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Bring Back Lost Detail From Your Shadows

Jan 30

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Thanks to the one and only David Crewe for supplying the image for today’s tutorial! Check out the rest of his portfolio here.

Lightening Shadows

It’s always great to have shadows in your photographs to add definition, but sometimes they become too dark and subtract from the detail in your image. To fix this, we use the Shadows & Highlights filter to bring our shadows to an exposure where we can see more of our subjects. You can use this technique and layer mask out the parts of your photo you don’t want it affecting.

Removing Distractions

There are some things in this photo distracting us from the interaction between the two main subjects. Nothing major, but we’re able to take care of it by using a combination of the brush, clone stamp, and patch tools.

Styling Your Image

Styling your image with color is a great way to add the final touches and make it really look amazing. Try using adjustment layers such as Curves, Levels, and Color Balance to bring up the blues and greens in your shadows. In this case, the cool colors help to create a sense of drama and intrigue which is perfect for this photo.

Episode Transcript

I’m going to show you guys how to recover some serious detail in your shadows.

Hey, guys and welcome to Phlearn, my name is Aaron Nace, you can find me on Twitter @aknacer. Today we’re going to do some awesome tutorial work. We’re going to show you guys how to take some detail that you probably didn’t think you even had in your shadows and bring it up to some awesome levels. We’re also going to be doing some editing, pointing on a shadow. We’re working on one of the family’s images. This is David Crewe’s image. He submitted to a concept. Everyone really loved it, but they said they didn’t quite understand the shadow that was going on in the background and he wanted to know if we can get rid of it. We’re going to do that for you guys. You can see it’s really not going to take that long and it’s not too incredibly hard. Let’s go ahead and get into it. We’ve got all kinds of announcements. I’m going to announce some in the episode.

This is the image that David sent over. This is just straight out of the camera. It is very cool. A lot of the times in these images when you’re editing, sorry when you’re photographing, you do really want quite a bit of shadow if you’re going for a darker type of image. If you decide later on that, “Hey, I’d like a little bit of detail, especially in areas like this,” then it’s kind of too late. You can’t put a light back on that guy after. I will show you guys how to do some lighting that kind of detail really quickly and easily. He also said he wanted to get rid of this light back here because a lot of people were just like, “Well, I love the gun. I love the detail over here. I just don’t really understand that.” We’re going to take care of that as well.

The first thing I want to do is really brighten up these shadows. It’s actually a lot easier than you might think. We’re going to create a duplicate of our background layer. To do that, just hit Command-J on your background layer. Then we’re going to go up here to Image. I’m going to go down the Adjustments and we’re going to go down the Shadows/Highlights. What it does by default is probably it’s going to look like this. I’ll just take this away because it’s spoiling the awesomeness already. Whoa, it already did it. You didn’t even do anything Aaron. I know. What we’re going to do is I’m going to have it show a little bit more options. Now you have details or options to bring up the details in your shadows as well as your highlights. I would pretty much recommend staying away from your highlights. In my opinion it never looks good, like ever. Don’t mess too much around with it. The shadows always does a great job.

You’ve got three sliders here. Amount slider. What this is going to do is it’s just going to bring up detail in your shadows. Notice it’s leaving your highlights alone. It’s not really messing with your highlights. It knows where the shadows are and it knows where to clip so you can really bring up those details in your shadows. Total Width is basically how much clipping is going to go just to the shadows. If you want to go to a HDR type of look, go something here. If you want to get it a little bit more natural, you want to bring this guy up just a bit. I think David wanted to go for a little bit more of the “HDR” type of look. We’re going to bring Total Width down just a little bit.

Then we have our Radius, which basically does … If you bring your Radius up and up it’s going to look more and more natural. Bringing it down, it might look a little bit weird. If you guys are going for that super-stylized look, I would recommend bringing your Radius down as well.

