Coffee With Amanda: Using Levels to Lighten Shadows

I am excited to post a new tutorial written by Amanda. Thank you Amanda, for sending this excellent tutorial my way!

Me

Ever have a picture that you love, but one side of the face or body is darker than the other? Sometimes that is what you wanted to happen, to give a dramatic effect. Other times it happens just because of where our subject is positioned. Sometimes we cannot place them in the best position due to various circumstances.

Have heart, though, there is a way to even out the lighting in your pictures, and I'm going to show you how to do it with my most favorite of tools - the Levels adjustment. If you have not figured out by now, I love that tool and work it for all it's worth. ;-)

Here is a SOOC picture of my niece, which has some shadowing on one side of her face which I will use Levels to take care of.



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Step 1: Open your image in PSE or PS and create a Levels adjustment layer
by clicking on the circle that is half white, half black and choosing Levels.



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Step 2: Move the white and midtone (gray one) to the left a bit.



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This is what your Layers palette looks like now and your image is a good bit brighter.



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Step 3: Press 'control' and 'i' on your key board ('command' and 'i' on a Mac). This will turn your white mask into a black mask and your image will no longer be brightened. Don't worry, your edits are still there, you are just going to selectively add them.



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Step 4: Take a soft, white brush and ONLY brush over the area that is dark, which you want to lighten. You will be able to see where your brush strokes were by looking at the mask in the Layers palette.

I brushed over the left side of her face (looking at her) and also her eyes, which are deep set and shadowed.



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Step 5: Reduce the layer opacity to suit.



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Here is a before and after comparison, with only the changes I listed above.



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Here is the final image after a few other tweaks.



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Me
Meet Amanda! I am a "Pioneer Woman" of sorts, although not nearly as talented, witty or culinarily gifted as the real one. I grew up in the suburbs or on military bases, but ended up in country on a cattle and chicken farm an hour from any sizeable town. I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to four children, ages 11 to 4.

My photography journey started last spring, and it has quickly become a passion. Most of my subjects are my kids, the cows, my mother-in-law's flowers and my weeds (they're prettier in a picture than in real life). I enjoy editing (with PSE 7) and continue to learn daily. The tutorials I write are very basic and well documented so that brand new users can learn how to use their editing software.

I recently started Everyday Elements, online workshops and video tutorials for PSE users. Also, I have a photography resource blog, PhotographyHaven where you can find lots of free actions, tutorials, workshops and more. You can view my personal pictures at Moving Forward or my Flickr stream.

17 Comments:

They call me Mel July 6, 2010 at 9:12 AM  

That was perfect! I've always used levels in PSE but didn't realize I could use a layer mask and just select the area to lighten. Thanks!!

Robin July 6, 2010 at 10:12 AM  

Great tutorial Amanda, and a beautiful photo too.

Thanks!

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My photography is available for purchase - visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!

Stacie July 6, 2010 at 10:37 AM  

Thank you! I love your site!

Stacie July 6, 2010 at 10:37 AM  

Thank you! I just took some great shots of a friend and he has a little shadow - I was so disappointed, now I can fix it. Love your site!!

Silly Goose Photography July 6, 2010 at 1:39 PM  

LOVED this tutorial!! I used today on a session I was editing. This was so super simple and easy to follow - I'll have to start using my layers feature more!! Thank you for sharing.

Jenny July 6, 2010 at 1:40 PM  

Thanks for this great and simple tutorial. Over the weekend I shot in bright sun and lots of shade, so I'm excited to try this out.

Jen July 6, 2010 at 1:57 PM  

Wow, what a great tutorial! Thanks for this, it is going to help with family portraits quite a bit. Might try it on pet photos, too.

TidyMom July 6, 2010 at 4:11 PM  

OMG this is FANTASTIC!!! I have a picture that has this exact issue and you just saved it for me Amanda!!!......I can't wait to give this a try!!!

Ally July 6, 2010 at 6:42 PM  

Thank you for the PS tip. I am very new to using levels and this helped a bunch!

Vanessa July 6, 2010 at 7:58 PM  

Great tutorial! But what final tweaks did you make to the last image that makes it 'pop'?

Amanda July 6, 2010 at 10:04 PM  

Thank you all for the feedback. It's nice to know the tutorials help someone with PSE.

Vanessa, hmm... that is a loaded question. LOL Lots of little things, but nothing terribly complicated. Too much to write here though.

Pretty much what Rita does with the Perfect Portrait, plus some other tweaks.

Megan July 6, 2010 at 11:04 PM  

Thank you!! I have so many things saved form this wonderful site- and today I actually used one! This one- to lighten a shadowed pic I took this evening. Awesome. and so easy... now im going to look through all the other things I saved and see what else I can do!!!

Vanessa July 7, 2010 at 12:35 AM  

I just stumbled across Rita's site last night :) I've now found the Perfect Portrait post, thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

Lula Lola July 7, 2010 at 8:25 AM  

This was exactly what I didn't know I needed this morning! Thanks so much!

CRAZYMOM July 7, 2010 at 9:47 AM  

Thank you Amanda! I recently had a couple of pictures that I tried to lift shadow on. I am going to go back and try this. I did not know how to selectively lift. Thank you so much! I'm going to go check out your blog.

the7msn July 7, 2010 at 10:23 AM  

Command I, where have you been all my life? What a timesaver that shortcut will be! Thanks, Amanda!

Hooptee July 7, 2010 at 1:13 PM  

This is so awesome (and simple!)!! Thanks for sharing this, I know it will come in handy and save a ton of time!