When shooting a backlit subject like our paddling toddler, your camera’s Evaluative metering mode may close down the aperture to avoid over-exposing the image’s brightest areas.
It won’t understand that the main point of interest is the subject’s face, so it allows these areas to be plunged into shadow.
You could try changing the Metering mode to Spot and exposing for the face, but this can cause the background highlights to become blown out.
Or you could manually trigger the flash to fill in any under-exposed shadows. But sometimes a photo opportunity is fleeting, so you may have to shoot first and ask camera setting questions later!
If you shoot in compressed JPEG format, you could try using Photoshop’s Shadow/Highlight command to brighten a shot’s shadows to reveal more detail. However, this can also reveal picture noise in the adjusted areas.
A JPEG’s brightened shadows tend to look quite desaturated too. By shooting in raw format you’ll have much more tonal and colour information to work with, and the Adjustment Brush in CS4’s version of Adobe Camera Raw enables you to dodge or burn specific areas with precision.
Here, we’ll show you how to use the Photoshop Adjustment Brush to target the boy’s under-exposed face and body, and gently brighten them to make him stand out. You’ll also learn how to use extra raw-editing tools such as masks to discover which areas are being altered and then fine-tune them if necessary.
How to use the Photoshop Adjustment Brush to make selective adjustments
01 Open and crop
Click on the link to download the Advanced folder. Go to File>Open. Browse to your start image and click Open. The image will open in Adobe Camera Raw. Hold down the mouse on the Crop tool, then untick Constrain to Image. Drag the crop window over the image and hit Return to lose the foreground rocks.
02 Clobber clipping
Press 0 to view any over-exposed highlights as patches of red. You’ll notice these blown out (clipped) areas on the boy’s sunlit shoulder and in the specular highlights on the water. Drag the Recovery slider to 30 to claw back missing highlight detail. The red patches will vanish.
03 Make global adjustments
Set Exposure to +1.00 and Contrast to +56. This brightens up the face, but the rest of the shot is over-exposed. Luckily you can take these settings and apply them to specific areas using the Adjustment Brush. Restore Exposure to 0.00 and Contrast to +25.
04 Grab the Adjustment Brush
Grab the Adjustment Brush from the top tool bar. The Exposure and Contrast settings you used in the previous step are perfect to brighten up the boy’s under-exposed face, so set Exposure to +1.00 and Contrast to +56. Set Size to 7 and Feather to 60.
05 Lighten the face
By default the Adjustment Brush is set to New. Click to place a pin on the boy’s face. Spray the tip over his face to lighten it using the desired Exposure and Contrast settings. This makes a tonal adjustment that lightens the face, leaving other areas untouched.
06 Target the top
In the Adjustment Brush panel, click New. Click to place a new pin on the boy’s backlit blue top. Dial down the strength of the adjustment by setting Exposure to +0.60. Set Contrast to +40 and Size to 10. Spray over the sweatshirt, hat, hands and feet to lighten.
07 Marvellous masks
Tick the Show Mask box. Any areas being adjusted by the second pin will show as grey patches. Spray to include any bits of sweatshirt you’ve missed. To remove areas from the adjustment tick Erase and spray over. Untick Show Mask when you’ve finished.
08 Darken the parents
The background parents are a little washed out. Click New in the Adjustment Brush panel. Set Exposure to -40, Contrast to 0 and Size to 7. Click to place a pin on a background figure. Spray to darken – this helps them stand out from the light background.
09 Brighten the eyes
The boy’s eyes are a key feature, but they are still a little under-exposed. Click New and set Size to 4. Click to place a pin on the left eye. Set Exposure to +0.35 and Contrast to +47. Spray on the eyes to lighten (dodge) them. This gives them more impact.
10 Global adjustments
Click on the Zoom tool to exit the Adjustment Brush panel and access the Basic panel. For stronger shadows, set Blacks to 10. You can also brighten the midtones a little by sliding Fill Light to 7. For more striking colours, set Vibrance to +36.
11 Remove dirt
By brightening the face we’ve revealed some dirt, so grab the Spot Removal tool and set Type to Heal. Click and drag to draw a red circle over a dirty patch. Drag the connected green circle to a clear patch of skin to replace the dirt. Repeat to clean the face.
12 Fine-tune the effects
The great thing about editing in raw is that the changes you make are non-destructive. Click back on the Adjustment Brush, then click on the pin that controls the facial adjustment. Drag Exposure up to +1.10 to brighten this important area a little more.