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Inside Photoshop CS: Shadow/Highlight

An exploration of the new functionality, plus a mini-tutorial on dealing with noise By Dave Nagel
In our last foray into Adobe Photoshop, we discussed alternate tactics for flushing out the detail in the shadowy areas of your photographs. But now that Photoshop CS is out, there's a whole new strategy available for manipulating the darker regions of digital imagery. And so, in the first in our series of explorations of the new features in the Adobe Creative Suite, we venture into the realm of new image adjustment tools, starting with the powerful Shadow/Highlight function.

Photoshop CS is packed with a huge number of important new features, and I intend to cover them all in depth. But I decided to start with one of the more focused new tools in the latest release because it's something that will have an immediate impact on the way you work with digital images and because it relates to image correction topics we've been discussing recently. With Shadow/Highlight, there's a lot to talk about, but let's start with the basics. We'll follow it up on the next page with advanced functionality and finally address the issue of noise with a mini-tutorial covering a method for color-compositing corrected images.

Basic functionality
The Shadow/Highlight function, I'm told, comes to use via the same engineering team that developed the Healing Bush tool that debuted in Photoshop 7. It is, of course, a completely different tool. But what it has in common with the Healing Brush is the way it performs complex image manipulations under the hood and provides you with a simple front end for getting the job done quickly. To give you an idea of how this works, take a look at the image below. This is the original image (from a clipart collection), showing a mountain range in silhouette.

But what if I don't want it to be in silhouette? What if I want to bring out the details on the mountain and the foreground from this excessively dark photograph? No problem.

How'd I do that? Well, I just selected Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlight, and cranked up the "Shadow" value to 100 percent.

And that's literally all there was to it. It sucked out the data that existed in the file (despite resizing and multiple JPEG compressions) and composited it into the original in real time as I adjusted the slider, similar to much more painstaking processes that probably wouldn't yield results nearly as satisfactory.

But Shadow/Highlight is not just about shadows. It's an image adjustment function designed to accentuate the details in highlights as well. So here's the same image with a 77 percent Highlight adjustment to provide a little definition in the clouds. (Note the differences in the cloud formation on the right.)

Not too bad? Well, of course, I don't want to give you the idea that this is some kind of magical image manipulation tool. If there's detail in your photograph, Shadow/Highlight can find and accentuate it. But in images that are too overexposed, detail can be permanently lost. To a lesser degree, the same goes for images that are too underexposed. In cases where your lighting simply doesn't allow for exposures that capture data in the extremes of light and dark, you'll still be better off bracketing your photos and then using something like the Blend Exposure filter from Reindeer Graphics' Optipix suite. (Click here to see a review of this Photoshop plugin set.)

But even with difficult images, Shadow/Highlight provides additional tools for finessing all the data out of your image.

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