Increase Highlights Without Photoshop’s “Highlights” Tool
This method is particularly useful for portrait photography and to improve skin tones, but I have used it on many other projects including interiors, and it is in fact one of the most used methods in my regular workflow. Use it where you can and see how it, very subtly, alters your images to breathe a little life into your shots.
Sometimes, when photographing people the skin tones can appear a little flat, especially if you are using a digital camera. This page shows you a quick (once you know it) and effective way to bring back and improve the skin tones and add a subtle increase in highlights as though you were using the highlights tool in Photoshop CS.
I have used a human subject for this tutorial, but as I said earlier, try this on a few of your other subjects and see how it improves them.
Once you have opened your image in Photoshop, go to
Select – Colour Range – And in the box that appears, click the invert box and then in the drop down box, select highlights and hit “OK” as in Fig.1.
Improve Skin Tones – Fig.1
The reason you click “invert” is that when you click OK, it will otherwise select the highlights and we want to work on the opposite, to raise the levels of the darker areas.
If you forget to tick the box and have hit ok, you can simply right click on the image and select inverse from there.
You may be thinking “why can I not just select shadows instead of highlights and save going through all this hassle?”
Try it and see. The difference is quite noticeable and that way tends to blow out the highlights that are already there.
Ok, next. You will see that the running ants are running around the selected area, but if you were to start increasing levels now, you would end up with strongly defined lines around the altered areas…we need to “feather”.
Right click on the image and select feather and a box will appear as in Fig.2.
Improve Skin Tones – Fig.2
Because we want to improve skin tones, they need to be blended well, so I have selected a large radius of 200. This will blend any adjustments I make without leaving a trace. I normally use between 20 and 40 but it is something you will need to experiment with for yourself for each individual image.
Once you hit “OK”, you will notice that the running ants have smoothed out significantly as in Fig.3, meaning any work you do will blend nicely
Improve Skin Tones – Fig.3
What we need to do next is bring up the levels of the shaded areas, but not too much, in order to increase the brightness slightly.
As in Fig.4, go to Image – Adjustments – Levels, and the box will appear.
Improve Skin Tones – Fig.4
As you should see, the base of the light part of the histogram (mountain range) on the right will have a gap. This is where you have selected on the image and need to bring the slider back to the base. You may not need to go all the way; watch the image as you work and stop when it “looks” right (see Fig.5).
Improve Skin Tones – Fig.5
When you have found the perfect spot, click the preview button on and off to see your changes. You should notice a subtle but effective increase in skin tones and general appearance of the image.
Because the alteration is so subtle in this example, I have made this GIF image to illustrate the change.
The white in the T-Shirt has blown out slightly, so to adjust this if it occurs, simply reduce the amount of “feathering” or decrease the amount of levels adjustment until it is correct.
As stated earlier, play with each of the settings along the way to suit your own style and images and you will find that you use this method quite a bit in the future.