In Part One of this tutorial, we took a badly-exposed photograph of a man in Viking costume and began to adjust the lighting using layers and layer masks. Many Photoshop tutorials do this sort of thing using the Dodge and Burn tools. The problem with that method is that, once you’ve dodged or burned too much, the only way to reverse it is to use Undo. But with layer masks, you’re painting with white and black, or values of grey. Fixing a mask is a simple matter of switching from white to black (or black to white, depending), and painting over the offending pixels. You can do this now, or a year from now: the method is “nondestructive,” meaning that the changes are made on layers. The original pixels are left untouched. With the Dodge and Burn method, Undo is only available for a short while. After you’ve saved, you’re stuck and can’t easily go back. Layers also allow you to adjust opacity, so you can fine-tune your changes. And the layer method doesn’t alter the color of the image, the way the Dodge and Burn tools do.
So last week, we blackened the background with a layer filled with black, and removed it from our Viking using a layer mask. Next, we added a Levels adjustment layer, and darkened the whole image until the over-exposed sunlit side was properly lit. We then used a layer mask to “paint” this adjustment just where we needed it. That’s where we left off, as shown above in the top image. Today we’ll add two more layers to complete the correction, before we move on to Topaz Adjust and Painter. The first layer we’ll look at is a 50% neutral gray layer in Overlay mode. Let me try to explain how it works.
The Overlay layer blending mode is sort of like having both the Multiply and Screen mode combined into one. With Multiply, only values darker than 50% grey will add darkness to the underlying image. White and light grey have no affect at all. With Screen, it’s just the opposite: only light values have an affect. We’re going to use Overlay to do both at once. We’ll add a layer filled with 50% neutral gray, with the blend mode set to Overlay. Nothing seems to happen. But as soon as we paint darker areas, the image is darkened. If we paint with light values, we lighten the images. Today we’re going to paint with white to lighten the dark side of the Viking’s face.
To begin, click on the top layer (our levels adjustment layer), to make it active. Hold down the Alt (PC)/Opt (Mac) key and click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette. Holding down the Alt/Opt key causes Photoshop to display a dialog box (see below). This gives us the chance to change the new layer’s blending mode. Change it to Overlay, and a new option appears at the bottom of the dialog. Check the box and now it will will the new layer with 50% neutral gray. Click OK. Nothing seems to have happened, but just wait!
Now we’re ready to lighten the dark side of his face. Make sure the new layer is active. With a soft-edged white brush, at full opacity and flow, start painting on the dark shadows. The image lightens up nicely wherever you paint. If the effect is too much, paint over with a light grey. Paint everywhere that needs lightening, including his clothing. Once you’re done, you’ll have a properly-exposed image. The dark side is still in shadow, but now you can make out details, especially his eye. Here’s what my Overlay layer looks like at this point.
As a finishing step, let’s adjust the color of his skin tone. We’ll add back in some of the reddish-brown that was washed out by the overexposure on the sunlit side, and blackened out on the dark side. Go Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color, and in the color picker enter 623310. Change the layer blend mode to Soft Light. Click on the layer mask icon in the layers palette, and paint on the image with black all over the figure, except where you want the color to show. Vary this with shades of gray. See the final before/after image, below.