Subsurface Scattering (SSS)

  • Software:Photoshop CS6  ·
  • Difficulty:Beginner

Rules of the Exercise

  • 1
    Download and open the practice worksheet for exercise 50: Subsurface Scattering (SSS).
  • 2
    Analyze and execute the different lemon slice examples based on where the lighting is placed on the worksheet provided.
  • 3
    Showcase your knowledge of lighting and SSS by creating your own slices and displaying each in both examples.
  • 4
    Submit your work for exercise 50 under the "Submissions" tab for grading!


  Subsurface Scattering is a natural phenomenon in which light passes through a translucent object and bounces around the interference within to create a natural "glowing" effect. The glow is caused from the light bouncing around and making the area appear more saturated by doing so. There are plenty of examples such as holding your fingers in front of a flashlight, holding a colored gem to the sun, or even with our food such as gummy bears, jello, and fruit. Start to notice SSS from now on. See how light can create some really neat effects depending on the object and this will deepen your understanding on how light works and interacts with objects/materials! SSSExamples So in this example we are going to show the difference between a slice of lemon being lit from the front versus from behind. This is a great example because the lemon slice will take on completely different characteristics depending on the lighting.

  1. Lit in FRONT - When lit from the front, the lemon slice will be painted normally with a focus on the texture and placing the highlights with accuracy based on the angle of the lighting. I would most certainly look at references at a lemon slice to see the different color variations or buy a lemon and take your own reference!
  2. Lit from BEHIND - This is when the lemon magic happens. The light now passes through the slice and creates a natural "glow" effect. This is due to the light penetrating the surface and bouncing around multiple times inside before exiting and meeting our eyes. The pulp will appear more saturated and areas that don't allow light to pass as easily such as the "white" rim of the lemon will appear darker and create more of a shadow outline. Also there will be NO highlights, and I mean zero on the pulp because the light is behind and highlights can only appear when you are on the same side of the light facing the object.

1hcimy Below is the practice worksheet that you can grab from the “Downloads” tab (find it under the header image near the top of this exercise). Exercise_50_PracticeSheetDownload



  • USE REFERENCE. This lighting exercise is done best when you have solid reference to work from, especially for color picking!
  • Treat them differently. The lemon really will have a different appearance in both lighting scenarios and you want to reflect that properly.
  • Remember that SSS will create more saturated and rich colors in areas where light is able to penetrate and bounce around
  • The Second example will NOT have highlights unlike the first one which will have plenty of them.

This exercise is a great and simple introduction to learning SSS and if you create it right you won't be left feeling bitter with your lemon painting. If your looking for other material example exercises I would recommend these few below including the candy exercise which includes some SSS work with the Gummy Bear! exercise27_stepbystepE39_SlicedFruitResultsExercise_36_Results2


  I hope you guys had fun with this exercise and didn't end up too bitter with the end results. I would consider this a harder exercise as it forces to address how lighting affects materials head on. Subsurface Scattering can be fun to paint and give your work a higher sense of realism and play with color, so use it whenever appropriate and often! For the exercise let's break down each step and see how to paint this lemon when lit in front and behind.

  1. Refined Outline – Start with a clean outline and I would use reference to capture the look of the pulp and the "skin" of the lemon
  2. Solid Base - This is an IMPORTANT step, as your foundation colors will affect the rest of the process!
  3. Build Up Values – I look at where the color and darker colors are on the lemon slice and capture that without detailing.
  4. Remove Outline and Refine – Here is where you can spend your time and really make this lemon shine! Each pulp has a soft lining to it and notice the "pores" within the outer skin of the lemon. These little details can create the further illusion of this lemon!
  5. Highlights and Final Polish –This step is also quite different between each example. The first lemon slice will have isolated high contrasted highlights whereas the second slice will have NONE as it's being lit from behind. So instead of highlighting this one, you instead focus on the "glow" that is created from the Subsurface scattering affect!

Exercise50Results_StepbyStep_TimsCopy Be sure to watch the tutorial lesson connected with this exercise and start adding some SSS within your own work! When you finish the exercise, remember to submit the result to the “Submissions” tab near the top of this exercise. You can see other submissions alongside your own!