You can also play around with Color Correction as well. The reason why this is actually pretty important is because when you photograph something, you have a lot more saturation of color in your highlights then you do in your shadows. It’s usually shadows are quite a bit less saturated. If you want to bring up the brightness in your shadows and make them look like they’re not shadows, you usually have to bring in color as well or else it’s still going to look like shadows that were brightened instead of something that was actually exposed. In David’s original image that he sent over, he made it black and white so if you guys are planning on going black and white, don’t worry about it at all. Or, if you’re having trouble making your colors look great, black and white is a great option for you as well.

Let’s go ahead and bring this Color Correction back up. This is a good way to do it. You can see without it, just no… right over here. It just looks too grayscale. It just looks really weird. We’re going to go ahead and bring that back up. There we go. Midtone Contrast, this is just what it says. It is just adding contrast. This is going to depend completely on what kind of a, how contrasty do you want your image. I’m mostly looking over at our subject here on the left as opposed to what we’re going to be doing. Here on the floor and things like that, it looks horrible obviously. I know that. That’s why we created a new layer.

We’re going to hit okay, and basically it just applies that. We went from this to that very quickly and easily. Not much thought at all. The really great thing now is because we put it on its own layer, we can do what? That’s right, a layer map. I knew you were going to say layer map. We can put a layer map on this layer and then choose where we want it to be visible and not visible. I do think that the image works relatively dark. We just want to lighten some areas up. Let’s go ahead and make that visible. I’m going to hold down the Option key and click on my layer map. It’s going to make it black.

Now what we can do is a number of things. We can just click on something like our magic wand tool. Let’s bring up the tolerance a little bit. I’m going to click on those areas that are a little bit darker. There we go. That’s going to select out some of the darker area in my image. There we go. Let’s hit Command-A on the layer map here. You know what? It just selected out way too much. If it selects out too much or too little you can just try playing with your tolerance here. That’s going to work a little bit better for you. Let’s deselect that a little bit, bring our tolerance back down a little bit more. You can shift click on your person a couple times. I’m really not too concerned about it being exactly right. I’m going to use my brush tool anyway. This is a decent way to select out something dark.

Okay. On the layer map now, we need Command-I, and that’s just going to fill that with white on my layer map. It did a decent job with the face. The arms, it did a horrible job. We’re just going to paint that in with our brush tool. As you’re doing something like this, I would recommend using a harder inch brush. Hold down the Control and the Option key and if you drag up, you’re going to make your brush softer, drag down you’re going to make your brush harder. You can also just right click and change your hardness.

The reason why you want to choose a harder-edge brush is because you actually have a hard edge around the edge of your subject here. If the brush is too small, you’re not going to have a clearly defined edge and for the most part it’s going to look horrible. I highly recommend staying away from making your image look horrible. First piece of advice. Make your image look good instead of bad. That’s generally good advice. There we go. We’re just going to bring this in. If this were a client image, something that I were going to be delivering and I was getting paid for, I would spend a little bit more time in the design. Since it’s not, this is just for a tutorial, showing you guys how that works.

We’re able to bring that area quite a bit brighter and now I can just create a nice large soft brush, maybe lower down my flow a little bit. You can do that by hitting Shift-1 on your keyboard, which will make your flow 10%. We can see now we’re just kind of getting our layer map close in a little bit better. Our guy is still in highlights a little bit better. We’re going to go ahead and paint white on our layer map over here where our female subject is. It’s just so sterile saying female where our lady is, oh. It’s a lady. I’m just painting white on my layer map there.

What you don’t want to do is just make it look weird. If the left side and the right side of her face are the same, you can see it’s just going to look a little bit awkward because she’s supposed to be lit from one side of this image. It doesn’t really make sense at all to make her lit from both sides evenly because that’s just not how light works. Keep in mind as you are brightening your shadows and working with your highlights as well, just do it in a way that’s not going to look incredibly fake. You don’t want your left side, that’s even still a little bit too bright. Let’s just paint it invisible there. There we go. We still have some detail but it’s not going to look Photoshoppy. Photoshoppy is a bad thing. All right. We’re just going to paint in this detail here as well.

