Ideally, as a photographer, you want to get things as close to perfect in camera. When dealing with d-SLRs, there is only so much dynamic range a camera can handle. And unless you carry an external flash (my Canon 5D MKII does not have a built in one) or you carry a reflector, you may need to choose what part of the photo is most important to expose correctly.
it is not always possible to get perfect light. This is especially true for snapshots (such as vacation pictures) & photojournalism where you are capturing what is happening at that moment in time. With most portraits, you can plan ahead and take time to look for better light.
On a recent vacation, a cruise on Oasis of the Seas, I wanted to travel light. I brought my point and shoot, Canon PowerShot G11, and my SLR (Canon 5D MKII) with a few lenses. Ok, so that does not sound super light, but it is for me. I did not bring a reflector or a flash. So when using the 5D, I had to use available light. For many shots, including the one shown here, they were pure snapshots. I had no intention of them being masterpiece portraits. This particular one is not a special image at all, but it works perfectly to show manipulation of light and dark using a FREE Photoshop action called “Touch of Light/Touch of Darkness.” This action will help you add light just where you need it, and add darkness to areas that are too bright, provided they are not blown out.
As you can see, rather than place her in the sun, I found an area with shade. Great planning… BUT… The sun hitting to the right and behind was overbearing. So I exposed for her and then backed off a little to retain some detail in the brighter parts. The result, she is underexposed. The background overexposed and the sky is washed out.
To correct this problem I ran the Touch of Light/Touch of Darkness action. With the touch of light layer, I painted using a 30% opacity brush, and went over my daughter and the shadowed areas of the ground. I painted a few times, which duplicates the effect since I start with a low opacity brush. I often get asked why use low opacity. The reason is simple; you have more control this way, and you may not need the full power of the adjustment.
Next I used the touch of darkness layer and painted on the sky and bright parts of the background. The areas that were blown completely, will not be effected, but as you can see below, this one action made a HUGE difference on the exposure of the image. To further tweak, if you are familiar with curves or have taken my online Photoshop curves training class, you can play with the actual curve layers that help create this effect for a more targeted adjustment.
So again, aim for correct exposure while taking a photo. But remember, you are not totally out of luck if you need a little help from Photoshop and MCP Actions. The photo below was only edited with this one action. No other changes or adjustments were made.