Join Tim Grey for an in-depth discussion in this video Using the Shadows/Highlights adjustment, part of Photoshop: Image Optimization (2013).
Any time you photograph a subject in relatively strong lighting conditions, you're likely to run into issues with overall contrast or dynamic range within the scene. In other words, you might risk losing highlight detail, or shadow detail, or possibly even both, depending on your particular exposure settings. Fortunately, there's an adjustment in Photoshop that makes it relatively easy. To maximize the degree of detail in those highlights and shadows. Let's take a look at the shadows highlights adjustment. This is not an adjustment that's available as an adjustment layer, and so I'm going to need to work directly on pixel values.
Because I always want to work in a nondestructive way, that means I'm going to need to create a copy of my background image layer. And so I'll drag the thumbnail. For the background image layer down to the create new layer button the blank sheet of paper icon at the bottom of the layers panel so that I can create a background copy. With that Background copy layer active, I'll then go to the Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. That will bring up the shadows Highlights dialog and as you can see, it's a very basic dialog, at least to begin with. I'll go ahead and drag that dialog out of the way so that we can see more of the image.
And you'll see that the shadows have been brightened up a little bit, and that's controlled by the Amount slider. I can increase the amount of detail that I want to see in those shadow areas. In other words, brightening up the shadows I can also adjust the amount for highlights as I increase the value for highlights I'm toning down the highlights in the image. In other words I'm able to brighten shadows and darken highlights. This creates something of a high dynamic range effect in the image where we have a little bit of hyper realistic result. Lots and lots of detail.
Of course, as you can see here, it's also possible to make an image that doesn't look even remotely realistic, even if we'd used a Fill Flash, for example, to retain shadow detail. This is not the result that we would have gotten, and it's certainly not a result that I would consider all that good. And that's because our adjustments are both too strong and not fine tuned enough. So let's take a look at some of the additional options that are available that really allow us to maximize the control we can exercise over our photos. I'll start off by toning down these adjustments.
I'll just take both the highlights and shadows amount down to a more modest value, and then I'm going to turn on the show more options check box, which will enlarge the size of the shadows Highlights dialog. So that we have some more control available. To begin with, instead of just having an Amount slider for shadows and highlights, we have a tonal width slider as well as a radius slider. So let's exaggerate the adjustment. I'll go ahead and crank up the adjustment for Shadows, taking the amount all the way up to 100%, and then we can adjust the Tonal Width. Now obviously we're affecting the shadows.
Shadows are affecting the darkest areas of the image, but I can specify exactly what range of shadows I want to affect. If I reduce the value for tonal width, I'm reducing the range of dark values that I'm going to affect. So, down at a 20% value or so, you'll see that I'm not affecting as much of the image. Only those really dark shadows are being affected. If I increase that value, you'll see that I'm expanding out into, noit just the shadows anymore, but even some of the mid-tones within the photo.
I'll go ahead and reduce that total width value, and as I do so I'm paying attention to which portion of the image is actually being affected. I can then test the result by shifting that Amount slider up and down, and at this point I think I have a good range of total values that are being affected. I'll go ahead and tone down that Amount slider. I want to bring out a little bit more shadow detail, but I don't need to go too far with it. Once I've defined those adjustments I can also fine-tune the radius. And this gives us a Feathering for the adjustment.
So let's go ahead and exaggerate the adjustment again by increasing both amount and total width. You'll notice that we now start to see some halos showing up in certain areas of the photo, but as I adjust that radius I can blend the adjustment in a little bit better, helping to eliminate that effect of a halo or the sort of odd tonalities that we'll see in certain areas. So I might, in this case, if I really did want that extreme adjustment, need to increase that radius somewhat significantly. In most cases though I'll try to work on a relatviely modest tonal range by taking that tonal width down to a moderately low setting.
And then I'll try to make sure that I'm ot being too agressive with the Amount slider and then finally I can adjust that radius as needed in order to blend the result in. So, that takes care of those shadows pretty well and we have a similar capability for those highlights. I can tone down the highlights by increasing the amount, but then may be zeroed in to only the brightest highlights by reducing the value for tonal witdth, and once again, adjust that radius so that we can blend the effect into the rest of the image. So, now I've made some adjustments that will help to preserve as much detail in the shadows and highlights of the image as possible without creating an artificial appearance, so now I can turn my attention to the adjustments sections.
Here, we can adjust the Color Correction slider, and this is, essentially, just a saturation adjustment. As you open up the Shadows or tone down the Highlights, you'll also tend to reduce the overall saturation of colors in the photo. An increase in color correction can help to compensate for that. So, reducing the value for color correction will tone down those colors and increasing the value will boost them just a little bit. In most cases, I think you'll find that you want to boost the saturation just a little bit for the image and so, I'll usually use a positive value for color correction.
We also have a slider for midtone contrast. And in most cases I would say that if you've opened up shadow detail and toned down those highlights. You're probably going to need to boost contrast for the midtones at least a little bit. If we take that value to a negative number, you'll see that we a very. Flat result. Lots of shades of grey essentially in terms of luminance values. And with a high value we get a bit too much contrast, but with taking it up just a little bit we'll get a boost in overall contrast without blocking up that shadow of highlight detail.
And speaking of losing details, we can also adjust the clipping points for black and white. By default, they are set to 0.01%, and frankly I consider that to be a pretty good value. And so, I leave those at their defaults. But if for any reason you wanted to clip a little bit more at those extreme ends, you could increase those values. But in this case, I think we have a good result. I'll turn off the Preview checkbox so I can see the before version of the image, and then turn on that Preview checkbox. And you can see that we now have much more suttle detail in the darkest and brightest area of the photo.
That's looking pretty good, so I'll go ahead click the OK button in order to finalize the effect.
- Configuring the Photoshop interface
- Basic RAW conversion
- Reviewing, refining, and resetting adjustments
- Cropping the image
- Improving tonality and color
- Using the Shadows/Highlights adjustment
- Dodging and burning
- Working with Curves
- Adding tints and vignettes
- Converting to black and white