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Dash of Inspiration: Highlights and Shadows

March 31, 2014

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

Highlights and Shadows

If you’ve had the benefit of photography classes, you know that one of the first things taught is how to recognize overexposure and underexposure in your images.  Overexposed areas are most commonly found in your photographs highlights and often mean that you’ve lost all detail in the whites of your image.  Underexposed areas are the opposite, usually relate to shadows and that you’ve lost all detail leaving your shadows dark, often muddy, blobs.

Today, I’m not here to teach you how to set your camera to achieve a good balance between highlights and shadows, that’s something you will need to go learn and practice – what I hope to do in this post is give you enough ‘exposure’ to this topic that you will go learn how to recognize the issues (they are cause for declines at GCU), and practice some of the techniques offered to improve your highlights and shadows in post-processing.

Pro Tips:  Keep in mind that these types of adjustments are considered destructive, meaning that you are dumping and replacing this data within your image. Therefore, most professionals follow these tips when working with an image:

  1. Make major color/contrast/exposure adjustments in Camera Raw, Lightroom, or similar programs which are considered non-destructive environments … the image’s original data is preserved.
  2. Always use the Smart Object feature in Photoshop. This allows you to manipulate the image (including sizing within your design) without making anything permanent. The modifications you make are added as ‘masks’ to that layer.
  3. Always save your changes as a different file name from your original photograph AND save in a non-destructive file type such as; PSD, TIFF, PNG for example. DO NOT EVER save a JPG or other compressed file type over and over again.
  4. Shoot in RAW format and the highest resolution capture your camera offers to achieve maximum detail in those highlights and shadows when the image is shot. If incorrectly exposed when shot, you have a better chance of pulling those details out in post-processing.

Notice the example below.  I simply took a public domain image, a common image to find on old GCU cards, and aside from the compositional aspects of the photograph which most certainly would be cause for decline, look at the deep shadows and highlights, both which has lost detail, in the Original.  Notice that after making a quick adjustment using Shadows/Highlights in Photoshop, I’ve pulled out some nice detail in the shadows and reduced much of the overexposed highlights?


I know many of you use photo post-processing software other than Photoshop and you should go search out your own tutorials for those editing features within the software you use.

Recovering Photo Details Using Shadows/Highlights in Photoshop By John Shaver

Photoshop Elements Adjusting shadows and light

Photoshop Curves Tool: 6 Techniques Every Photographer Must Know

Improving Image Tone With Levels In Photoshop

I would encourage all photographers to dive in and really get a good feel for this area of photography. There is a tremendous resource out there called the internet with millions of great tutorials for the self-taught photo buff.

So, until next week … Learn … Create … Inspire!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2014 1:56 pm

    I learned this lesson from a skilled photographer (you!) a couple of years ago, and it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. Since then, I examine every pic for over and under exposed elements. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your expertise.

    • March 31, 2014 3:00 pm

      My how time flies … LOL! You are very welcome, Tracie and I’m thrilled to hear you’ve benefit. 🙂

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