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Before digital photography, photographic prints were made by exposing light sensitive paper passing light through the negative, the original image. During that process, you could block light from certain areas of the image in order to lighten or darken selectively throughout the image. With digital, that process is much easier. We can simply paint with light and dark directly onto the image. Let me show you one of the ways that you can do this with Photoshop Elements.
I have an image here with some flowers in the foreground and a mountain in the background. And because of some haze in the sky, that mountain is looking a little bit low in contrast. I'd also like to darken the sky down just a little bit, and for added emphasis, I think I'll lighten up the flowers and perhaps darken up the foliage. And that's a fair amount of refinement to the lighting for this image, but it's relatively easy as you'll see in just a moment. I'm going to use the Brush tool for this purpose. Just a simple paint brush that would allow me to paint pixels onto an image.
However, I am going adjust the settings for the brush. So that, instead of painting opaque pixels over the top of my image, I am actually just lightening and darkening specific areas of the image. The key to this technique is the Overlay Blend mode. So, after choosing the Brush tool from the toolbox, you'll want to set the Blend Mode on the Options Bar to Overlay. We'll also want to work at a relatively low opacity so that we're not applying too strong an effect to the image. Generally speaking, I would work with about a 10% opacity.
However, in this case, so that it will be a little bit easier for you to see the actual effect, I'm going to increase that to 20%. I'll also want to make sure that I'm working with a Soft Edge Brush. And you can do that very easily by simply clicking on the Brush pop-up and then choosing one of the brushes that looks fuzzy. That will be a Soft edge Brush. And we can then move the mouse out over the image to evaluate the size of the brush. In this case, I think the brush is too small for painting over the sky, so I'll press the right square bracket key to increase the size of the brush.
You can also press the left square bracket key as needed to reduce the size of the brush. I'll use a moderately large brush in this case. And once again, the effect will be a little bit strong here, because I'm working at a 20% opacity. Normally, I would work at about a 10% or 15% opacity. I'll press the letter D on the keyboard to make sure my colors are set to their default values with black as my foreground color and white as my background color. Painting with black will allow me to darken areas of the image and painting with white will allow me to lighten areas of the image.
When I want to switch between these colors, I can simply press the letter X on the keyboard to exchange the foreground and background colors. I'll start off with black as my foreground color so that I can darken the image a little bit. And then, I'll paint through the sky to darken the image in the sky and also down into the mountain to darken the darker portions of the mountain in order to improve contrast. Then I'd like to lighten the flowers a little bit, so I'll press X to switch my foreground and background colors, so that white is my foreground color for lightening the image. And I'll adjust the brush size a little bit.
In this case, I need to reduce the size of the brush and then I can paint over the flowers. Because I'm working with a Soft Edge Brush, I don't need to worry about being too precise in my painting. I don't want to be sloppy, but I don't need to be especially precise either. I'll go ahead and press X one more time to exchange foreground and background colors, so that black is my foreground color. And then, I'll paint over the foliage in the foreground here to darken that up. This will help to emphasize the flowers just a little bit, and I think, to improve the overall appearance of the image.
It's important to keep in mind that with each new pass, I'm going to apply an additional lightening or darkening effect in the image. So for example, if I go back to the mountain and click and drag to paint over the mountain again. I'll be applying an additional darkening to the mountain. With each new pass, I'll be applying a stronger and stronger effect. And so, you do need to be a little bit careful about painting too many times over a given area. But with just a little bit of painting here to lighten and darken specific areas of the image, I have a result that I'm much happier with.
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