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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Make It Just Right

Turn your good images into your best images by using Photoshop to bring out those details that are too bright or too dark

Make It  Just Right

Layer MasksThis Article Features Photo Zoom

Part 2

Over To The Dark Side
Bringing out details in very dark areas that are underexposed because of challenges with the scene or problems in technique

Let’s look at the other side of exposure—underexposure. When not enough light reaches the sensor, important tonalities start to mush together, making dark areas look unappealing and formless. Plus, color can be diminished. Just as in bright photos, this can happen from mistakes in exposure or dealing with a scene that can’t be properly imaged with your camera’s sensor.

Make It  Just Right

Here’s a dark photograph, seemingly unsalvageable. This is a shot made about an hour after sunset along the Knife River in northern Minnesota along Lake Superior. I was using long exposures and painting the rocks and falls with a bright flashlight. Light painting is fun—simply set a long exposure (at least 30 seconds, but minutes are better) and then paint the scene with light by moving the beam of a strong flashlight over it.

Digital makes this technique great because you can see what you’re doing with the light, but it can be misleading as you look at the LCD. The darkness all around you fools you into thinking the photo is brighter than it is. In addition, the light from the sky was fading here, and I misinterpreted the exposure for it.

Make It  Just Right

Figure 2

Make It  Just Right

Figure 1

Let’s go back to layer modes to bring detail out of the dark areas in this photo. Once again, an adjustment layer is added without making any changes to it. You can see how much this image is underexposed by the severely challenged histogram (Figure 1). All of the tonal information is on the left side. Still, no adjustments are done at this point.

Now the blending mode needs to be set once again, but this time we need something to brighten the scene. Click on the blending-mode box in the Layers palette (where it says Normal to start) and you get a laundry list of modes. This time, go down almost halfway to Screen (Figure 2).

This brightens the whole photo a lot. The rocks in the foreground are now starting to look good, but the background falls still are dark. It just didn’t get enough light from the flashlight (it was a big, powerful light—the exposure was probably too short to build up the light at this distance).

Make It  Just Right


The answer is simple. Duplicate the Screen layer. You can drag the layer to the copy layer icon next to the trash can at the bottom of the layer palette or you can use a keyboard shortcut, Control- or Command-J. Now you can see a lot more detail in the whole image (Figure 3).

I felt this change made the rocks in the foreground too bright, and the photograph lost some of its drama. This is corrected by returning to the layer mask. The layer mask for the first adjustment layer can stay as it is, pure white, allowing the entire layer effect to do its magic.

Make It  Just Right

Figure 4
The layer mask in the second adjustment layer is where the tweaking needs to occur. I knew I wanted to bring down the brightness of the rocks, so I painted black with a large, soft brush over them in the layer mask, keeping the opacity of the brush low. If you keep the opacity of a brush low, you can build up its density by painting over the area more than once. I also changed the size of the brush to deal with small, specific areas of brightness. This allowed me to refine the look of the rocks (Figure 4).


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