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Another powerful adjustment in Photoshop is the Shadow/Highlight adjustment, but if we look at our Adjustments panel, we won't see an icon for it. In fact, the Shadow/Highlights only appears under Image>Adjustments. However, if I apply it right now, that's going to be a destructive adjustment. So before I choose Shadow/Highlights, I want to go into the Layer menu and convert this into a Smart Object. That way we can add the Adjustment, and if we don't like it later or if we want to fine-tune it, we can because it's only been applied non-destructively to the Smart Object.
So now we will choose Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlights. There is a basic mode and an advanced mode. In the Basic mode you get two sliders, one for Shadow and one for Highlights. Let's go ahead and show more options so we have a little bit more control. There are no magic numbers that you can put in here. You really need to use the sliders to make your image visually look correct. And what you want to look out for here is you don't want to bring your shadows up so far and your highlights down so far that the midtones of your image start to look flat.
So, what is the Amount slider? The Amount slider is like the volume slider. When you move the Amount slider over to the right, you can see that the shadows are getting lighter and lighter. So obviously, I don't want to go that far, we will take it back to maybe around 30. The Tonal Width determines what is a shadow. If I move the Tonal Width way down, you can see that only the very darkest areas of my image are having the Amount applied. When I bring the Tonal Width up, now we are making adjustments into our midtone area.
So again, I will back that off a bit. The Radius slider determines how far out the adjustment goes, because you don't want to make an abrupt stop between the area that you're making the adjustment to and the area that is not been adjusted. So what you want to do when you're moving the Radius slider is you want to look for smooth blending throughout your image. Then we will move to the Highlights. Again, we will use the Amount slider to bring down the highlights. It's how much, or what the difference is between the original highlight value and how we want to see it after we make the adjustment.
The Tonal Width determines what a highlight is. As I move it over to the left, you can see that only the very brightest area of my image is being darkened down. As I move it to the right, the adjustment is affecting the midtones more. So I want to go ahead and back that off as well. Then I will use the Radius slider just to make sure that I am not seeing any sharp transitions. And in this case, I actually like the Radius slider down. Now if we want to see a preview, we can toggle that on and off using the Preview button or we can tap the P key on the keyboard.
And you can see the difference there between the original image, where we really can't see in the shadows and the highlights are too bright, versus the after image where we've dimmed down those highlights and we can see into the shadows. We can also adjust, or make a Color Correction change, after the fact if we think that our images are getting too saturated or not saturated enough. We can also add a little bit of contrast back into the midtones if we think it needs it. This is kind of like using an S-curve in your Curves dialog box but it's in a slider instead.
So obviously, that's going too far. If we go to the left, our image is going to look too flat. So we just need to find a nice balance there where we like the visual effect that all of these settings are having on our image. If we want to we could save these as our defaults if we constantly come into Shadow/Highlights and make these same changes. But for now, I'll click OK. And if we look down in our Layers panel, you can see that because I have added this adjustment to a smart object, Photoshop considers this to be a Smart Filter.
Now we haven't talked about filters yet, and honestly this isn't a true filter. All of the other filters in Photoshop are found underneath the Filter menu. But the only way to make this Shadow/ Highlight adjustment non-destructive is by using it on a smart object. And by doing so, Photoshop automatically creates the smart filter. If I want to toggle on and off and see the before and after, we can do that. If I want to make changes, I could double- click where it says Shadow/Highlights. That brings up the Shadow/Highlights dialog so that we could refine our adjustment.
And as we can see, we have an added bonus. Whenever you add a Smart Filter, the smart filter gets its own mask. So this mask works just like any of the other masks in Photoshop. Wherever it's white, we can see the effect. In this case, we are applying the Shadow/Highlight effect. If we were to paint in here, we would be hiding the Shadow/Highlight adjustment layer. So it's a little different from adding a mask to our layer which would hide and show the contents of the layer. Instead, the mask, because it's associated with a Smart Filter, only hides and shows the Smart Filter.
Let me quickly tap the G key to get the Gradient. I will tap the D key to set our default colors to white to black. I will use the Linear Gradient and then just to show you, I can click-and-drag down in the image, and now we can see that the Shadow Highlight adjustment layer is only being displayed at the top portion of the image. So only the area where the mask is white up here is being affected. In order to see the effect over the entire image again, I will simply choose Edit, and then Fill.
We can fill our mask with white, and now my non-destructive Shadow/Highlight adjustment is visible throughout my image and is completely modifiable at any time because it is that Smart Object.
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