Fixing Shadows & Bad Lighting in Photoshop

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.

before using photoshop actions

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.

touch of light photoshop action

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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    • 2


      Dooley – observant – but nope. One side of the towel was forward and one back – so she had the towel on the inverted way. This is one of the dozen reasons I would call this a snapshot and not a portrait. But I could not pass up the opportunity to show how to fix lighting on it :)

  1. 9


    I love the “touch of light/touch of darkness”action too!! It works so much better than dodging/burning!!

    Another reason to lower the opacity of your brush and them go over it multiple times is to blend the areas better. You won’t go over the area exactly the same each time, and if you used the brush at a low opacity the edges will blend nicely. Whereas, if you use the brush full-strength you’ll get harsh lines where you “brushed”. Hope this tidbit helps someone!!!

  2. 12


    With the amount of times I use this action, I am amazed that it is offered for free. I rarely get it right in camera. and while plenty will scoff at that notion. I’m happy to be able to fix and enhance after the fact. Because aside from correcting under and overexposed areas, this action is great for painting light in areas to which you want to draw the viewers eyes. Thank you!

  3. 16


    i’m so happy that i saw this page. that posting was so helpful. thanks again i added the rss on this article.
    are you planning to write similar news?

  4. 17

    Rider says

    Well actually it’s not free :) email address is needed to register.. CPA agencies pay at least 1.50$US for an email collected, so it worth that much at least, the price of my email address cpa market 😉

  5. 18


    I LOVE this action! But, I upgraded my version of PS and cannot get this particular one to download. The folder dowloads, but the actual action is not there. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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