Tutorial: Correcting Shadows

A few days ago, I took photos of the N family (which you can see in this post) on a lovely sunny morning.  The weather was perfect for the park – bright but not too hot.  There are a million good things about a bright sunny morning.  The bad thing about it is the shadows.  Morning shadows are not as harsh as midday shadows but any time the sun is bright, shadows will be a problem.  We did a lot of maneuvering to stay on the sun’s good side that morning.  But sometimes it can’t be helped – a magical moment will occur and the sun will not cooperate.  I ended up with this precious photo of Katie and Abigail next to the fountain:

I knew that this photo was well worth saving but that something had to be done about the harsh, angular shadow across Katie’s face.  Luckily, darkening or lightening parts of a photo is easy to do in photoshop.  We photog types call it “burning and dodging.”  Here are the steps to follow:

1. Create a new blank layer and change the blending mode to “overlay.”

2. From the edit menu, choose “Fill” and select the contents to be “50% gray.”  This will fill your overlay layer with gray pixels.  You won’t see them because gray pixels in overlay mode have no effect on the underlying photo.  Your photo should look exactly the same.

3. Choose the paintbrush tool.  For color, select white.  White pixels in overlay mode will serve to lighten the underlying photo.  You want to do this a little at a time so change the opacity of the paintbrush to 15%.  Choose a size that will allow you to paint over the shadow in one or two strokes.

4. Begin painting over the dark area.  You may have to go back over the same spot several times – it will get lighter each time you paint it.  Don’t get too carried away here!  If you go too far with this handy tool, your photo will begin to look unnatural.  If you make a mistake, simply paint back over the entire layer with 50% gray.  Your photo will go back to its original state and you can try again.

5. If there are any areas of the photo that need to be made darker, follow the same procedure but use black instead of white.

The result: