There’s no such thing as the perfect exposure. Or maybe there is. When either you’re very lucky or an absolutely brilliant photographer! Chances are you’re not and, just like me, you have to tweak it. Bring the light to life. Exposure is also subjective; what I might think to be the perfect exposure for a particular shot could easily be under or overexposed to your eyes, and vice versa. It really is in the eye of the beholder.
In certain photos a perfect, all-over exposure would even lead to detrimental results, because it can take away beautiful details, such as the sunlight illuminating the condensation on a wine glass or light that falls through window blinds. So if you’re anything like me, and you want to preserve the details but properly expose other things, here’s a little trick I call paint with light. And that’s exactly what it is.
Paint With Light:
In my snappy light tutorial I showed you how to use the screen mode to create an overall light lift. But you don’t always need the light to be everywhere. This technique uses a curve adjustment to your advantage, a perfect and simple way to add light precisely where you need it to be.
This is my SOOC, a slightly older photo. I adore it, from his funky blond hair so downy on the sides it seemed virtually non-existent, to his sparkling blue eyes and the smile that seems plastered on his face ever since he was 4 weeks old. The color of his eyes is unedited, mind you. My son is like me; when I get tired my eyes turn very bright green, his turn very bright blue. It’s stunning, I gotta wear the kid out more often!
/proud mommy mode
Though the exposure is okay in this photo, I want to bring out the background a bit more and even out the light that falls on his face. In a subtle way, though.
Click the adjustment layers icon. It’s the Yin-Yang type of icon at the bottom of your layers palette.
Choose Curves from the menu that pops up.
Thing will bring up the Curves dialogue box. Notice the diagonal line? This is the light curve as it is now. Changing it will either make your photo lighter or darker.
We want to add light, so grab the line and drag it to the left. Not too far. If you would drag it to the right you would darken your photo. Try it, see what happens.
That lit things up alright. But a little too much, plus… I don’t want the entire photo to be lighter. I just want to paint with light.
You can rename the adjustment layer we added, or don’t rename it. I’m so easy going! The white box indicates Photoshop immediately added a layer mask.
Now press CTRL- I. This inverts the layer mask, hiding the light and allowing us to paint it back in where we need it.
From the sidebar menu, choose your brush tool.
Set both its opacity and flow to 25%. I wouldn’t suggest going higher than that, you’ll want slowly build the effect. That makes it look far more natural than going in with a 100% brush.
Now start painting those parts you feel need a little extra light. I painted the back ground, his temples, cheeks, hair and shirt.
It’s a very subtle difference, but it definitely freshens the photo, evens out the light and makes it visually more appealing. It just gives you an awful lot of control over the exposure without making things look fake.
* Click the adjustment layers icon at the bottom of your layers palette
* Drag the diagonal line a little to the left
* Press CTRL-I to invert the layer mask
* Select your brush tool from the left bar menu
* Set the brush opacity & flow to 25%
* Start painting on those parts that need extra light
Took the liberty of turning this into a free action for you. Looks like I’m slowly giving you an entire workflow. I should be charging people for this! But I won’t. Yuck, no. Sharing knowledge is way more fun and far more rewarding than selling it could ever be.
You can download my action HERE. I hope you’ll get good use of it and enjoy!