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One of my favorite tonal correction tool inside Photoshop is also one of the most powerful, and that's something called Shadows/Highlights. It's great! It does have one flaw, and we will talk about that and how to correct for that flaw in just a moment, but first, let's talk about what Shadows/Highlights is. It can be found under the Image menu, under Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. It's basically, really simple. It's a dialog with two sliders, initially. There is actually several more sliders available, and we will get to that in just a moment. But Shadows/Highlights, basically, is able to see all the Highlight areas and all the Shadow areas separately, and build masks for you behind the scenes.
So, for instance, this image has two problems. Let's turn the Preview off just for a second. You can see the Shadows are too dark, and the Highlights are too hot. Now, without using something like Shadows/Highlights, you typically have to use multiple Adjustment layers. You do maybe a Levels or Curves Adjustment layer to lighten the Shadows, and then mask out the part that's being affected by the Highlights. And vice versa, you create a second Adjustment layer and bring down the Highlights but then have to mask out where it's affecting the Shadows. The Shadows/Highlights feature here, this dialog, basically does all that for you behind the scenes.
The default view is just to have these two sliders: Shadows and Highlights. And if you make the Amount higher on the Shadows, then the Shadows will get lighter. Let's turn the Preview back on. You can see what I am talking about. So, just one simple interface for making the Shadows brighter or making the Highlights darker. Okay. Now, one thing to mention about Shadows /Highlights is that there is no magic number that will work for every single image. You have to play around with the sliders until it looks right for your particular image. So, these are just starting points. You are meant to experiment here. Couple of things to watch out for is if the Amount gets too high on the Shadows, let's say, it starts to feel a little flat.
You are losing contrast. It starts to get posterized a little bit. If the Highlights are too high, you get the same problem, just in the Highlight area, and it just starts to look solarized or look artificial. So, to start, you just kind of dial in a number that looks appropriate for your particular image. Then if you want to actually have more control over this, you open up the Show More Options check box. Once you turn that on, you can see there are a lot more sliders here. I think the Photoshop team didn't want to intimidate first time users of this dialog. You open it up, and this is what you saw upfront, all these gazillion sliders here, you might be a little overwhelmed and intimidated.
So, with that turned off, that's the default view, just to kind of introduce yourself to the feature. But then when you want to dial in more control, you turn on Show More Options. Now, within each section, so Shadows and Highlights, the Amount slider is like a global volume control. If the Amount is set to 0, then it doesn't actually matter what these other sliders do within the group, because there is no Amount being applied. Let's start with Shadows. Again, you are just trying to open it up to the appropriate look and feel for yourself for this particular image. Then you can control how much contrast, or flattening, that's happening by using Tonal Width and Radius.
The Tonal Width, again, is how many levels of darkness are considered within the range that's being adjusted. The higher the number, the more Shadows get found and get brightened. So, lower number only goes after the darkest Shadows. As you increase the Tonal Width there, you are getting more of the middle range Shadows being affected as well. So, again, you just dial it into a number that looks right for you. I am going to take this to about 45, let's say. The Radius is, once an area is determined to be a Shadow and to be affected by the Amount, how far out should that range be affected? What you want to look out for are little haloing effects.
So, if I take the Radius down too small, you can look in the Shadow here. You can see it's kind of dark on the edge, light in the middle, and then dark on the edge again. So, you want to just choose a Radius where you are getting smooth blending across the range that's being affected. If you are starting to see weird posterization, or glowy kind of effects, you just want to affect that Radius until you get it right. Same concept for Highlights; if I take the Amount up, you can see I am dialing in the detail on this wood. You can see the detail in the avocado is getting a little bit better as well.
Let's turn the Preview on and off to see the before and after. You can see I am really bringing that wood grain back into view here. Then you have the same sort of controls for Tonal Width and Radius, how many Highlights are going to be considered to be affected by the Tonal Width. Okay, I will take that to 45% as well. Then the Radius, be looking out for weird glow effects. Let's see if I can cause one to show up here. If I take the Amount too low or too high, you will sometimes end up with this weird kind of artificial light edge. Look at the right of this Shadow here.
You can see there, I am getting this kind of white glow on the edge of that. So, you want to watch out for those glow effects and just play with the Radius until you don't see those weird artifacts showing up. One other advantage of the Shadows/ Highlights dialog is that you can actually do some Color Correction and Midtone Contrast Adjustments as well. Color Correction is defaulted. It's set to 20, because as you are adjusting these tonal values, that can cause color shifts to occur, so the default is set to 20. If I take that down to 0, you can see what Shadows/Highlights is trying to do for you, by default. So, there is at 0. I will undo, Command+Z or Ctrl+Z. There is after.
You can see I am bringing a little bit of warmth back into the image by giving it a positive Color Correction. Now, if that's not what you want to do, you want to control Color Correction separately, then just take Color Correction down to 0, and use an Adjustment layer, let's say, to adjust the color after the fact. You just have the advantage of having that available here as part of this one single dialog, if that's something that you are interested in. Same concept for Midtone Contrast. This won't affect the darkest or lightest points in the image, but it's like having a curves dialog for increasing contrast along the midtones.
This is like having an S curve on a slider. So, the higher the Amount, the more pronounced the S curve would be to increase contrast. Then if you take it to the other direction, you are actually reducing contrast. So, I find when I use the Shadows/ Highlights dialog that I am more, often than not, adding a Midtone Contrast of somewhere between 10 and 20, just to give it an extra pop. It's like having that Clarity slider in Camera Raw, of sorts. All right. I am going to click OK, and there is my resulting image. I am going to undo, Command+Z or Ctrl+Z. There is before.
I am going to undo again, Command+Z, Ctrl+Z. And there is after. Pretty cool! Here is the flaw that I wanted to mention at the beginning. Shadows/Highlights is not available as an Adjustment layer. So, if I were to open up the Adjustments panel and hover around these icons, Shadows/Highlights will not be listed as one of those adjustments. If you remember - I will go ahead and collapse this panel by double-clicking on the word Adjustments - the advantage of Adjustment layers is that they are nondestructive, which means you can go back and edit them at any time. The problem with Shadows/Highlights, as it stands right now, is it's an adjustment that affects the actual layer, which means this is a permanent change.
If I were to save this file now and come back tomorrow, I wouldn't be able to reopen Shadows/Highlights and get back to where I started from. So, I am going to undo, Command+Z or Ctrl+Z, and talk about the workaround for that. It turns out there is a useful workaround where you can get Shadows/Highlights to work in a nondestructive manner. You just have to take advantage of another feature called Smart Objects. Now, a Background layer cannot be a Smart Object. So, we are going to go ahead and convert this Background layer to just a normal layer. I can just do that by double- clicking on the word Background. That brings up this dialog box, and you can give it a Name, layer 0.
I will just leave it there for now. Now that it's a normal layer. We can right-click on the name of the layer and say Convert to Smart Object. Now that we have got this converted as a Smart Object, let's go to Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. It brings up that dialog box again. Now it's going back to the default values, so we need to go ahead and readjust these settings. I think I had my Tonal Width at, say, 45, and my Radius about 75, let's say. It looks good. Let's bring up the Highlights to about 30. Again, you are just kind of dialing in what looks good to you.
I want to make sure I don't have any weird Highlight glows, so I am looking to fix that by increasing the Radius until I don't see those weird artifacts. And then I will take that Midtone Contrast up to 15, let's say. All right. I am going to go ahead and click OK. It's going to be pretty much the exact same adjustment we did before, but you will notice now that because we converted this layer into a Smart Object, Shadows/Highlights is actually listed there as an effect that you have applied to this particular layer, and it's an effect that can be reedited. So, as long as I save this as a Photoshop file, a PSD, and come back tomorrow, next week, whatever, this information will still be listed here.
If I want to tweak these settings, I simply have to double-click on the word Shadows/Highlights in the layer. Now, if you don't see these settings when you reopen your file, it's because this layer may have been collapsed. There is this little disclosure triangle on the right of the layer name. If you click that, that will expand and show you everything that's been applied to that particular layer in there, Shadows/Highlights. Let's go ahead and double-click on it. That reopens the dialog. So, you can go back and tweak the settings as much as you need to, just to make sure you get it perfected. So, there you have it, Shadows/Highlights. It's a really wonderful way to go ahead and do both Shadow and Highlight adjustments without having to do deal with a bunch of layer Masks.
It's a single adjustment. And then, to get it to be nondestructive, just convert the layer that you want to apply Shadows/Highlights to to a Smart Object first, and then you can do it in a nondestructive way.
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