How To: Creating Dreamy Lights

I'm always looking for ways to create dreamy, magical color & light in my photos. Most often I achieve these effects by combining multiple photos into one. This is the final composition of my most recent piece but I'll show you below how I created it.

 This my final composition with dreamy lights & color, which is exactly what I was trying to do.

This my final composition with dreamy lights & color, which is exactly what I was trying to do.

I first created the background by combining these two photos in Afterlight using the Multiply blend mode. I created this first jpeg in Procreate on my iPad Pro because I needed some circles to represent a bokeh-like feel in the background. I left them in gray so that they would pick up the color of the photos I combined this with. The second photo is something I shot in my kitchen a few years ago. I cleaned up the white balance before flattening them together in Afterlight.

I love Afterlight and use it for most of the heavy lifting when compositing my photos. There are MANY other apps that you can use, many of them are way more complex, but I don't need more complexity and can do most of what I need right within Afterlight.

The next thing I needed was some additional color and some small lights. I used the left photo below to create this effect and combined it with the two photos above to create the photo on the below right. 

At this point, I wasn't too happy with it, but it can take quite a while to build your background so I kept plugging away at it. I needed it to be softer and I wanted more of the little yellow lights throughout the frame. To achieve both of those things, I made a copy of the photo above on the left and flipped it upside down. I then combined it with the photo on the above right.  This smoothed things out a bit and gave me more little round lights throughout the frame. 

Next, I took this photo into both Mextures and Distressed FX to add some subtle texture and lighting to the background as well as to lighten the whole piece up and decrease the blues & purples. I meant to save a copy at that step but unfortunately I forgot to do it. I try to save a copy at every step along the way, sometimes ending up with 30-50 copies by the end, but once in a while I just forget to do it...

I spend a lot of time creating the background for my pieces but if you put in the time & effort to get the background right, then they generally all come together fairly quickly in the end when you combine the final photo. From start to finish, the background took me about 1 1/2 hours. The remainder, combining the final photo and putting the finishing touches on it, only took about 10 minutes. 

Often, I already have the final photo in mind when I start a new composition and I'm creating a background specifically for it, but sometimes I just create a background and then find a final photo once I see what I've come up with for the background. That's the case with this piece. Once I saw the completed background, I knew I needed plants or something else with a strong graphic element to lay across the light in the middle of the photo. 

This photo doesn't look like much by itself, but I've used it many times as a final photo because I just love the perspective these little flowers were shot from and they work perfectly for scenes like this where you want to light something up. (Also, I had to lie on the side of a muddy hill to capture this from below, so it's good to know that messy day paid off!) If you scroll down through my Instagram feed, you'll see that I've used this one several times before in different compositions, sometimes flipped backwards.

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After combining the final photo with the background, there wasn't much remaining editing to do other than adding a tiny bit of vignetting and I always add a dash of pink to the highlights, because that's just my style... And here again is the final photo composite:

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