Jan 08, 2016

How to Fix Dark Shadows in Photoshop

In today’s episode, we show you how to fix dark Shadows in Photoshop.

Working with Dark Areas

It can be extremely annoying to deal with dark areas of an image.  Using Curves isn’t always the best option because the highlights of the image tend to get blown out as well.  We ran into this same problem when trying to use Levels to brighten up dark areas.  So with two of our most commonly used techniques rendered useless, we had to find another method that would brighten up the Shadows without blowing out the Highlights.


Our best option is the Shadows/Highlights options.  This allows us to only effect the shadows or only adjust our Highlights.  This is an extremely powerful Tool because of the precision is gives us when working on an image.  There is even a way to bring the Color back into our image which really helps tie it all together.


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  • user image

    Thanks for the weekly tip. Just in time as I was having some problems with shadows on some Christmas portraits.

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    Derek Mack

    Another great episode. I have an episode idea, do you use any of the filters that create an oil painting? I have had a ton of great feedback on the attached image, a lot saying it should be or looks like a painting. What can Photoshop do for it? This is low res, happy to send the Raw if you’d like it for an episode

    Photoshop Tutorials: How to Fix Dark Shadows in Photoshop

    • user image

      Not a fan of photoshop painting filters, what I like to do is add a subtle texture and print on a nice fine art paper, sometimes mute the colors a little. I don’t have a lot of textures here on my work PC but here is a quick example

      Photoshop Tutorials: How to Fix Dark Shadows in Photoshop

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    Jan Malmstrom

    Hi, Aaron. Nice little trick. But I have one question. Would you use this technique when printing? I have an Epson R3000 printer and using matte paper and had some issues when printing especially darker areas. I have heard that this is a common thing with Epson-printers, and you always want to either lighten the whole image and/or decrease red color. What’s your experience in this?

  • user image

    This is great! thanks heaps! Quick and easy you are right! cheers! from New Zealand

  • user image

    Hello there clever person … thank you for this tutorial. This is the kind of help that isolates an issue to allow us unclever people to build our knowledge. Will these actions work in reverse for an image which is over highlighted, or of high key?

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    Christopher Briscoe

    I almost passed this one by. At first glance, I was sure you’d talk about Curves. Then I thought it would be Camera Raw. But, as usual, I learned a new way – something that I’d never discovered in PS. That’s why Phlearn is ALWAYS my first choice when I want to learn new PS skills!

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    Martha Hogan

    Nice effect using highlights and shadows adjustment. If you just selected the dark suit, you could still use curves to adjust the shadows.

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    If you have Lightroom it is done very easy right in the develop module! but this is great to know in Photoshop to has the way to do it!
    Great Job Aaron!

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    Didn’t you explain the exact same thing in an earlier tutorial called “Amazing Trick to Recover Shadow Detail in Photoshop”? Actually that one also explained masking it and adding a lighting effect using Apply Image.

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    Johan Oltegen

    Hi Aaron! Thank you for great tutorials. I would like to see more mature-skin retouching in your show. Older faces have great character as they have scars and wrinkles but can so easily be overworked. Personally I find the male mature faces are challenging as the textures of the skin and small beard hairs as visible close up. I sample an image I have in mind which shows a good result.
    I would also like to see your rendition of the torn paper mask as shown in Martin Schoeller’s picture.
    Keep up the good work.
    It creates an ocean of phlearning for me! / Johan

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    Jimmie von Tungeln

    Please accept this as a high compliment. I’m a senior citizen working on a “Bucket List” effort to learn about Photoshop and you are great, sort of a video version of help for dummies with your breezy and non-threatening presentation. Oh, and they are chock-full of helpful info too. Thanks.

  • user image

    Thank you for this lesson. I have wondered about how to adjust shadows the best way. You are awesome.

  • user image

    Use it all the time, but first I convert the layer to a smart object (saves disk space) allowing me to go back to adjust the settings and it lets me mask parts of the effect with a layer mask!