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Working with Harsh Shadows and Light

I recently organized a photo shoot at a restored vintage gas station featuring 12 models, 8 cars (classics and street rods), and 8 photographers. This was my first time running this type of event, and as you have most likely noticed a bit of a departure from my typical subject matter.

Naturally, the day of the shoot, the temperature was forecast to be in the low 90's, and very sunny. This made from some very challenging shooting conditions. Let's look at one of the photos taken during the shoot.

TJ in harsh light

Right away, we can see that the light was very harsh, and the shadows are a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Using Lightroom, the first step is to make some global adjustments, and to do some cropping. The first thing I do is set the black and white points. This is accomplished by holding down the shift key and double clicking on the label for the white and black slider. I then make some adjustments for shadows, highlights and contrast.

basic global adjustments

This is looking a little better, but we still need to balance out the lighting a little more. The brush tool in Lightroom can be used like an airbrush by controlling the flow value. I prefer to set the flow value to 30. I was told once that this means that only 30% of the effect will be applied per brush stroke. That would mean with 4 brush strokes I would have the full effect. In reality, it seems to take about 6.

I first lighten up the shadows by moving the shadows slider all the way to the right. I can then add multiple brush strokes to an area that I want to lighten thereby controlling the amount that I bring the shadows up.

lighten shadows

I then add a new brush and do the same thing with the highlights, except now I also bring down the whites.

Next, we need to warm up the image. For this, I prefer to use Nik Color Efex Pro. Sadly, Google has announced that they are no longer supporting the Nik software applications and at some point it will most likely no longer run.

For this image, the light was so bright that I chose to apply a value of 30% warmth. Now the image is ready for a portrait editing application. I have tried several, but prefer Anthropics Portrait Pro. I feel this program gives me the control I want with things like skin texture, teeth and eye whitening, lighting, etc.

One of the big advantages is that Portrait Pro also smooths out the transition from shadow to light. The end result is:


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