Correcting blown highlights (tutorial)

Started Nov 22, 2004 | Discussions thread
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gonzalu Forum Pro • Posts: 10,389
Correcting blown highlights (tutorial)

Okay, so this may not be very scientific but I set out to write a small tutorial and also teach myself how to do this.

It was prompted by an observation on another tutorial I did on B&W conversion. The node has a nasty blown out highlight and there is also a pronouced darkening of the shadow area behind the right nostril... see here:

Well, in that tut, I did not intend to correct anything and just show the conversion process. So here now, I have attemped to soften up the harshness of that highlight and the distracting shadow.

Please remember that the work was done while I also learned so some steps will undoubtedly be rough around the edges...

The original image

Create a duplicate of the background layer; CTRL+J. Now select this layer as we will be working on it.

My intent was to tone down the harshness of the highlight. To try and "fix" it will be for an artist with a fine understanding of Photoshop's pressure sensitive brushes as well as having a really good tablet to work with (like a Cintiq or Intuous)

Bring up the Levels tool; CTRL+L and reduce the White Output Level to a desirable point. In my case here, it is 161. Also take the Midtone input level and move the slider left (increase the number) until you notice an evening of the tone levels in the highlight area.

Now we will mask out the areas we want to show and not show via a layer mask.

With the same layer still selected, either click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers pallette (it looks like a gray square with a white circle) or go to the Layer Menu ~ Add Layer Mask ~ Hide All

Zoom in on the selected area you are working on. Now make sure you are editing the mask by clicking on it.

Select the brush tool by clickcking SHIFT+B. Right Click to bring up the Brushes Pallette. Select an approrpiate sized Soft Edged Brush.

Now, go up to the toolbar and set the Opacity very low, drop the flow also low enough to tolerate rough working with the mouse. If you have a tablet, this will be easy. Also make sure you enable the airbrush

Bow, hit the "X" key on your keyborad to swap the color selector swatches. Make sure the foregorund is white. Now we will go over the highlight area and REVEAL the new adjusted layer above the original in the background

You can toggle between the mask and the image by ALT+CLICK on the mask itself. To show/hide the mask itself, SHIFT+CLICK on the image thumnail.

Okay, when you are happy with your results, change the Layer Mode to Screen.

Now, CTRL+J to duplicate this layer. Then, RIGHT+CLICK on the Mask and Discard it. Set the Layer Opacity to 50% or so (or until you like the look.

Make a new History Snapshot so we can go back at this point just in case. RIGHT+CLICK on the last action taken in the history and select New Snapshot. Name it wahtever you like.

We will now Flatten the image. SHIFT+CTRL+E.

Adjust Contrast and Brightness to taste.

Now we will Use Channel Mixer once more to get the B&W image we want. See my other tutorial for how we do it in detail. For this tutorial, here is what I came up with.

Now the area behind the right nostril. Simply use the Dodge tool and make a small-brushed dab at it until it looks less pronounced.

Before and After comparison.

A bit better.

That's it. It ain't much of a science but it has the ingredients, in my opinion, to help save an image. You can't really fix an image with data that is not there. But at least you can make it more manageable.

Here is a comparison of the final image from my other tutorial and this one. They are crops of zoomed in areas of the images.

Of course, due to the images being so small, it is hard to see the subtle differences it makes on a full size image where there are thousands more pixels for gradation. Also, 72 dpi is not doing it any justice. Please try it and let us all know your own experiences.

Enjoy and good luck with your retouching sessions.


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