Photography, Photoshop

Fixing flash highlights in portraiture

I love taking pictures of people all over the world. I use flash a lot (almost always in fact) in my street photography and I usually end up with burnt out highlights on the subjects face. The image I am going to use as an example is of an old woman from a village in eastern Uganda taken in 2008.

Like a lot of photography in Africa, particularly during the day, the harsh African sun is a challenge and flash certainly helps balance the shadow areas of the image. With the original of this image, the lips were affected more than any other part of the image. [column width=”30%” padding=”0%”] [/column] [column width=”67%” padding=”0″] Like most problems with digital images, this is fixable in Photoshop! An the good news is that its relatively quick and easy. All that is needed is a second layer and a basic understanding of layer blending modes. [/column] [end_columns] Blending modes in photoshop simply change the way that stacked layers affect each other and thus the resulting image. In this case we are going to use the darken blend mode. At its simplest, the top layer only affects the botton layer if the top layer is darker than the bottom layer – Perfect for what we are trying to do in fact.
So… [column width=”60%” padding=”0%”]

  • Add a new layer by clicking on the new layer icon or pressing “Shift+CTRL+N
  • Change the blend mode for the new layer from normal to “Darken”
  • Click on the colour picker tool and choose a colour close to the colour you need. This is does not have to be exact, as long as the tone is correct and it is darker than the area you are trying to mask. Next, choose a soft brush and click on the top layer and paint in the blown highlight areas – there is no need to be overly careful. The result (image on right) looks pretty awful at this point but a change to the opacity shout fix this.

    Changing the opacity will reduce the obvious touch up and allow the textures of the lips to shine through.
    The end result is a pleasing tone matching the underlying colour without any blown highlights.

  • The trick with this technique is to use a different layer for each affected part of the image. The degree of opacity change needed will change depending on the area being treated and is much easier to control on individual layers.
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