At this point, I felt there was too much ambient light being revealed at the top and left side of the photo, so I went in with a small brush and put black in the layer mask to block the lightening effect of Screen in those areas. This brought back some of the drama that I wanted, as seen in the final image (Figures 5a & 5b).
There’s one other thing that happens from underexposure that’s important to be aware of—noise. The sensor that captured this photo handled the noise well, but you can see noise showing up in the brightened dark areas even though this was shot with a low shutter speed and the noise reduction setting was turned on for the long exposure (Figure 6).
Of course, you don’t have to use this technique just for dark photos. You can use it to bring out detail from areas of darkness in the photo. A good example of this comes from the lighthouse photo that was adjusted earlier for the sky. The cliff below the lighthouse is dark—certainly a dramatic interpretation of the scene, but we can do more with it.
Adding an unadjusted Levels adjustment layer and turning it to Screen makes the whole photo too bright (Figure 7). Since most of the photo should stay the same as the original, black can be applied to the entire layer mask. This is easily done by going to Edit > Fill and choosing Black from the Use drop-down menu (Figure 8).
Simply paint white (to reveal the layer’s effect) over the local area that needs to be changed (Figure 9). You can see the rocks appearing in the cliff below the lighthouse (Figure10a). Duplicating that layer and refining the change by reducing the layer’s opacity and slightly tweaking the layer mask does a nice job with the rocks (Figure 10b).
Shadow/Highlight I like Photoshop’s Shadow/Highlight adjustment control, but I generally don’t use it for the challenges seen in this article. The biggest reason I prefer Multiply and Screen is control. I automatically get a layer mask with the adjustment layer that I can use. Plus, I prefer the look I get with these blending modes.
When I do use Shadow/Highlight, it’s generally for smaller-scale adjustments. I might try it with the lighthouse cliff rocks, for example. It’s easy to get unnatural looks when using Shadow/Highlight. Here are some tips that I’ve found to make it work better for nature photographers:
1Change the defaults. Using 50 for Amount and Tonal Width of shadows is way too much. I change both of them to 30 and click the Save As Defaults button at the bottom of the dialog box.
2Use a layer. You have to copy your photo to a new layer, but since Shadow/Highlight doesn’t work as an adjustment layer, that’s the only way to gain layer control over it. Often, I’ll look at what the control has done and decide I need to tone it down by changing the layer opacity.
3Add a layer mask. This allows you to control where the Shadow/Highlight adjusting occurs. This is important—the difference between a nicely adjusted image and one that looks wrong is often the placement of the adjustment.