How to Fix Lighting with Shadows and Highlights in Photoshop CS6 - dummies

How to Fix Lighting with Shadows and Highlights in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

The Shadows/Highlights adjustment is a great feature In Adobe Photoshop CS6 that offers a quick and easy method for correcting lighting. This command works well on a subject photographed with the light source coming from behind, giving that subject a dark foreground. The adjustment can also bring out the detail in harsh shadow areas.


To familiarize yourself with this tool, follow these steps:

  1. Open an image in dire need of repair and choose Image→Adjustments→Shadows/Highlights.

    When the dialog box appears, the correction is automatically applied in your preview. If you don’t see any change, make sure you’ve selected the Preview check box. The default settings in the dialog box are meant to correct backlit images, so they may or may not do the right correction job for you with the default settings.

  2. Move the Amount slider to adjust the amount of correction for your Shadows and/or your Highlights.

    The higher the percentage, the lighter the shadows and the darker the highlights. You can also enter a value in the percentage text box.

  3. If you’re happy with the results, you can click OK and be done with the adjustment. However, if you crave more control, click the Show More Options check box at the bottom of the dialog box.


  4. Drag the Tonal Width slider to increase or decrease the range of tones adjusted in the shadows or highlights.

    The lower the percentage, the narrower the range of tones that are affected. By using a very low percentage, only the darkest parts of the shadow or the lightest parts of the highlight are corrected. A higher percentage includes a wide range of tones, including midtone areas. Start with the default setting of 50% and work in small increments from there.

    If, when lightening the shadow areas, the midtones and highlights are getting too light, reduce the Tonal Width percentage of the Shadows. If you start seeing artifacts, you’ve set the percentage too high.

  5. Drag the Radius slider to increase or decrease the number of pixels used in the local neighborhood.

    To fix lighting, this command lightens or darkens pixels according to the luminance of the surrounding pixels, called a local neighborhood. The best size depends on the image, so play with this slider. If the Radius is too small, your main subject may lack contrast. If it’s too large, your background may be overly bright or dark. Adobe recommends setting the radius to approximately half the size of the subject.

  6. Make additional changes in the Adjustments area, as needed:

    • Color Correction: Available for color images only, this control enables you to correct the colors in only the adjusted portions of your image. Often, when you increase or decrease the Amount of Shadows or Highlights, you bring out the “hidden” colors. Generally, higher Color Correction values make colors more saturated.

    • Brightness: Available for grayscale images only. Move the slider left to darken and right to lighten.

    • Midtone Contrast: Move the slider left to reduce contrast and right to increase contrast. Just be aware that when you increase the Midtone Contrast, you may also darken shadow areas and lighten highlight areas.

    • Black Clip/White Clip: Setting clipping values between 0.5% and 1% eliminates the too-dark and too-light pixels.

  7. Click the Save as Defaults button to save and make your settings the defaults.

    If you want to reset the settings back to the original defaults, hold down Shift and click the Save as Defaults button. You can save as many settings as you want. Click the Load button to reload a particular setting. To save the settings as new settings, but not as the defaults, click the Save button.

  8. Click OK to apply the adjustment and exit the dialog box.