layer so it only affects that. Turn your blending mode to Color. Use the procedure from Step 9 to make it only affect the highlights. Add a layer mask and mask out any areas that shouldn’t have the glow from the fire.

15. Final colour grading


First add a Channel Mixer adjustment layer. Choose the Black and White With Green preset. You will notice this turns your image black and white. You want to use this adjustment for some desaturation so bring the Opacity down to 15%. Next add a Color Balance adjustment layer. The Color Balance adjustments will vary from image to image so play around with them to get the look you want. For this image the Shadows and Midtones were pushed towards the cyan and blue tones, while the Highlights were pushed towards the red and yellow tones.

16. Sharpen


Save your PSD. Once you have saved it select Layer>Flatten Image. Make a duplicate copy of the flattened image by pressing Cmd/Ctrl+J. Select your top layer. Next select Filter>Sharpen> Unsharp Mask. Adjust the sliders as needed based on file size. While still on the top layer, select Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All. You can then use a Soft brush set to black to remove the sharpening from any areas you don’t want it. You can also use the opacity to pull down the sharpening over the entire image.

17. Add grain


Lastly add grain. Create a new layer above your sharpened image. Hold down Shift and click Delete. Choose Fill with 50% Gray. Change the blending mode of this layer to Soft Light. Next select Filter>Noise>Add Noise. The size of your image will determine the amount you use. Choose Uniform and leave Monochromatic unselected. Once you apply, hold down Cmd/Ctrl+U. Then pull down the Saturation to -85%. Leaving a little colour in the grain will make it look more natural. Make sure to do this step at full zoom. You can adjust the opacity if it feels like it’s too much. Save your PSD with all layers intact.

18. Save it


You can save the image several different ways depending on its use. If you are going to use a good quality printing lab you can leave the image in Adobe RGB and select File>Save As. Save the file as a JPEG or TIFF. If you are planning on using a low-end printer or saving for online use you want to convert to SRGB. Select Edit>Convert to Profile. Choose Working RGB. Save it the same way as before. For online use it’s good to scale it down before saving. Select File>Automate>Fit Image. Do a width of 2048 pixels and a height of 2048 pixels. Save it as a JPEG, and put it in a separate folder so you know it’s for online use.

  • Mia

    Where can I find lesson files for this?

  • Mia

    WOW! It’s very extraordinary photo manipulations, I like your style! I wanted to retouch in this genre, but image manipulations are not my strong points. I send my works to online photo retouching services like if I need

  • Wow! That’s incredible! I am just reading and reading and I think I should try this out now. Masking technique is always hard to me, and you showed it more then easy!