Automation Photoshop Guide — Lighting and Weather Effects

Inspired by @titleguy1’s great Photoshop guide for placing cars in realistic photo settings, here’s a guide for adding cool lighting and weather effects into your images.

Part 1 — Lighting Effects

Nighttime car shots can be a great way to show off your car’s cool lighting, or just to make a pretty aesthetic photo. Some of Automation’s photoscenes do provide a day/night slider for you to take sunrise, daytime, sunset or nighttime pictures. The problem with night pictures is the fact that your car’s lights don’t actually do anything. Of course, there mods available in the workshop such as the Glowsticks mod that provide you with LED bars, dots etc. that emit light. However, sometimes they might not be enough, and a good photo edit can really make your nighttime shots stand out.

Step 1 - Getting the Right Picture

A proper photo edit only enhances an already good picture, it cannot make a bad picture great. So, in order to pull off a great edit, and to make things easier for yourself when you begin editing your picture, you should make sure your original picture starts out great. If you’re having difficulty with the photo studio or how to take a good picture, here’s a great guide for you.

To pull off a good nighttime picture of your car, you’ll first need a good photoscene that allows you to change the day/night cycle. My personal favorite maps for taking nightshots are Isle of Skye, Canyons, or Small Factory. The example photo I will use for this guide was taken on Canyons:

Example photo

Once you have set up your camera’s position and your car(s) to your liking, it is time to tweak the photo options. You have various settings for the photoscene, camera and post-processing effects at your disposal. The ones we will need are:

  • Time of Day - Found in photoscene settings. This sets the map to day or night. Find the time that gets you the type of night time look you’re looking for. Maybe its at the crack of dawn? Or the pitch black of a moonless night? Its all up to personal preference.

  • Capture

  • Exposure - Found in camera settings. sets how much light is allowed into the camera lens. A higher value means more light is let in, and vice versa. For a nice night shot, I like to slightly reduce exposure from the default value (0) to about -0.7

  • Filter and Filter Strength - found right below Exposure, this applies various filters that change the photo effect. Examples include sepia, grayscale, or “3D-glasses” filters. The one I use for night pictures is Day-For-Night. This filter darkens the image, but it darkens warm colors (such as reds and yellows) more than cool colors (such as blues and purples), to simulate the effect of moonlight. Usually, I use a filter strength slightly higher than default (0.500).

  • filter

When taking a photo for editing, I personally recommend you take a 4K (3840 x 2160) picture. A higher resolution image allows for greater clarity and detail in your picture, and more pixels to play with while editing. Once everything is set up to your liking, take the picture (preferably a 4K image)

Step 2 - Editing the Picture

Now that you’ve taken your picture, you can now edit it. To find your picture, go to:
C:\Users\[your username]\Documents\My Games\Automation\Screenshots
to find your picture. 4K images are saved with the name HighResPhoto and a number depending on the order when the picture was taken. The resolution is 3840 x 2160, and the image format is .png. The PNG format is good for 4K imagery as it uses lossless compression and allows the use of an alpha (transparency) layer, unlike JPG.

Once you have located your image, open it up on Photoshop. I use Photoshop CS6, so this is what will be pictured, but if you use other Photoshop version you should be able to do anything I do, although these options may be located in different menus or called by different names.

This is what your screen should look like (if you have CS6 or a close version) once you've opened the image

The first thing you should do when editing a night photo is to clone the current layer, and turn up the brightness. To do this:

