City Lights: Magical Urban Portraits - Jessica Drossin Photography


City Lights: Magical Urban Portraits

JD City Light Overlays

In January, before the pandemic struck, I went downtown. I’d not been downtown to shoot in years. I’ll admit I am someone who complains a lot about shooting in my area but also hates traffic.

I decided to venture outside my comfort zone.

I love patterns and natural textures. Details. I’m a more is more person. Downtown is rich with those things. Maybe it’s because I’m from such a small, rural town, but it’s always magical for me to see so many things intersecting.

When the light was harsh, we stayed inside the parking garage. I loved the soft light, angles and textures set against all the embellishments and colors of her outfit.

Unfortunately, I might have loved it a bit too much as by the time we’d found our way down to the street, the light was changing quickly. It became apparent to me that I needed to start shooting as soon as possible. Two blocks away, I noticed construction. We hustled down to the sidewalk with the scaffolding. I loved how the scaffolding framed her. The more open I shot, the more l liked the effect.

At the end of the night, when it was too dark to get any natural light portrait shots, I impulsively took a few b-roll shots. I just wanted to capture all the lights and color that only fully revealed itself after the sun had set.

Later in post, something kept tugging at me.

I pulled out those b-roll images. I retouched the shots and made adjustments while placing them directly on top of my image in soft light mode. Once I began adding in these other elements, the images seemed to finally have the energy that I felt when I was shooting them.

As I edited, I played with different modes, different effects. I had a beautiful close up shot but I felt that if would benefit from the overlays, I just wasn’t quite sure how. I found a image from the b-roll and placed it. I wasn’t happy with the effects on the face until I placed it in normal mode at a reduced opacity, simulating a reflection. I loved it.

The workflow in these images was pretty straightforward until I began applying overlays. I used the QuickStart Actions to shape and retouch, then applied a few tints. When I was satisfied, I began applying the overlays.

I liked how the work felt like mine, but also different.

I’m a sucker for a vintage, timeless, fairy tale look. But I think it’s important to stretch and try different things. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and then get bored with yourself and not progress.

JD City Light Overlays

Tips for Using City Light Overlays

These overlays are a little different than other PNG or filter overlays. I wouldn’t call them hard to use, but they do need to be used in a specific way to achieve believable results.

  1. Use these overlays in urban settings unless you have a close up that could be anywhere (see video #2). In the majority of cases, the overlays will look off if you use them in a non-urban environment.
  2. If you don’t have live or have the ability to shoot in an urban environment, get creative. Shooting against large store shop windows or reflective marble using these for reflections, could work well. Cameras are great at allowing us to control an environment. The viewer will only see what is in your frame, choose that frame wisely and you can transform a lot of non-urban settings.
  3. These overlays were not intended as digital backgrounds. You can certainly use them that way, but that was not how I designed them so it might be a little trickier to pull that off unless you are very creative with your placement.

Watch this Photoshop Editing Video Tutorial:

I don’t have a video of how I created the shots below, but for the first one with the blinds, I made a selection of the light areas in the window, the area that translates as “outside”. I then masked the overlay to only reveal these areas in the image. I put this in screen mode “overlay”. I played with the tints using QuickStart tints after applying the overlay so that the colors in the image would be harmonious overall (pink/purple shadows).

For the second image, under the scaffolding, I simply placed the overlay directly on top. There was already so much going on that the overlay seemed to work with minimal adjustments. I am sure there are areas I could have spent more time editing if I wanted to make this look 100% real, but I’m more interested in translating an emotion and a vibe than trying to fool someone. I like the slightly surreal effect.

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City Lights: Magical Urban Portraits

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