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Using the Shadows/Highlights tool
Posted By: Ash, 01-30-2011, 04:45 AM

In high contrast situations, it's not easy to capture the entire dynamic range of a given scene. Some of these settings are amenable to HDR photography, some less so. And for those times when only one capture is made, but the contrast is overwhelming, this tool in Photoshop called Shadow/Highlight is a robust means of effectively enhancing the details in both the shadows and highlights of an image.

There are numerous means which high contrast scenes can be adjusted for pre- and post-capture (D-range mode with highlight and shadow correction, RAW highlight recovery and fill light, masks and filters) but the Shadow/Highlight tool seems to do a fantastic job with such minimal fuss.

Examine this example:
Original image



...a high contrast image that has a significant amount of shadow detail hidden in the body of the horse and highlight detail buried in the horizon and background areas. Whilst not being 'clipped', the image is too high in contrast to appreciate these details.

By opening up the tool:

... there are 3 sliders to handle each the shadows and highlights details separately:



In the above example, highlights were focused on for recovery of detail by improving contrast of highlight detail whilst not clipping highlights any further than the tolerance level indicated below in the prompt. This has the effect of limiting highlight signal at the expense of some haloing around the high contrast areas, dependent on the radius chosen - the higher the radius, the less abrupt the haloing (smoothed out over the given radius) but the less highlight contrast effect there is.

In the next example, the shadows are the desired area of interest, being boosted by an increased amount and tonal range, each affecting the shadow areas differently (tonal range increasing the signal boost of shadow details within the bounds of the amount percentage specified). This can have the effect of dampening contrast but enhancing much of the deep shadow detail.



As can be seen, there is also the color correction and mid-contrast point tools within the prompt, which are quite useful in shifting the midpoint of contrast whilst altering the shadow/highlight areas, as well as providing the option to adjust the vibrancy of the overall image.

It is useful to run a pass of such a shadow treatment and then a pass of curves to re-enhance the contrast of the image, and the result can be more favourable than the original:



Again, with most PP tools, this one requires some diligence to avoid overdoing the effect - judicious use of Shadow/Highlight avoids the lower contrast, unnatural colour alteration and the unsightly halo effect.
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02-04-2011, 02:54 PM   #2
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I'm not a PS user, but I presume if you have access to the raw file, you'd use Fill Light & Highlight Recovery in ACR to do this instead. Doing it in PS would appear to give you more control.

In SilkyPix Pro there a globally-acting Dodge control which seems to act similarly. I use that a lot.

Dan
02-04-2011, 04:22 PM   #3
Ash
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Yes, the fill light and recovery sliders in ACR are very good for working on RAW files to retain some extreme shadow and highlight detail, but they don't have the robust effect this Shadow/Highlight tool has in enhancing texture where it matters, particularly the less extreme shadow and highlight detail.
02-04-2011, 05:30 PM   #4
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great article Ash. It's nice to have alternate methods/software for adjusting images.

Tim


Last edited by atupdate; 05-11-2011 at 04:21 AM.
04-25-2011, 05:14 PM   #5
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Nice article.
Whilst you can't use it in a layer, the shadow/highlight tool is also available within simplified form in PS Elements (7.0 onwards).

Agree with the above though when using ACR sliders, that it can get a bit flaky.
I tend to process a raw twice for optimal exposure in PSE, using a smart object using the "place " command, and an adjustment layer mask to get the best of both worlds, and then dodge/burn through to the applicable layer.
04-25-2011, 05:17 PM   #6
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the only problem with this is you get that Halo effect....
04-25-2011, 05:51 PM   #7
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QuoteQuote:
Whilst you can't use it in a layer, the shadow/highlight tool is also available within simplified form in PS Elements (7.0 onwards).
Also in v6 :-)

QuoteQuote:
the only problem with this is you get that Halo effect....
Moderation is the key, I have found.
04-25-2011, 06:20 PM   #8
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You can avoid haloing especially by increasing the radius, and halos are not the only artefact accentuated by the tool if overdone.

05-11-2011, 03:07 AM   #9
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Hi for guidance for me - if I adjusted the tone curve, carefully, would I not get the same result?

Thanks
05-11-2011, 03:01 PM   #10
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Yes, quite a similar result, but not as effective IMO. jlaubza.
Generally, you'd need a 'reverse S-curve' (above the normal line in the shadows and below the normal line in the highlights, crossing in the midtones), but the Shadow/Highlights tool has more control over the reassignment of the highlight and shadow pixels by virtue of the extra customisation of amount, tonal range and radius settings.
10-11-2011, 09:14 PM   #11
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Interesting stuff. I typically use Lightroom 3 for 90% of my post processing. The other 10% of the time, when I use Photoshop's creative suite, I feel overwhelmed. Thanks for breaking it down and explaining the meanings behind the sliders (with observable results to boot!). Good stuff, and thanks.
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