  1. Clone the original layer. This is done by pressing CTRL+J or by right-clicking and selecting “Duplicate Layer”
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  1. Once you’ve cloned your layer, you can rename your layers by double-clicking their names. This can be useful for keeping track of things when they get more complex. In the example, I renamed “layer 0” to “original”, and the new cloned layer from “layer 1” to “Bright”
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  1. To actually turn the brightness up, we’ll need an adjustment layer. The adjustment layer works be changing various parameters such as brightness, levels, contrast, hue, saturation etc. They can either affect all layers below them, or just one layer. There are many different types of adjustment layers, but the one we will need is Brightness/Contrast
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  1. Now that we have the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer in our image, we need to actually change the layer’s settings in order for it to change the image. To do that, double click on the white/black circle on the left
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  1. Now, a properties panel has opened up. This allows you to change the adjustment layer’s property sliders for the desired effect. This one is pretty straightforward, to crank up the image’s brightness you simply need to set Brightness to 150 (maximum) and Contrast to -50 (minimum). This effect will be applied to all layers below the adjustment layer. In order to only apply the effect to the 1st layer directly below the adjustment layer (in this case, the “Bright” layer), you will need to press that right angle arrow button on the bottom left of the properties panel
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  1. Now, your layers should look like this. If you press the eye icon to the left of the “Bright” layer, you can toggle that layer on/off and have a direct comparison between the original dark layer, and the bright layer
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  1. The final step is to “apply” this new adjustment to the “Bright” layer. This is done by simply merging the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer with the “Bright” layer. This is done by selecting both layers (done by CTRL+Left Click on both layers), and pressing CTRL+E (or right clicking and selecting ‘Merge Layers’ option). By doing this, the adjustment layer’s adjustments are “permanently” applied to the adjusted layer (in this case, “Bright”). Of course, you can still undo by pressing CTRL+Z if you messed up something. Once you’ve merged the two layers, your layers will look like this. The new merged layer takes the name of the upper layer, but you can rename it again by double clicking the name.
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There’s two reasons behind doing this. The first, obvious reason is that the brighter layer helps you better see what you’re doing while photoediting. You can always hide the layer by pressing the eye icon on the left of it, to see what your image will actually look like without its brightness cranked up. The second, more important reason, is that you’ll need multiple copies of the brightened layer to be able to apply lighting effects to the image. This will be covered in Step 3.

Step 3 - Casting Some Light

Now, it is time for the fun stuff in the edit - casting light onto your image. The purpose of this step is to draw in the glow that headlights cast into the environment. A good IRL example is an image of this S550 Mustang in a dark garage, with all its lights on.

This image should give you a good idea of how to properly shape and draw in the light that you will be adding to your picture. In order to help you see, I made simple lines to show approximately how each light affects the environment.

Another helpful example is what headlights look like when lit up in an environment full of particulates that can reflect light, such as fog, rain, snow, or a dust storm


In this case, you can actually see the shape of the low beam light through the air, something you couldn’t see in the clear environment of the first picture. For this part of the guide, we’ll only deal with clear environments, but in the next part of the guide I will include how lighting interacts with adverse weather.

  1. To begin, you’ll need a couple copies of the “Bright” layer. These additional copies are what we will use to apply lighting onto the original image. Once you make your copies, you can hide away the ones you won’t be working on, leaving only one visible
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  1. The next step is to have a general idea of what shape your headlight glow will take. For this step, I will focus on the van’s headlights. To do this, I made a new layer with general guidelines of the shape of the van, the position of the van’s headlights, the shape of the headlight beams, and which surfaces and objects will have the headlight glow cast on them. To create a new layer, you can either press CTRL+SHIFT+N or click the new layer button.
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  1. Once you made the new layer, draw up what type of shape your light will take. I drew green lines and dots to represent the hidden side of the van’s body, as well as the general position of its headlights. The yellow lines represent approximately where the lighting will appear on the ground, as well as which objects will have light cast on them, such as the car heading in the opposite direction, the big rock to the right, or the plants on the right side of the road. As seen by the IRL examples above, the headlight glow takes a conical projection beam shape, that naturally diminishes with further distance from the light source. One important note: the origin point of the glow being cast on the road depends on how high/low the light source is. Since my van’s headlights are low to the ground, the glow will start closer to the front bumper than a car with higher set lights. For a visual example, compare your car’s fog lights to its low beams.
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  1. Now that you have an idea of what your glow is going to look like, it is now time to draw it. To do this, take one of the “Bright” copies, and give it a layer mask. The purpose of the layer mask is to hide certain parts of the layer without deleting or erasing them. This makes it very easy to apply any correction or undo mistakes. To add a layer mask, select the layer and click the layer mask button on the bottom.
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  1. The way the layer mask works is that it uses white, grays and black to mask certain parts of the layer. Black areas are 100% masked, White areas are 0% masked, Gray areas in between. When editing the layer mask, you are using black “ink” to paint over the areas that you do not want shown on the layer being masked. Only the white areas will be visible. The way I work on the layer mask is by making a general area of what I want to be seen, before making multiple, more detailed passes through the area. This is what your layer selection will look like after applying a mask, and this is how my first “broad” pass looks like (compare it to the non-masked versions above)
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Masked Layer preview


