A beautiful statue photographed in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. The detail is lost in shadow in the first image but after a treatment in Photoshop we are able to bring it out again.

Sometimes you take a photograph and you are unable to avoid harshly cast shadows, or even those subtle dark areas that detract details from your image. There is a relatively easy way to get rid of these shadows – but the key is to be more subtle that most people are when they use the HDR (Shadow and Highlight) feature available in Photoshop.

In this tutorial I would like to walk you through, step by step, how to apply the Shadow and Highlight feature including some tips on how best to use it without ruining your photograph (often referred to as over-cooking).

This is a beginners article, so this is just the basics.
More advanced Photoshop users might get annoyed with the methods, but remember that this is an introduction to the feature and is aimed to help create an awareness on what the feature can do for your photography.

The aim of this tutorial is to help you bring a little detail back into an image ruined by too much shadow. This same feature can also bring feature back into an image that has overexposed highlights.

Open  your image in Photoshop.

Select:  Image>Adjustments>Shadows/Highlights


Now it isn’t just as simple and fiddling with those two bars that pop up – which is the mistake that some people make. You need to work slowly and try and keep your changes realistic.

In this first step I will often push the Shadow bar mid-way (if it is a building / landscape) or a quarter way (if it is a person)

Apply the change.
Then select:  Image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast.


Now you want to bring back some of the contrast that you have lost by eliminating all of those shadows. You can brighten your image up a little using the brightness bar as well but be careful not to brighten so much that you lose detail in the sky or other parts of your photo.

When you are happy you can apply those changes.

In low quality images or photos that were taken in very low light where the camera does not have a strong ISO you will notice a lot of noise showing up and quality will begin to look less appealing.

(we will get to this quality loss in a second)

First you want to correct the colour changes caused by using the Shadow/Highlight tool.

444Often in photos of people – orange will become overpowering. No matter what colour it is that has seemingly taken over you can correct it using this method:

Select: Image>Adjustment>Hue/Saturation.
Near the top of the pop up window you will see a drop down arrow that says Master. Click it and select the colour that has become overwhelming – orange would mean you would select yellow or red and then drop the saturation slider a little to the left. You can see the changes as they happen on your photograph.
You will see under the sliders that there is a rainbow bar. When you select red for example – a grey patch appears in that bar showing you the range of reds you are working with. You can drag the brackets on the ends of that grey patch to increase or decrease the colour range that you are working with and create a more custom colour edit. In this way you can select more orange colours as opposed to being limited to just reds or yellows.

Then select another colour that is seemingly overpowering and do the same thing.
Apply the changes when you are happy with the results.

Now let’s take a look at that “noise” or damage to your image caused by bringing light into the shadow areas…

You can fight this by selecting Filter>Noise>Reduce Noise.

Push the first and third bar to around 60%

On the preview screen (viewing your image at 100%) you can view the changes – hold the mouse down on that preview to see “before” – let go to see “after”

Notice that your noise is reduced – but along with the reduction in noise there is a reduction in detail. So play around with the first and third slider (leave the other two on zero) until you are happy with the smoothness and how much detail you are willing to lose.

Now you can go back to your brightness and contrast controller (image>adjustments>brightness/contrast) and do some final addition of contrast to finish the image off.

I cannot give you exact figures that will always work as each image is different so “30%” contrast might be too much for one image and too little for another.

LASTLY (and this last step is up to you) you can do a little bit of sharpening in the detail.

Select:  Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask
Keep your radius on about 3px and then move your top bar up and down depending on what change you want to make to the photo. Your preview window is at 100% and holding the mouse down on this window shows you a “before” and letting go shows you “after”

Remember that each of these features that you have used throughout this tutorial can be used by themselves of in conjunction with other features.

I hope this tutorial has helped introduce you to a few of the amazing features that Photoshop has to offer!


Here is an example of what you can do with shadows on a face using the above methods: