Adding light to part of a photo

A little “tutorial”. I put the tutorial in quotes, because it’s not mine, it’s something that I learned the other day on a tutorial from Dave Cross about Mask Edge in Photoshop CS5 (also on Photoshop User TV) and you can mix it with some Scott Kelby’s retouching tips and use some nice Lightroom features. I’ll try to put them together.

It may sound obvious what I did, but it might be also helpful to someone 😉

The problem I had was that the day was sunny, my subject was in the shadow, I had no speed light (just the pop up flash that wouldn’t help) and the subject could just leave any time, so no time for setups, just point and shoot.

Bottom line, I couldn’t make the sky/background and the subject look good in the same adjustment. Fill light adjustment in Lightroom (or in camera raw) didn’t help and the subject is blended with the background, so a gradient wouldn’t help either.

Basically what I did was adjust the parameters, so the sky/background would look the way I want, then the subject (the swan) is too dark.

Background adjusted image.

Make a virtual copy in Lightroom (or copy as a new smart object, as in Dave Cross’ tutorial) and make a new adjustment so that the subject looks good (increasing the exposure and/or fill light and/or brightness).

Subject adjusted image.

Now there are two images (or smart objects), one for the background, one for the subject.

Open them both from Lightroom in Photoshop. I had to do it separately and then copy the layers, otherwise both layers would look the same. I guess the adjustments would be read from the same XMP, or I did something wrong 🙂

Once you have both images as layers in Photoshop, we come back to Dave Cross’ tutorial and will mask from one image what we don’t want to see. I preferred to have the subject in the upper layer and I masked the background in it, instead of having the background there and mask the subject. It would be the same thing, but sounded more natural.

In the layer you want to mask, you create a quick selection of your subject (in this case the swan and the floor).

Quick selection to make a mask.

Add a layer mask and go on the MASKS tab (beside ADJUSTMENTS).

Mask tab to refine the mask.

There you go on Mask Edge (first button on the right) and use the brush to refine you mask.

Mask edge menu for refining the mask.

The tip I’ve got once from Matt Kloskowski was to put the cross in the brush in the color you want to mask out, or to keep (if you’re adding or subtracting from the mask). I used different overlays (over black, white and over the background itself) to make sure all I want is selected and nothing else.

Refining the mask edges.

Once the edges of the selection are fine, you apply and have a mask.

Subject’s mask using “Mask Edge”.

I’m not yet on the level of having a tablet for drawing on photoshop and I’m not that good with the mouse (quite sure that even with a tablet it would not be much better than with the mouse) so this kind of selection refinement is just GREAT! 🙂

The process is the same as the Refine Edge, for selections, I guess internally is the same thing, just coming from different menus.

Now with a background layer and the subject unmasked layer, the image is ready. Saving will take it back to Lightroom.

Final image with background and subject properly adjusted.

An alternative option would be setting the background right. Open it in photoshop, duplicate the layer, make the mask as before, change the blending mode to screen, making the second layer very bright, control the brightness of the subject’s layer changing the opacity. Same procedure used by Scott Kelby to brighten eyes and teeth.

I personally liked better the tones from tuning the exposure/fill light/brightness than the screen blending mode, at least in this case.

I hope it helped!


About Cris Da Rocha

Astrophysicist, DB manager, cyclist, musician and, why not, "photographer to be". Back to enjoy photography after many years ... it's cool. Might share something nice and get something new.
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