Join Tim Grey for an in-depth discussion in this video Using the Shadows/Highlights adjustment, part of Photoshop CS6 Image Optimization Workshop.
Sometimes a scene presents you with considerable contrast, and you might assume that you don't have very much flexibility in terms of how to interpert that photo, but often you might just be surprised at how much detail is lurking within an image that seems to be lacking in that detail. Of course, in some cases you might like the silhouette effect, but it can be helpful to explore some of the possibilities of bringing out more detail in the shadow and highlights. For that, we can use the Shadows Highlights Adjustments. The Shadows Highlight Adjustment is not available as an adjustment layer and so we'll need to work on pixels.
We'll have to actually adjust pixels in order to apply this effect. I don't like applying any changes to my background image layer. And so my first step in applying this sort of adjustment is to create a copy of the background image layer. To do so, I can simply click on the Thumbnail for the Background Image Layer on the Layers panel, and drag that to the Create New Layer button, the blank sheet of paper icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. That will create a background copy layer, and I can use that layer for applying my shadows highlights adjustment. To actually apply the adjustment we'll go to the Image menu, choose Adjustments and then choose Shadows Highlights.
That will bring up these Shadows Highlight dialog with a Default adjustment applied. We can adjust these shadows and the highlights of the image individually. I'll will start off with shadows, you'll notice that the exact same controls are available for both. The amount determines the intensity of the adjustment. So for the shadows how much are we lightening up those shadows. And you can see that when I shift that slider left or right, quite a bit of additional detail is visible in those shadow areas. We can also specify the tonal width. In other words the range of tonal values that will be affected by our amount slider.
If I increase this value, then even pixels that are not all that dark, will be considered shadows, and therefore will be brightened up. If I reduce the tonal width value, then only the darkest values in the image, will be considered shadows, and therefore only those values will be affected by my amount slider. I'll take this down to a very low value for example. And we can probably get to the point where only the rock and maybe a few areas of the shore are being affected, and that looks to be the case right about there. In addition to adjusting the tonal width, we can also adjust the radius, the distance of transition between the area being affected and the area that is not affected.
If I increase this value you'll see that that transition in this case is starting to get a little bit too large, so we have something of a glow, almost a halo around the rock over here for example. If I reduce that value you'll see that the adjustment tightens up to just that one area. You might need to fine-tune radius based on the strength of your adjustment and the nature of the photo. The stronger the adjustment, the more of an issue this will be. But of course in this case I've applied a very exaggerated adjustment. That probably would not take the amount of quite that high. Perhaps just opening a little bit of shadow detail. And then that raises, you can see, it's not quite as significant an issue. I'll bring that down.
We can see that we're getting less of a transition in some of those areas versus more. And I just want to try and fine tune that to produce the best result. I'm also going to increase Tonal Width in just a little bit and that'll help smooth things out as well. I can then turn my attention to the highlights adjustment and here we're darkening down the brightest areas of the image. I'll go ahead and increase tonal width for example, and we can see that I've now darkened down a lot of those bright areas in the sky. So, the exact same adjustments, amount determines the intensity of the shift and tonal values, in this case darkening down of the highlights The Tonal Width determines the range of values that are actually going to be affected by that adjustment and the Radius determines the transition difference between areas that are being affected and areas that are not.
For this image, I think the primary issue is just wanting to bring out a little bit of shadow detail. Not too much but a little bit. The highlights, I think, are not really problematic at all. I can turn off the preview and you can see that we brought out quite a lot of detail in those shadows. Actually, I don't think I want white that much, I just want to have a little bit more of a sense of texture in those areas. That looks a little better once again I'll toggle, that preview off and on, and that looks much much better. So I'm very happy with that result. Of course, any time you're adjusting overall tonality, bringing out shadow details and toning down highlight details, there can be a little bit of an impact on the color within the image. We can use the Color Correction adjustment to fine-tune the saturation for the image.
If I reduce color correction, you'll see the saturation is toned down, and if I increase color correction you'll see that the saturation is boosted a little bit. And by and large I would say that in most cases you probably want to increase the saturation with color correction just a little bit. But sometimes, by opening up shadow detail you might bring out colors that you don't really want to see. And so you might want to tone down the value for color correction setting it to a negative value for example. We can also adjust mid tone contrast obviously lightening the darks and darkening the brights is moving everything closer to a mid tone value.
So very often, after adjusting the shadows and highlight settings, you might want to increase midtone contrast. In some cases you might want to reduce midtone contrast, but I would say in most case you'll either leave it at 0 or increase the value at least just a little bit. I always leave the black and white clipping set to a value of .01%, that's the default. And that just helps to minimize the loss of detail in shadows and highlights especially as we are increasing contrast. You do have an option to save the current settings as the defaults, but frankly I don't use that option because I always want to fine tune the adjustments for every image individually. We also have the Show More Options check box.
You'll note that that is turned on. If the option is turned off, then you'll see only sliders for the amount, for shadows and for highlights. And that generally doesn't provide you with nearly enough control for the adjustment, except maybe in the simplest of situations. So, I would always leave that Show More Options check box turned on. Once you feel that you've fine-tuned the adjustment in the image, you might want to turn off that preview and turn it back on again to make sure you're happy with the result, and then you can simply click OK to apply that adjustment.
And of course, we can then move forward with additional adjustments as we see fit, adding additional adjustment layers for example, to really fine tune the photo.
- Configuring the Photoshop interface
- Opening an existing image
- Basic RAW conversion
- Introduction to adjustment layers
- Reviewing adjustments
- Saving the master image
- Basic, advanced, and creative adjustments