Have you ever tried to edit a photograph that was too dark in one area, but too light in another? Trying to lighten the dark area blows out your highlights, and trying to darken the light area gets rid of all the information in your shadows! Luckily, the Masks feature in Adobe Photoshop makes editing these types of photographs a breeze.
1. Open your photograph in Adobe Photoshop. If you want the widest range of highlights and shadows, make sure it’s a RAW image!2. As you can see, the patio part of this photograph is way too dark. But if I try to lighten it, the sky gets too light!3. To solve this problem, click on the Masks icon in your toolbar: It’s right at the bottom. Now, click on your Gradient tool: You’re going to want to start by drawing a diagonal line from the bottom left of your photograph to the top right. When you let go, your photograph should look like this:4. Now, click the Mask icon again. Part of your photograph should be sectioned off in a dotted line. If this is the part of the photograph you want to edit, great! If not, you’ll want to press CTRL+I (inverse) so that you have the correct part of the photograph selected.5. Now, look at the right side of your screen. You should see an Adjustments tab (which is probably already selected). Click on the Curves button:6. Your curves adjustment should pop up on your screen. You’re going to want to click right in the middle of the diagonal line and drag upwards, until that part of your photograph is as light as you want it to be.7. Great! However, the top left corner is still a little dark. To fix this, choose your Gradient tool again, and drag from the top left corner in a diagonal line, across about 1/3 of your image. It should look like this:8. Repeat steps 4-6 again so that you lighten the top left corner with Curves.9. But wait! The bottom right corner is too dark as well! No problem. You guessed it, repeat steps 3-6, using the gradient tool to create a diagonal gradient that goes from the bottom right about 1/3 of the way through the image. You can then lighten that section as well.
10. What happens if you lighten a part of an image, but another part gets too light during the process? Not a problem. Make sure that particular layer is selected, and then choose the Paintbrush tool in your toolbox: At the bottom of your toolbox, make sure your foreground color is set to White: Now, paint on the part of your image that was affected by the gradient. It returns to normal! If you press X on your keyboard, you can toggle between a white foreground color and a black foreground color. Using white will remove the mask, while using black will paint it back on! You can easily adjust your masks by using this technique. Now that you know how to use gradient masks to adjust certain parts of your image, there’s no need to worry about having images that are too dark in one area and too light in another! This technique doesn’t only have to be used on exposure; you can adjust Hue/Saturation, Black & White, and Contrast as well! The possibilities are endless.