Miami Product Photographer

Photoshop CS5 – Quickly Correct Backlit Subject

Often times we came upon the problem of photographing a subject that is backlit by either the sun or light came from the window behind.  You want to use natural lighting, but without fill flash, the subject looks dark and underexposed.

This problem can be partially corrected if you are shooing in raw and able to do raw-adjustments for “fill light” before edit.  But often times or not, if you are stuck with a backlit jpg image,  you can quickly adjust the exposure to perfection in Photoshop CS5.

The “Shadow/Highlights” tool will be your best bet to start.  Also in this tutorial, I will combine the dramatic lighting technique from my last tutorial to enhance the overall look of the finished image.

Here is a scene where subjects were  lit from behind. Notice how dark the subjects were compared to the background.:

unedited original image

Original Image

1. Create a new duplicate layer of the background, and name it “Shadow/Highlight” layer for simple identification, with a blending mode of “Screen.” (The screen blending mode will generally lighten up the overall brightness of the image)

2. With Shadow/Highlight layer selected, go to menu “Image” –> “Adjustments” –> “Shadow/Hightlights”, a dialog like below will open up, click on “Show More Options” to display all the adjustment properties, tweak all the settings until you get a desired effect for your image (ie. the subject is lit up nicely):

Now we have the subject lit up, however the overall image looks pretty flat and low contrast.

3. Optionally, within this step, you can add a layer mask, and mask out the top portion of the image using a soft brush.

Masking the top portion

The top portion is masked, but the image still looks flat.

Now we have completed the shadow highlight adjustment, and the image still looks too flat.  It’s time to add some dramatic lighting to the image to boost its visual appeal.

4. Make a new layer name it lighting, add dramatic lighting effects.

5. (Optional) Make another new layer, dodge the top portion of the image some more

6. (Optional) Make a new “Hue/Saturation” Adjustment Layer, and desaturate the image just a bit.

Finished Image

There you go, the whole process takes less than few min to do, and will instantly boost your image’s visual appearance.

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