Okay. We’re off to a pretty decent start. We’ve brought up the detail in our shadow quite a bit. I’m going to go ahead and crop this image. Before I do

Actually, let’s talk about why I was going to crop it. The reason why is to get rid of some of these distracting elements. Distracting elements like this lightpost up here. This stairwell over here as well. I don’t really find this too distracting but David wanted it gone so we’re going to get rid of that as well. That’s not going to be a cropping thing because if we crop that out, we’d pretty much ruin the picture. We can crop out that top element. Crop out a little bit from the left. Let’s just bring that down. There we go. I’ll unclick this delete crop pixels just in case we change our mind later. That’s not going to be permanent. There we go. We’re going to crop out that top element which I don’t mind at all. Then this element over here on the right, we can take care of that using a clone stand technique. Perfect.

We’ve brightened everything up quite a bit. It really is looking quite a bit better. Let’s go ahead and see what we can do about the shadow. Often times in editing something like this, you have a couple things you need to take care of. If you do want to get rid of this shadow, I’m not going to try to get rid of all the shadow. I’m not going to get rid of this, and the head, and all that. It doesn’t really make sense to do it because we want to get the idea of the hand to go away, but I don’t want to spend an hour and a half on this. That doesn’t make any sense. What I’m going to do is get rid of this, and then fill in some darkness over here. Then you won’t be even to tell that there was a person there. It’s just going to change the shadow in a way that’s going to make it look totally normal, really.

It’s really not that hard to do. What we want to do is create a new layer and Shift Option-Command-N to do that. Shift-Option-Command-E will make it stand visible. For the most part using this sort of thing you can use your patch tool and just patch this area out with a different area. You’ll probably have to do it in a few steps. There’s a few different steps, which I’ll show you here. The patch tool usually works pretty well. I’m going to try to get the majority of it and basically all you do is click and make sure you’re on source over here and click in your patch tool and then just drag it over to an area that looks pretty good. All right. There we go.

You can see here for instance, I’m unable to line up both of these stripes. The reason is because you have perspective distortion. In other words the stripes get farther apart as they get closer to the camera. Let’s just try to do one at a time. I think that’s probably a better technique. There we go. Maybe I’ll just take care of the blade first. Blade first then I can go straight up with that because it’s the same, there we go. I’ll even try that. Right over there.

Generally you want to try to get the entire object that you’re going to patch out. If you don’t, usually it winds up looking like what we just had, where you just took out a weird blotchy area. Usually I don’t expect the patch tool to just do a perfect job the first couple rounds. Usually I expect to kind of do this over and over again, but I’m not having to undo really anything. I’m just kind of re-patching over and over again and matching each time. I’m matching and patching. How fun. All right. Now we’ll just take this area here, and match it right over here. There we go. And just a couple more of these. You can see I’m matching the stripe on the left as well as trying to match what’s going on here as well. Okay. If it’s too dark or you can’t find something really as similar, just try choosing a slightly smaller area. There we go. Okay. This really is made quite a bit more difficult by the fact that there is the pattern here, back on the wall, but you can see just a couple more, and we’re pretty good to go.

We are going to darken that down, but you can see for the most part that is gone, which is great. On the new layer what I’m going to do. This time I’m just going to take my brush tool and I’m going to paint it about 40% here, and simply sample this color and paint down right over here. That’s just going to darken this area, which is exactly where the shadows do, right? Just by sampling this color and kind of painting right over the area that wasn’t in the shadow, we’re able to kind of blend that in and make it look like oh, hey, maybe that is in the shadow.

Again, this sort of thing, especially if you’re just grabbing a brush tool and painting over, which I do quite a bit. It’s just going to depend if you spend two seconds on this, it’s probably not going to look that great. If you spend five minutes on it, it’s going to look pretty good. You could also use the patch tool for this as well. I’m not saying you couldn’t use the patch tool. This would just be something, because there’s not a whole lot of detail here. When something goes into shadow, by the way, it also reduces contrast so you’ll have less contrast in your shadows which means you can get away with painting with a paintbrush a lot more in your shadows than you can in your highlights. This is why I’m doing it. You can also use the patch tool here. I’m just showing you guys a few different ways to do things. There’s always more than one way. There we go.

We can see that, that doesn’t really look like a person trying to stab anyone now. We’ve just kind of eliminated that, and I’m doing a quick job here. We can do the same thing basically with our stairwell. Let’s grab a new layer. We’re doing quite a bit here. It’s cool. With our stairwell I’m going to hold down the Alt or the Option key on my clone stamp tool and just kind of paint on right down here. Any area that you have a serious change in lightness, in other words it’s in highlight here, and here it’s down to in the shadows. This is also a great place to use your brush tool because you can paint in that transition quite a bit easier than you can use with the clone stamp tool. A clone stamp tool is mostly about copying the exact texture and then the brush tool, you can use kind of like blend in everything. You can always use the patch tool on over top of your clone stamp tool to match texture after you’ve put the color in there that you want. Great. Our stairwell is, for the most part, gone now. Pretty cool.

We’re off to a really good start. There’s a couple of things that I do want to do to this image. That is basically bringing back some of that vignette. I did think it was supposed to be relatively dark especially over here. That’s why I didn’t spend a ton of time painting away those details. It is supposed to be dark in those areas. We’re going to grab a curve adjustment layer, bring it down and grab our marquis tool. Select there in the middle, hit Command-I, which is just going to invert the layer mask on there, which you can see that’s what we got. Then, just go to filter, blur, and then yeah it’s going to blur and it’s going to give it a bit of a vignette looking. There we go. Kind of stretch that out. Hit Command-T there. Do that.

I’m going to go ahead and bring the curve adjustment layer, another one and kind of brighten some of these areas up. You can either do this manually with a brush tool or you can just grab a gradient as well. I’m just going to do it manually. I kind of like this painting around because it can give a pattern that doesn’t look exactly like, I’ll show you in a second here. That’s what I just painted with my brush tool. Sometimes it looks a little but less Photoshoppy if it’s more random like that. It looks like that might be the way in which light actually falls rather than having it be like “Oh, there’s a perfect circle of light around someone.” Usually that doesn’t happen. Very, very cool.

There’s other things that I would do as far as coloring and things like that but let’s take it from here. We’re going to go into black and white, because I know that’s what David wanted this image to be. Where is our black and white? There we go. The black and white filters the gray away and still if you want to bring up or down the levels of your lights and darks depending on the colors. There’s no blues. Not really that many blues anyway in this image or magentas. Reds and yellows are going to deal with people’s skin. If you want to make people’s skin brighter, reds are a great way to do that as well. All right, very cool. I really like the red dress actually. I don’t know if I would go black and white with this one because I like the red dress and I like how it plays with the green bottle. I’m going to try one more thing and let’s just try bringing a level adjustment here. I’m going to try and go to my red channel and kind of push this over so I can get some green going on. Here we go. Maybe just change the color balance to this just a little bit, which is going to help. I think it kind of just help out bring the tone up just a little bit better. All right. We’ll lower that opacity just a bit. Cool.

That’s probably something relatively close to what I would do. You know what, I’m a big fan of this too. I’m going to go to my green channel and pull up my darks. Actually let’s go to our blue. Pull up my darks and put a little bit of yellow in my highlights and a little bit of blue in my shadows. I’m almost done with this image. Very cool.

Then you can go in here and add all kinds of styling and things like that too. I think we’ve got a great image. Go ahead and delete our black and white layer. Basically from the ground up, we have this is our before, and that’s our after. In really not too much time we went from complete shadow with this guy. We got rid of. We did a crop. We brought out a lot more detail here. We added details to our other subject. We took away the knife, the assailant, the stairwell as well. In not a lot of time, we really did change the overall feel of the image.

You can see what you can do in not a whole lot of time in bringing that detail from the shadow. Not only can you make it look like it was more properly exposed but you can also get some really cool looks like this kind of gritty look we’ve got here.

Guys, thanks so much for watching Phlearn. This is a big episode. I hope you guys liked it a lot and you learned a lot of Photoshop because that’s the whole point of everything. I’ll Phlearn you guys later. Bye everyone.

By the way, we’re giving away a free probe tutorial in our newsletter this Friday. If you want that probe tutorial, the only way to get it, only way, is to sign up for our newsletter. To do so there’s a link down below and on the side bar. There we go. Bye guys.

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