Simple Tricks to Improve Your Photos

Oftentimes I take a photo when the lighting conditions are less than ideal. Maybe there’s too much backlight or the kids insist on standing in the shade when the sun is so bright. The result is that the faces are dark, but the background is light.

There are a number of options for lightening dark shadows on your photos. In Photoshop Elements you can try one of the following:
1. Go to Enhance>Auto Levels. Sometimes the computer is just smart enough to fix it so you like it!
2. Go to Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Shadows/Highlights and play with the lighting by moving the arrow on the sliding bar.
3. Duplicate your photo. In the Layers Palette, select Screen from the pull-down menu. This will lighten the entire image but you can play with the opacity or erase portions of the top layer so that only parts of your image are lightened. Merge the two layers when you’re happy with how it looks.
4. Use the Smart Brush tool to lighten the shadows of a select part of your photo.

For the photo I wanted to edit, the background was already quite washed out by the bright light of the setting sun but the girls’ faces were dark as they stood in the shadows.

The auto correction features of the software didn’t do the trick so I opted to just brighten a portion of the photo. The Smart Brush is a great little tool! I’ve just recently discovered it and have had fun playing with it. You’ll find it in the tool bar that runs along the left side of your workspace in Photoshop Elements.

In the menu bar that runs along the top of your workspace, use the pull down bar to select Lighting>Brighter. (From the pull-down menu you can see there are lots of choices to play with!). Just to the left of the menu is the brush size. You can choose the size you want to work with. For this tutorial, I used the default size.

Holding down the Shift key, select the portion of the photo you want to lighten.

You will see “marching ants” around your selection and the program adds this as a new layer in your Layers Palette.

You’ll see that the background remains the same and only the selected area is brightened. In this case it’s the girls and it’s just enough so that I like it. If you’re not happy with the edges between the brightened portion and the background, you can play with refining the layer mask. Click on Refine Edge located between the pull down menu for the Smart Brush and the brush size at the top of your workspace. There are a number of options to play with including Smooth, Feather, Contract/Expand. Use Contract to reduce the size of your selected area and Expand to enlarge it. You can smooth out the lines or blur them slightly. Play around a little until you like the result.

Here is the difference from before and after:

What a difference! And it’s so easy. Give it a try and see what you think!