'Softening Shadows and Revealing Detail'

Clive R. Haynes FRPS

I thank my colleague, Ken Simcox ARPS for introducing me to this 'little gem'.

An image frequently contains shadow areas that are 'blocked in' or lacking detail. These areas can be improved by 'dodging' or by the application of a layer mask for selective treatment.

What follows below is a general, 'quick fix' method to improve the details within shadow areas.
Sometimes it is all that is required.

Above: This image of a bluff in Monument Valley will be our example - there is shadow detail but it's not apparent

The Method

1 Open the image

2 Create duplicate / copy layer (by dragging the layer on to the New Layer icon - the folded in sheet of paper next to the trash bin at base of Layers palette or by Layer > Duplicate layer)


Above: Layers palette showing copy layer to be worked on

3 Desaturate the copy (Image > Adjust > Desaturate or Ctrl + Shift + U)
Above: The Desaturated image (the 'Copy' layer)

4 Invert the copy image. This makes it look like a negative. By Image > Adjust > Invert (Ctrl + I)

Above: Negative (Inverted) image

5 Still working on the copy image layer, go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian blur and set the slider to between 8 and 10


Above: Negative ('Inverted') with Guassian Blur applied
6 Remaining with the Copy Image Layer, change the Layer Blend Mode from 'Normal' to 'Soft Light' (At the top of the Layers palette, click on the arrow to the right of 'normal' to open the menu drop-down and select 'soft light'). You will see the shadows soften.
Above: Layer Blend Modes, showing 'Soft Light' option



Above: the final image after improving shadow detail


Further refinements can be made by:

a) Reducing the Opacity of the copy layer

b) Adding Layer Mask to the copy layer and 'erasing' sections as required

c) Adding a Gradient to a layer mask to gradually reduce the softening effect where necessary

d) Experiment by swapping the blend mode to 'Overlay'

An 'Action' can be made for the above procedure so as to make it all happen in one 'click'


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