This week, I have a pretty well-known tip for the manual HDR types out there.
Back in the days, landscape photographers used the shadow and highlight sliders in Photoshop to get the more details out of their files. This was kind of like making an HDR image before “HDR” existed.
In time, some started layering files with different “exposures” to bring the maximum detail out of a file.
While this is pretty common knowledge for a lot of adept Photoshop users, it’s not a particularly common technique for portrait photos.
It’s a simple method, you start by opening an image in a RAW processor. make it so you have the desired exposure on the skin, and export a copy. Raise the exposure slider until you have the right amount of details in the shadows, then export the image again.
It’s a good idea to do this processing in RAW, as opposed to simply raising the levels in Photoshop. Using the RAW file retains more information and ends up with a cleaner result.
Open both exports in Photoshop and merge the two files together. Do this by going to the brightest picture, using the move tool (V) and dragging it onto the tab of the other (darker) file.
Make sure to hold shift before you let go of the mouse so it perfectly pastes the file over the top of your base file.
Next, add an inverted mask to the top layer (hold alt while clicking the mask button). This will create an inverted mask for us (black) where we can simply paint in white where we would like to bring the shadow details back.
If you have a sharp/clean shape, I imagine “quick select” will do a fine job. Then you can simply “ALT+BACKSPACE” to fill the selection in white.
Make sure the selection is made with the image thumbnail (left) selected, then the masking (right) is done by painting/filling your selection with white.
With the masking done, we can relax knowing that we have detail in everything from the highlights to the shadows.
I find this a simple, yet effective way to keep all the detail. This method not only gives plenty of control but, if you’re like me, also allows to skip using C1 and Lightroom masking (which I think is clumsy in comparison).