Using Tiffen Dfx3 to Create Custom Studio Lighting Effects

I got several comments on yesterday’s post asking how I was able to create the background color and lighting effects in my otherwise boring head shot. After all, I only used a single light for the image and the background was a blank wall about five feet behind me. The trick I used was Tiffen’s Dfx 3 software, which I think is an indispensable tool for home studio photographers.

First of all, it’s important to note that I used an 85mm lens to take this image; doing so threw the background completely out of focus. That’s desirable for head shots where you want to tweak the background color/look later. I processed the RAW image (Nikon NEF file) in Lightroom 4.2 to open up the shadows a bit (note: click on any image below to see a larger view).

I did initial RAW processing in Lightroom 4.2 to open up the shadows in the image.

Then I sent the image to Tiffen Dfx 3. Side note: when using Dfx3 from Lightroom, choose Adobe RGB 1998 as your color space, as ProPhoto RGB may, in rare circumstances, cause color banding within the Dfx3 environment.

I built a multi-layered workflow in Dfx 3. My first step was to add a Gel effect to improve the skin tones. I did this with the Gel filter and used settings to create a slight warming effect.

The Gel filter effect created a warm skin tone.

Next, I added a little fill light using the Reflector filter. I chose a mild silver reflector effect from the presets panel. At this point, the basic image looks fine and it was time to get creative with the background effects.

The Reflector filter opened up shadows further and brightened the overall image.

To create the colored background, I used the Mono Tint filter and chose a cyan preset. The problem here is that the effect is applied globally, and I only want it to affect the background. My solution was to apply a layer mask within Dfx 3, and I chose the EZ Mask option. I used the green pencil (foreground) to loosely draw the area where I wanted the effect to be applied; in this case, just the background. I then used the red (background) pencil to draw on areas where I wanted the effect to be removed (my head and body). The cool thing about EZ mask is that it works really well and you can also refine it as needed without having to start over from scratch. You can see the mask applied to the image and how it pretty much nailed my head, including what’s left of my hair.

I used the Mono Tint filter to colorize the background. However, this also turned me into a little green alien.
The EZ mask tool makes it really simple to selectively apply any filter effect in Dfx3.
With the EZ mask applied, the cyan color is now restricted to the background.

With the background now adequately colorized, I wanted to give it a little character. The plain color just looks too flat by itself. Normally, studio photographers will put a light onto their background to illuminate it. In this shot, I didn’t have a second light.

To simulate a light on the background, I used the Relight filter. Again, the effect needs to be applied locally to only the background. Instead of creating an entirely new mask, I used another cool trick in Dfx 3. I copied the mask from the previous filter to the new layer by simply dragging the mask from one layer to the next. This applies the two effects in exactly the same place. Easy!

The Relight filter is used to create a spotlight effect on the background.
I copied the mask from the Mono Tint layer to the Relight filter layer by dragging and dropping the mask icon between layers. Now the Relight filter is applied only to the background.

My final effect was to darken the corners of the image. To do this, I used the Radial Exposure filter. I used negative exposure settings for the edges and kept the center exposure neutral.

My final effect was to darken the corners of the image using the Radial Exposure filter.

As you can see, it’s fairly easy to recreate traditional lighting effects for studio shots using Dfx 3. Moreover, you can save your steps as “Setups” to quickly recreate your looks across multiple images. The only thing you’d need to do is tweak your custom masks each time.

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8 thoughts on “Using Tiffen Dfx3 to Create Custom Studio Lighting Effects”

  1. Thanks! Just curious, though, is there an advantage to this method vs. simply masking in CS and adding a coloured layer with a radial gradient behind it? Or is it simply a tool choice?

  2. Do you use Nikon Capture NX2 anymore? Is this software a thing of the past. I see that you are using Lightroom instead of Capture NX2. Any reasons for this preference?

  3. It’s mostly a tool choice, although OnOneSoftware Suite 7 and Aperture 3.4 also brilliant combo…. 🙂 etc. etc…..

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