How to add light sources easily in Lightroom


One of the most important skills of photography is Patience: Waiting for the right moment, and snapping that photo when all the elements work together.

But it’s not always possible due to various reasons, such as time, permissions, accessibility, etc.. Luckily, there are instances where you can fix or enhance your image during post-processing to make it look the way you want it.
Keep in mind that I am not advocating the “I’ll shoot and fix later in Photoshop” mentality. Try your best to take the image you want, but if it’s not possible, use post-processing software to enhance it. It’s your image and your vision that counts after all.

In this tutorial, I’m going to talk about how to add light sources to make your lamp posts/lanterns/lamps pop.

Here’s an image I took in Chiang Mai last year. It’s a photo of the Silver Temple (Wat Sri Suphan) taken right before sunset. You can download the image and use it for the tutorial if you wish.

Silver Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I did some quick edits to bring up details in the sky, adjust the colors and bring up details in the shadows on the right side of the image. I brightened the Buddha statue to make it stand out too.

However, I realized later that the lanterns on the tree were not lit, and the top right part of the image was dark, uninteresting, uninspiring and boring… The lanterns looked like trash hanging from the tree. Dead lanterns.. no good. I didn’t have time to wait for them to turn the lights off so I couldn’t wait.
(Disclaimer: That’s not true. I did have time and I did wait, but I took this photo just for the purpose of this tutorial. Heh, so sneaky..).

Silver Temple Lights Tutorial - Boring

So what can we do to enhance the image? How can we make that area more interesting to balance the whole image? How about lighting up those lanterns?

Luckily, there’s a trick we can use in Lightroom to add light sources wherever needed.

To do that, we need to switch over to the Develop Module (shortcut D) and use the adjustment brush (shortcut K). This brush will enable us to paint over our images using different settings. It’s a very powerful tool to brighten up parts of images, or sharpen elements, etc..

Adjustment Brush Lightroom

Once you click on the brush, you’ll have a new panel that opens up, which is very similar to the Basic panel. Whatever setting you change, you’ll be able to apply it on the image.
Your mouse will turn into a little circle with a pin in the center. When you click on the image, it will drop a pin, which will enable you to make adjustments later on if needed. There are a few options (as seen on the image) that will enable you to change the size of your brush, and the feathering. Leave Flow, Density and feather at 100 and uncheck Auto-Mask.

Adjustment Brush Lightroom Options

Now the idea is to create little bright spots on the lanterns, that will look like light sources. With the brush panel open, push the Exposure to 100 and the temperature to something warmer. The exposure is to make the spot very bright (like a light bulb) and the temperature will make it look like an incandescent light bulb.

Creating Lights with Adjustment brush Lightroom

Next, all we have to do is adjust the circle to be roughly the size of the lantern (use your mouse wheel to adjust the size)..

Adjustment Brush

and.. click once.

Light in lanterns Lightroom

There you go! You’ve just lit the lantern. Now go and click on all the lanterns and admire your work.

Lights created in Lightroom

You can always tone down the exposure to your liking if the lights are too bright, or change the White Balance to make them more or less warmer. You can also play around with the smaller lights on the top right corner, and change the color. You can see the settings on the image below.

Little Lights created in Lightroom

And that’s it! This trick works well with lanterns, or city lights for example. Of course, it’s best to wait for the lights to be on, but if you don’t have the time, just use Lightroom!

You can click on the image below to see an animated gif version of the changes.

Before and After Adjustment Brush Lights in Lightroom

Hope it helps. Don’t hesitate to share (or pin) this tutorial if you liked it. You can also check my tutorial page for more.
Let me know what you think in the comments, or if you have any suggestions for other tutorials.

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How to Add Light Sources in Lightroom tutorial


  • Malika Jooma

    Wow! Seems incredibly simple. Can’t wait to try it. Thanks!