6 Ways To Get Better Shadow & Highlight Detail In Your Photographs

You want your photographs to glow - right? So what’s better than one kind of glow? How about three?

You can get there by not succumbing to the classic temptations to clip shadows and/or highlights to produce a more obviously dramatic but a less lively, nuanced, and expressive tonal scale. Instead, hold the full dynamic range with a real black and white and also create gorgeous separation in the values nearest to them.

So many times we give the lion’s share of the contrast to the midtones. Midtone contrast is really important. But that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the light in highlights by making them too hot to look at comfortably or in shadows making them so dark they turn to murky mud. You can hold separation in these extreme ends of the tonal scale and produce beautiful qualities of light that complement not just contrast. Here’s how.


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5 Reasons Why You Still Need Photoshop

 

Let’s say you’re not interested in compositing or adding FX or inserting text or painting on your photographs. Do you still need Photoshop? Short answer – yes. If so, why?

One Big Reason, Look No Further

One reason alone ends the discussion for me. The single biggest reason is precise localized tone control or dodging and burning with Curves. Nothing but Curves offers as precise control. It can add a special glow into all areas of an image, any one area, and treat different areas differently. I can’t think of anything more useful than that.

But can’t you do something similar in Lightroom (LR) or Adobe Camera Raw’s (ACR) using the six Basics sliders (Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks), in combination with the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, or Radial Filter, even in combination with Color, Luminance, or Depth Range Masks? If close is good enough, yes. If you want to make your images really shine, no.

Is it hard to do in Photoshop? No. It’s easy.

 

1  Open your image in Photoshop.

2  Make a selection.

3  Make a Curves adjustment layer.

4  Double click on the layer mask and slide Feather to the right.

5  Repeat if you want to make a different adjustment to another area of an image.

6  Save your file, when you’re done.

 

If you only use Photoshop to do this one thing, most of your images will improve. I can’t say I use this with every image I process, but it’s close. I can say the number of images I don’t want to do this for is very small. It’s a simple thing really, and I look forward to the day we can do it in Lightroom and Camera Raw.

Go Ahead, Look Further, And Find More Reasons

Want to go a little further? Let’s revisit the question, “Why do you need Photoshop?” Every time Adobe’s Raw processor(s) become more fully featured it is worth asking. Or, you might rephrase it as, “What can Photoshop help me do that Lightroom / Camera Raw can’t do as well?”

Here are five reasons.

 

1  Fine Retouching

2  Precise Masking

3   Advanced Color Adjustment

4  Creative Sharpening

5  Plug-Ins

 

Let me go into a little more detail for each one.


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How To Make Your Images More Expressive With Adobe’s Color Grading

There was a time when color crosses were thought of as poor form, as so many were struggling to remove color casts consistently and accurately while managing the inaccuracies inherent in analog color photographic media. When you saw these kinds of effects, it was hard to ascertain whether the artist was not in control of their craft or insensitive to color or whether they deliberately deviated from the norm. But over time color effects like these have become celebrated both because their differences catch the eye, standing out amid a sea of images, and for their expressive capabilities. What used to require time-consuming chemical processing became quicker and easier digitally. Now there’s a new tool that makes it even easier and allows you to make these kinds of color choices more intuitively - Color Grading.

What Is It

Color Grading is the new Split Toning in Adobe Lightroom’s Develop and Photoshop’s Camera Raw processors. Color Grading offers major improvements including global, control, midtone control, blending sliders, luminance sliders, and the addition of color wheels for a more intuitive interface.

It’s Backwardly Compatible

Don’t panic. All of the Split Toning adjustments you’ve made with previous versions will be compatible with this improved tool if you choose to update files processed with older versions. The sliders will automatically be set new settings that generate the same results. All new controls (midtone, global, luminance) will be set to zero. Blending will be set to 100. You can also make the new tool behave like the old tool by setting Blending to 100 and moving only the hue and saturation of shadows and highlights.

How To Use It

Accessed by clicking the five circles to the right of word Adjust at the top of the panel, you can choose the way you view the Color Grading tool. It’s likely you’ll spend a majority of your time in the first panel (3-Way), which condenses into one panel the next three panels (Shadows, Midtones, Highlights). The larger view of these separate panels offers only one additional feature, the ability to use the Custom Colors swatches to apply preselected colors or sample colors within an image. The fifth and final panel Global adds color to all values equally, for finishing touches rather than the grand effect.

Color Wheels

The most eye-catching part of the new interface may present the biggest learning curve for those who have not used color wheels before but once you try it a few times you’ll find it’s incredibly intuitive.

Move the circle from the center of the color wheel towards the color you want to add, increasing saturation the further away from the center you go, and you’ll see the Hue and Saturation sliders move as you do. Rather than rendering them useless, they become fine control. The second circle on the edge of the wheel moves Hue only and is redundant but perhaps more intuitive to use. The Luminance slider affects brightness for the tonal range you’ve selected, but you’ve got to ask yourself why you wouldn’t use the more precise Tone sliders in the Basic panel. The Luminance slider is fine for some occasions, (It’s great for quickly lifting blacks or lowering whites so they’ll show color effects in ways that pure black and pure whites will not.) but don’t trade convenience for exceptional results.

