Creation of photo portraits inspired by cosplay and superheroes

Creating compelling images inspired by sci-fi and fantasy was once a task that required either impressive hands-on effects and lighting, dexterous digital painting skills, or proficiency with complex 3D animation software. Recently, Boris FX, an Oscar-winning software company that has been developing visual effects tools for film and television for over 20 years, leveled the playing field with the introduction Boris FX Optics.

Full disclosure: This article was brought to you by Boris FX

Optics is a standalone application and plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom that brings Hollywood-style lens flares, cinematic lighting effects, and feature film processing effects to the photo editing community. In this informative tutorial, visual effects industry veteran Ross Shain shows how to easily turn portraits into epic poster frames, without resorting to stock footage or overlays.

Video tutorial

Watch the video tutorial here. If you want to take Optics for a test drive, you can download a free and fully functional 15-day trial version here.

A special discount for PetaPixel readers!

For a limited time, take 25% discount the list price of the optics. Offer is valid for new purchases or annual subscription plan. Offer expires June 15, 2022.

  • Visit the Boris FX Online Store and add Optical to your cart.
  • At checkout, enter the promo code: petapixels-optics.


The Optics plugin can be launched directly from Photoshop or Lightroom. If you’re using Photoshop, we recommend converting your layer to a smart object, then select your layer and go to Filter > Boris FX Optics 2022.

If you’re using Lightroom, launch Lightroom Classic, select your image, and navigate to Photo>Edit In Boris Optics 2022. We recommend applying the optics to a copy instead of the original.

And if you’re using the Optics standalone app, just go to File>Open and open your photo. Whether you use the plugin or standalone, working with Optics is the same. The interface is divided into a few key areas. Under your image, find hundreds of Filters divided into 10 categories:

Color, Diffusion/Blur, film lab, Grads/Tints, Picture, Objective/Distortion, Light, Return, Stylizeand new Illusion of particles.

When you choose a filter, the selected filter Settings are displayed on the right and the Presets are on the left. At the top left you have the Layers window where you will find the layer opacity and blending modes.

Lighting and rendering effects

Optics is packed with creative lighting filters and special effects generators from Boris FX Sapphire, a collection of plug-ins regularly used in big-budget movies and TV shows. In the Render category we can find useful background generators like night sky (star field), Moon (photorealistic moon generator), and even abstract background generators like Cautics and Tiles.

We can apply UltraZap which is an advanced lightning filter. You are never limited in optics. In the Setting window, you can control UltraZap options, including bolt position, color, branching, taper, glow, and more.

Simplified masking

Optics can import masks from Photoshop or use the built-in masking tools which provide an easy and streamlined way to isolate effects.

You can apply different types of masks to each layer in Optics. For example, if we want to wrap the lightning effect around the sword, in the Layers window, we can add a paint mask and paint over the areas where the effect should not be displayed. Other masking tools include gradient, circle, and path, as well as masking by luminance and color values.

the EZ Mask is one of the favorite tools of Optics users. By using the Foreground Brush (green) and background brush (red), with a few simple loose brushstrokes we can identify the foreground and background of the image. Select the Enter key (or tap the process cog icon) to generate the mask. Select M (or tap the matte icon) to view your mask in black and white. Masks can be softened and inverted for added quality. With the EZMask in place, we can add more layers and reuse the mask for each layer by dragging it to the new effect. In this way we can change the background.

Cinematic Lens Flares (the JJ Abrams effect!)

One of the optical stars is the Lens Flare effect, again from Sapphire. The optic comes with 125 beautifully crafted lens flares to add depth to every type of shot. You can find realistic lens effects presets to match your favorite lens as well as the greatest JJ Abrams style lens flares found in your favorite Star Trek and Marvel movies.

For full customization, you can also open the flare designer to design and create your own library of custom flares. In the settings window, choose Change objective.

Learn more.

Particles for Photoshop

The most unique thing about optics is the Particle Illusion category which brings over 1700 particle based emitter presets to photo editors. Particle Illusion is a powerful motion graphics and animation software from Boris FX and now the entire emitter library is included in Optics. You can find realistic asset builders divided into categories such as Smoke, Fire, Water, Spark, Blast, Dust, sci fiand much more.

The effects found in the Sci-Fi and Tunnels categories are perfect for these types of magical portraits. We can add multiple layers of vortex emitters with full control over parameters such as position, count, speed, and weight. And for advanced control, we can launch the Particle Illusion interface and design and create complex 3D particle effects.

Master the creation of particles! Watch the dedicated Particle Illusion Training Series.

Mix with Film Lab

As you can see, we can endlessly stack effect layers in Optics to create unique looks. In our video tutorial, we added a few more things, including Distortion waves of Objective/Distortion category to add a time bending effect.

When we are done with the effects, we usually use the film lab category for a final color grade, grain, and treatment. the Film stocks The filter offers over 600 historical film stocks and color processing effects to choose from.

For inspiration, we can choose from movie looks Category. These are presets that replicate the color shades and grain profiles of classic Hollywood movies like Alien, Blade Runner, or Harry Potter. As with all optical layers, we can change the opacity and blending modes depending on the desired result.


We hope you enjoyed this project video tutorial and introduction to Boris FX Optics. Although this article focuses on the “sci-fi and fantasy” aesthetic, the reality is that professional photographers routinely use optics for all types of projects, including landscapes, weddings, portraits, stills of products, etc.

Optics is now available for macOS and Windows and comes with three purchase options:

  • New standard license: $149
  • Annual subscription option: $99/year
  • Monthly subscription option: $9/month


Here you will find useful links to help you learn more about optics and find training resources:

Full disclosure: This article was brought to you by Boris FX

Jack C. Nugent