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Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 6 of 8

Editing with Shadows/Highlights Adjustment

Ben Willmore

Adjustment Layers in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

6. Editing with Shadows/Highlights Adjustment


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1 Class Introduction Duration:05:29
4 Understanding Curves Duration:06:18
8 Editing with Blending Modes Duration:08:04

Lesson Info

Editing with Shadows/Highlights Adjustment

Sometimes there are other adjustments you want because if you're working on the extremes of brightness, meaning things that are close to black or close to white. It's hard to be really precise with the adjustment you're doing and there are other adjustments that specialize in working on those areas. So in this case, if you look at the waterfall. This is in Iceland. And the waterfall is close to white. And if you look at the rock that's in the lower right of the image, that's pretty darn dark. It's getting close to black. And in those cases, sometimes using curves can be frustrating cause it's too easy to get all the waterfall to become white or just to make a non-smooth adjustment. It's when you're in the middle of the curve that it's really much easier. The extremes at the ends are more difficult to control. So when that's the case, I end up choosing Image, Adjustments, Shadow Highlight. Now Shadow Highlight unfortunately, is not available as an adjustment layer. So I have to choose i...

t from here. In case you're not aware, there are two types of adjustments. One would be a direct adjustment which is what you get from this menu, Image Adjustments. That applies directly to the layer that's currently active and when you're done, it's permanent. So if you save and close the image, open it a month later, there's no way to undo the adjustment. Whereas an adjustment layer is a layer, sitting there, floating above your image. And you could always open the image, you know, a year later and just throw the adjustment away. The image would return to the way it used to look. But there are certain adjustments that are not available as adjustment layers and Shadow Highlights is one of them. When you first open it, it'll look like this and it'll automatically assume that you want to adjust your shadows. So this slider called Shadows will be turned up. I'll turn it all the way down. Then if I turn Preview off and on, you'll see it's not doing anything to my image at the moment. If I bring up the Shadow slider, it's gonna brighten up the dark part of the picture. What's nice about it though, is it's gonna make sure that any area that's black, remains black. So it's not gonna just start looking like a ghosty kind of weirdness. Then we have a Highlight slider and if I bring it up, it's gonna darken the highlight so you could potentially more easily see the detail that was in that area. But right now with just those two sliders, it's not giving me too much control. Well, there's a check box at the bottom called Show More Options. And if I were to turn that on, now I have more control. Let's see what control it gave us. Well, we still have Amount, which is the amount of a change we're making. How much brighter are the shadows becoming or how much darker are the highlights becoming. But then we have a choice called Tone. And if I bring Tone all the way down, then what it considers to be a shadow, is a very narrow brightness range that is really, really close to black. So now if I adjust my Amount and move it around, you see that not much in the image changes. And it's mainly the areas that are extremely dark. If I bring Tone up higher, then it means let's not just work on that narrow, narrow range close to black, let's expand it and get closer and closer to 50% gray. You know, a medium brightness level. So as I bring this up, more and more of the image is affected. So what you might want to do when you're in here, is start by bringing up the Amount higher than you need just so you can see that the image has changed. So here's no change in the shadows. Bring it way up so you see the brightening. Then move the Tone. Bring it all the way down so that's in the narrowest range you can work on. Slowly bring it up until it seems like it's affecting the general range you want. So in my case, maybe about there. Then there's a choice called Radius. And Radius controls the transition from that dark area that we are adjusting to how it blends in with the rest of the image. And so, you can swing Radius low and swing it high. It depends on the picture as far as what's gonna look best. If I get it too high, it looks too dark in that right edge. Bring it too low, it looks artificial. But somewhere in between is gonna give me the best transition. But remember I brought the Amount really high and I didn't necessarily want that big of an adjustment. So once I've got the other things tweaked, I'll probably bring Amount back down and now decide exactly how much brightening do I want. And I can do something similar for the highlights. For the highlights, I might start by just bringing this up a lot so I can easily tell where it's happening. Then we have the same slider called Tone and it means the same general thing but in this case, we're talking about the bright portion. So this means between white and what shade should we consider to be a highlight. The higher I bring it, the wider of a range it works on. I don't want it to work too much on the sky and the water that's not the waterfall portion so I'll bring this down and adjust it until I notice not much of that sky changing. Then Radius controls how it blends in with the surrounding image and I'll experiment. Low settings, high settings to see on this particular image, what looks best. It really depends on the picture. Then finally, I'm going to adjust my Amount. I had it cranked up just so I could see what I was working on and now I can fine tune it to decide exactly how much of a change I want. And if it's not making enough of a change, I need to go back and fine tune my other sliders. All right, and when you have Show More Options turned on, you get some additional choices down below. Midtone means what should we do with stuff that is not highlights and is not shadows. Instead it's the in between shades. How should they look? And so now I can brighten or darken those in between shades. And then we have a choice called Color. And Color's a little bit interesting. If you bring it down, the colors will look more similar to each other. And as you bring it up, colors separate more. So in this case, there's not much of a difference in the colors but if there was blues and greens and reds, as you bring color up, you're gonna see a much more, much more separation between those colors. And if you bring it down, they'll look more like they originally did. So this means do we want to separate the colors a bit more. And that's the main thing that's in here. The choices at the very bottom, you don't usually need to change Black Clip and White Clip. What they do is ensure that the darkest portion of your picture becomes really close to black. And same with the bright portion. If you found that you had a foggy scene, and when you went in here, it just suddenly had way too much contrast, you could set these to zero and then it wouldn't attempt to make the dark part really close to black or the bright part really close to white. But anyway, Shadow Highlight is a specialty tool. I use it when the issue that I have is near the extremes of brightness. Really close to black, really close to white. That's when I think about going there and it's not available as an adjustment layer. Most of the time, I'm not playing with all those sliders, I'm playing with either the shadows or the highlights. I don't usually need both. And it takes a little bit of time to fine tune but I usually like the results that I get from it.

Class Description


  • See how Adjustment Layers differ from direct adjustments
  • Optimize black & white images with Levels
  • Apply the Shadow/Highlight adjustment to reveal detail
  • Brighten and darken areas by painting on a Dodge & Burn layer
  • Utilize Histograms to help you determine if you’re over adjusting an image
  • Apply Blending Modes to prevent brightness or color shifts


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)