Balance & Blending

The Balance and Blending sliders both control how the color you add fades into surrounding luminance values. What’s the difference? Balance places the middle of the transition while Blending affects how short or long it is. Blending sets whether the transition is short (Set low it affects fewer surrounding values thought the transitions it makes are still smooth.) or long (Set to 100 it’s capable of affecting all values but not equally.) Be careful setting both Balance and Blending high; you can create curious color cross-over effects.

You’ll find that the Blending setting will affect the saturation of your color choice significantly. A higher Blending setting with less saturated color allows more of the image to be affected less intensely. A lower Blending setting with a more saturated color affects less of the image more strongly.

Midtone Control

One of the game-changing features of Color Grading is the ability to add a third color into the midtones, one that is different from the color added into the shadows and different from the color added into the highlights.

Global Control

You might think it strange to add Global Control to a tool designed to affect select levels of luminosity, but once you try it you’ll find it very useful, often as your last stop in this panel. The addition of an overall color effect frequently helps unify the disparate effects added into shadows, midtones, and/or highlights.

Curves

Color Grading’s interface is much more intuitive and direct than Tone Curve’s. Nevertheless, with a little more work, you can get very similar and even identical effects to Color Grading by using Tone Curve’s Red, Green, and Blue Point Curve feature, which allows you to add color into shadows, midtones, and highlights and control the blend of these effects into one another. I tend to use the Curve for its precision and often further refine Color Grading effects with it; the two are not mutually exclusive. But, you can get even stronger effects with Tone Curve than you can with Color Grading. So if you find yourself using these kinds of Color Grading effects frequently, you owe it to yourself to also see what you can also do with the Tone Curve panel.

Use Photoshop's smart filters to apply Raw adjustments locally

Apply It Locally

Color Grading is a global effect, that is it will affect all shadows, midtones, and highlights equally – unless you apply it as a Camera Raw smart filter in Photoshop. If you do this, you can mask the Color Grading effect to apply it to any portion of an image in any percentage you choose and away from other portions.

Color Strategies

Before you apply Color Grading make your Basic adjustments first, setting black and white points, brightness, midtone contrast and white balance. How you set these things will change the subsequent settings you use in Color Grading. There are always exceptions but, usually, you’ll want to clear any color casts as a more neutral base will show Color Grading effects with fewer color influences and you can do more with less. Black and white images show Color Grading effects most quickly and even a tiny bit of color can produce significant differences.

Here are five strategies for applying Color Grading.


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How Does Lightroom's New Texture Slider Compare To Clarity and Sharpness ?

01_Dehaze_Maximum

Maximum Dehaze

02_Clarity_Maximum

Maximum Clarity

03_Texture_Maximum

Maximum Texture

04_Sharpening_Maximum

Maximum Sharpening

05_Texture_Negative

Negative Texture

06_Clarity_Negative

Negative Clarity

Think of Adobe Lightroom Classic and Camera Raw’s new Texture slider as producing an effect that lies somewhere between the Clarity and Sharpness sliders.
It’s closer to Sharpness so when you apply it, rather than looking at the full image, zoom in to 100% to evaluate the detail accentuation it produces. So, use it more for detail enhancement than contrast.


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A Quick Cure For Dehaze Color Shifts With Photoshop

Dehaze_Color_Off

Without Dehaze

Dehaze_Color_Artifacts

Dehaze may create color artifacts

Dehaze_Color_Final

Color artifacts removed

Color without Dehaze blended with luminosity with Dehaze

Dehaze_Color_Layers

The top layer is set to a blend mode of Color

When you’re using Lightroom or Camera Raw, you’ll quickly find the Dehaze slider can produce marvelous contrast effects. Dehaze can dramatically exceed the contrast that can be produced with either Curves or Clarity. Sometimes it will reveal detail you couldn’t see with your eyes!

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Often, there’s a price to pay for these great effects – color shifts. Neutral areas may turn magenta. Shadows may pick up strong blue or green casts. To make matters worse, these unwanted artifacts are rarely uniform, which makes them harder to fix.

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If you’re lucky you can compensate by reducing Saturation after using Dehaze. When you do this, it’s likely that you’ll end up choosing the least objectionable version or making a compromise you’d prefer not to. Frequently, to avoid these side effects, you’ll be tempted to not to push Dehaze as far as you’d like to.
There is a cure that will help you go as far as you’d like, without producing color shifts. Render your image twice. First, render it with as much Dehaze as you’d like. Second, render it without Dehaze.

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Then place the version without Dehaze in a layer on top of the version with Dehaze. Change the Blend Mode of the top layer to Color. This will give you a combination of the color of the top layer (without Dehaze’s color artifacts) and the luminosity of the bottom layer (with Dehaze’s contrast).

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How do you make two layers from one Raw file?

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If you’re using Lightroom, make a virtual copy and then double click on the Dehaze slider. Highlight the original file and the virtual copy and select Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop. Now in Photoshop, make sure to change the top layer’s blend mode from Normal to Color.

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If you’re using Camera Raw, open your Raw file as a smart object, then select New Smart Object via Copy in the Layer menu, and finally double click on the top layer to return the Dehaze slider to 0. Remember, change the top layer’s blend mode from Normal to Color.

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The technique of using the color of one layer to overlay another layer can be used for many applications. Here, it makes Dehaze even more useful.

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Read more color adjustment resources here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.