Highlights : A Quick Fix!

2012 is upon us and I thought it was time for another quick post-processing tutorial ! Marianne and I are considering the possiblity of running either landscape workshops in the near future or running post-processing sessions. If we were to do the latter, we would have to have some sort of course material and think about how we would present it in an understandable manner. Hence, I’ve been trying to put into writing some aspects of our post-processing which has been developed through looking at many other people’s techniques before consolidating them into our own.

This entry describes how to ‘correct’ highlights very quickly and selectively. It requires only a very basic understanding of layer masks and blend modes. It is not a fix for badly taken images with half of the histogram bunched up on the far right hand side indicating that very little is recoverable. In fact, the example image today had no clipped highlights to begin with but I wanted to darken some areas of the image selectively without having to dance around artistically with a brush on a layer mask. If you want a term for it, it is a very basic ‘luminosity’ mask.

The starting image is shown below. It has already gone through most of the steps in post processing in my standard workflow which you can see here http://wp.me/prucx-e9

Before the mask is applied

The layers used to touch up the work are shown in the next image. I have turned off the eye dropper for the ‘multiply’ mode so that its effect is not visible yet. The ‘multiply’ mode is a blend mode which effectively darkens the image. If you imagine holding up one slide and looking at it through a light source, the effect is a simulation of holding up another exact copy of that slide in front of the light source ; light which gets through is diminished, hence the image appears darker. If you are applying this technique from scratch, simply duplicate the background layer and change the blend mode to ‘multiply’.

Focus on the Multiply layer for today

Next, switch to the ‘channels’ tab and you will see that by default, RGB and each individual R, G and B channels are all selected. Don’t change this. Press Ctrl-left click on the RGB (top) channel and you will see a selection appear on the image. The selection is what is ‘common’ to all of the channels and hence tends to be areas of highlight  or brightness (in rough terms).

In the Channels tab, Ctrl Left Click the RGB layer.

"Marching Ants" indicates your selection : the bright areas of the image

Next, switch back to the ‘layers’ tab (1) and you will see the marching ants persist on the image. Click on the eye dropper on the multiply layer (2) so that you can see the effect of the layer. The image should all of a sudden look unacceptably dark. Next, click on the layer mask button (3) and presto! The selected areas of brightness are the only parts affected by the multiply effect meaning that you have effectively dampened the bright areas of the image.I don’t usually let the computer do all my thinking for me and I end up modifying the mask a little. For instance, I did want some brightness retained on the glowing parts of the rock and waves and so I masked them out from the selection but it is the basic principle that’s important.

Follow the numbered steps

The image with brightness dampened

I have shown just one application of this simple tool but here are some other areas you might want to use this technique:

1. Wedding photography : we find it great for recovering highlights in the bride’s dress!

2. Exposure blending manually : applying this to the bright areas of the brightest exposure and inverting the mask will allow you to blend two images in a single step

3. Shadow recovery: A little more abstract, but try changing the blend mode to screen and inverting the mask (Ctrl-I) and you might see some interesting effects with shadows!

After a few tweaks for web presentation , this is the final image of the Westman Islands in Iceland with a lonely bird included. Say, don’t they look similar to the rocks of Port Elliot here in South Australia???

Westman Islands , Iceland

Port Elliot, South Australia

Happy New Year and happy post processing all!



Posted on January 8, 2012, in How we..., Iceland, Photography, South Australia, Weddings and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thanks Dylan. That was explained wonderfully well. I am getting into post processing ( esp Photoshop) and these tutorials are very helpful. CS5 as a whole is very intimidating. I have been using LR all this time but need to step it up. Btw, on another note, do you recommend investing in a tablet ( Wacom or anything else) for layers/ masking/dodging /burning? Or the software is good enough that the selections are easier even without it.

    • if you’re doing alot of manual selection then the wacom tablets are definitely worth a look (Marianne uses one )
      most of the selection tools I use don’t require that (like this method) and further refinement is usually done with a faint broad brush so I personally haven’t invested in one but there is certainly no loss in having one on hand if you can put the time in to get used to it 🙂

  2. David Anderson

    Thanks Dylan. Very neat tip. Dang, will I ever know everything photoshop can do? 🙂

  3. Sleek trick! I wasn’t aware of the Channels Ctrl-left click command. One more ruse for my PP arsenal! Thank you so much!

  4. Your photos are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

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