  1. With the general shape of your light ready, you can now use multiple passes of the black brush to make your light more realistic. To do this, you’ll need the proper brush settings. To access the brush tool, press B on the keyboard or the paint brush icon on the left toolbar. Use large paintbrushes with varying degrees of hardness (25 to 75 percent is what I like to use) to properly define the edges of your light. To change the size of the brush, go to the brush setting panel on the top left of the screen, or press { or } on the keyboard. Remember that the further you go out from the light source, the more the light diffuses, meaning the light gets progressively dimmer and the “line” between light and dark gets blurrier. To draw the light fading into the background, I like to use a very large size brush, with hardness set to 10%.
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"Refined" Layer preview


  1. Remember, some of these objects in the photoscene are blocking your light, creating shadows behind them. To simulate this in your image, you’ll need to draw in a shadow by removing light from places that shouldn’t have it. As stated earlier, light is removed by drawing in black in your light layer’s layer mask. If you accidentally remove too much light, you can bring it back by drawing in white. Before doing however, it is always a good idea to draw some guidelines of how your shadows might look, such as this one, which points out shadows created by the car, the car’s bodywork, the rocks, and the plants. If you feel like your shadows are too heavy in some areas, you can correct that by reducing the paint brush opacity and painting over that area with white. Reminder, all painting is to be done in the layer mask, and only with grayscale colors.
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Shaded Layer preview


  1. Not all materials are created equal. Some, such as car paint, license plates and chrome, are much better at reflecting light than pavement or dirt. In the example picture, the car having light cast on it is from the late 1950s, as a result, it has plenty of chrome that needs to reflect light. In order to add these reflections, all we need to do is add a slight bit of white over chrome trim areas in the layer mask. This is a small change, but many small changes together just help make the image that much more convincing. If you’ve added too much brightness over the chrome trim, you can correct that by drawing over it with low opacity black paint, similar to what was done with shading.

  2. Before we continue, it is good to check on anything you might want to change. For example, is it too bright when you get far from the headlights? What you can do is use the gradient fill tool, and using the black-to-transparent gradient, you can fill in some extra shading that will still preserve some additional shading detail you drew in earlier. At this point, once you are satisfied with your light’s shape and brightness, it is good to now make a backup copy of your light layer, and hide it just in case.

  3. Depending on the types of lights that you want turned on, you might want to change their color. After all, in this picture, these are old cars from the 1950s using old fashioned sealed beam lamps. The cool blue hue of the van’s headlights just don’t fit the look. In this case, we need to change the temperature of the lights to something warmer, yellower. To do this, we will need a new, different type of adjustment layer - Hue/Saturation

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  1. As the name implies, this adjustment layer corrects the layer’s hue (color shade) and saturation (how strong and bright the colors are). As we did with the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer in Step 2, we will create the new adjustment layer and tick the right angle arrow button in order to make sure the Hue/Saturation layer only applies changes to the layer directly below - the lighting layer. Your layers should look like this:
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  1. Now, to correct the lighting layer’s colors, open the properties of the Hue/Saturation layer. This is done by double-clicking the white-black circle on the left. Once you open the properties, you will see three sliders - Hue, Saturation, Lightness. That’s all we need. You can change the settings however you like, depending on the desired brightness and color of the light you want. Various types of lights demand various tones. In our example, classic car lamps would typically have warm yellowish glows. In more recent cars, their lights are more of a neutral white or slightly cool blue, owing to LED and HID bulb technology. Of course, indicators are orange and brake lights are red. Once you have your desired hue, saturation and lightness settings, you can merge the adjustment layer to the lighting layer below.
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Color Corrected Lighting Layer preview


With these steps all done, you now have hopefully nice looking lighting being cast ahead. However, we still aren’t done here, but these steps above are very helpful is helping you complete whats ahead.

Step 4 - Taking a Brake

With the main headlight beam done, you now know most of the interesting tricks in making good lighting. But, as you can see in the last preview of our image, there’s still a lot missing. We will begin this step with the van’s tail lights, before moving to the incoming car’s headlights. All the tips and tricks listed in Step 3 will also be applied in Step 4.

  1. Using one of the extra “Bright” layers we had copied at the beginning of Step 3, we will be tracing out the glow of tail lights. While headlights work as a directional beam of light, projectile light forward, tail lights work as a point light, scattering light in a circular direction around it. Therefore, the tail light’s glow will be drawn differently - light will be concentrated at the center of the tail light, but scatter in a shorter distance, overall making the light dimmer. To make this more “precise” light shape, you will need the polygonal lasso tool, which can be accessed on the left tool bar or by pressing L. Before selecting anything, using the upper left toolbar, set feathering to 0.5 pixel and check “Anti-alias”. This will make the tail light look better.
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  1. Draw your selection around the tail lights. Once you make your selection around your first tail light, you can add the second tail light in a separate selection zone by holding down SHIFT while drawing a new region around the second light. Once done, you should end up with a selection looking like this:
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  1. When you’re satisfied with your selection, press CTRL+SHIFT+I to invert the selection. This will select everything except what was previously selected. After inverting the selection, press backspace or delete to delete the selection. In this layer, everything except the tail lights will be deleted.

  2. Now, with only the tail lights, its time to make them glow. To do this, you need a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. As usual, make sure the adjustments only apply to the layer with tail lights only. Once you’ve done that, the first adjustment to make is to check “Colorize”. Colorize will make your entire selection into lighter/darker shades of whatever hue you set it to. To make those tail lights glowing red, change the sliders to 0 hue, 50 to 75 saturation, and 0 to 25 lightness. Once you find something you like, you’re good to go. Merge that correction layer into the tail lights layer.

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  1. Now, your tail lights look bright, but they aren’t actually producing any light. We need to do two things to make sure they work properly - first, generate a glow around the lights, and second, cast light around the tail lights. The first part is very straightforward, using layer effects. To apply layer effects, select your tail lights layer, and press the fx button on the bottom of your layers panel. This will open a list of effects - in that list, select outer glow.
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  1. Once you apply the outer glow effect, a new window will pop up - this window is where you adjust the effect as you please. Most of these settings are fine as is, the ones we will focus on is the color setting, and the spread and size sliders. For my tail lights, I found the RGB color of (150,0,0) to be perfect, however yours may be different. After setting the color, you need to manipulate the spread and size to get a good looking glow. The spread percentage determines how much % of the glow region is maximum brightness - in my settings, this means 10% of the area is fully bright, with the remaining 90% gradually dimming down. The size is simply how many pixels far from the actual layer the glow will be. In this case, the glow extends for 75 pixels, meaning 7.5 pixels are full brightness, and the remaining 67.5 pixels are dimmer and dimmer. Remember, you can always go back and fix any layer style effect if you don’t look how it turned out, simply by double clicking the layer effect you want to fix in the layers panel.
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Glowing Taillights preview


  1. Now, the tail lights are missing one last thing: their light, cast onto the car and the ground. Surfaces below the tail lights, mainly the rear bumper and the road itself, often are hit by the red glow of the tail lights. This all depends on your car’s shape of course. To draw this glow in, we will use the same technique used in Step 3, but on a much smaller scale. First, take a copy of the “Bright” layer, give it a layer mask, draw in the shape you’d want (this time, a smaller “circular” shape around the ground below the lights), and then apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to get the correct color. Your 3 layers (tail lights themselves, tail light light, and adjustment layer) should look like this:
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Final Taillights preview


Now, on to the finishing touch - the other car’s lights

Step 5 - A Light in the Black

In this step, we will be giving light to the incoming car. This means applying everything from Steps 3 and 4. Fun fact, incoming light is usually easier to work with than light coming away from the camera, so you should have no trouble with this part.

  1. To begin, we will work with Step 4 stuff - treating the headlight as a point light rather than a projector light. This is generally just to establish the fact that yes, that headlight is indeed glowing. This will mean the same tricks we did on the tail lights, such as small reflections on the bumper and ground right below the lights, and making the headlight unit itself bright. As I stated before, everything in Step 5 involves techniques from Step 3 and 4, so I will not explain in too much detail unless necessary.
  1. Now that we have the glowing light source ready, we can now draw in the actual glow of the headlights, as we did in step 3. We will be casting light on the road ahead of the car, and the left side of the van. Meanwhile, some of the plants on the bottom left, and the van itself will be casting shadows as well, so remember to draw those in too. Once you finish that, its not a bad idea to include a hint of red glow behind the car.

With all these steps completed, we have everything needed in an amazing night time shot - dramatic shading, beautiful lighting, and of course, some nice cars. Have fun photo editing, and hopefully you too can pull of some amazing looking shots! Remember to save your hard work, by pressing CTRL+S. If you aren’t finished, make sure to save as a .PSD or .TIF in order to be able to go back and edit your work. When done, press CTRL+SHIFT+S, and save your file as a .PNG to be able to upload and share the image here or on the Discord server.

The Finished Product:

Download the .tif file here

Note: packed as ZIP file (53 MB), unpacked file is 99 MB

File will be available for download later


Good Stuff!!!

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