Monday, 1 September 2008

Photoshop tip - Improve exposure to part of a photo with a gradient layer mask

Whew that was a long title! But that is exactly what this tip is about. We will improve the exposure to a certain part of a photo by using a layer mask.

As you all know I was recently in Italy and had the chance to take lots and lots of photos of beautiful places. Of course not all of them came out looking like spreads from a magazine. But no worries, right, since our beloved Photoshop can help me improve my shots by a long way. Don't we just love it?

So, here is my original photo of the duomo in Florence. Beautiful building. Huge. Difficult to shoot at noon in the scorching sun.

See how the building itself is pretty decent looking? I metered off the building when I took the photo but in doing so the sky was blown out and pale. This makes the overall impression of the photo pretty blah. Let's see what we can do to improve this.
(Please note that I use the Swedish version of Photoshop so all you English speaking people, please don't be confused.)

1. Open your photo in Photoshop

2. The first thing we have to do is to add an adjustment layer. An adjustment layer will give us the chance to edit without touching the original layer and that is good because if we change our minds we can just delete the adjustment layer and everything will be back to normal or we can do further edits to that individual layer. Click on the little circle icon for adjustment layers in the layers palette and choose levels.

3. Pull the black slider as far to the right as needed to darken your blown out portion just enough to make it look good again. One thing to remember is to not go too crazy here but to make it match the colour and exposure of the rest of the photo.

4. As you can see by the image above by doing so we have automatically darkened the everything else as well. Of course we don’t want this so to remedy that we will use the gradient tool on the layer we just created. In the layers palette click on the layer mask icon to make sure the layer mask is activated. You can see that it is by the frame around the icon.

5. Now press G to access the gradient tool. If you have the paint bucket activated in the tool bar you might have to change it to the gradient tool.

6. Click on the small arrow next to the preview of the gradient type in the options bar. Choose black, white from the fly out menu. Then choose linear gradient which is the button furthest to the left out of the five buttons to the right of the preview.

7. You will now get a cross hair marker. Click and drag a line from where you want the gradient to start to where you want it to end to make a selection of where the layer mask should be doing its magic. In my case this is from the top of the building to the top of the photo as it is the sky part of the photo that I want the layer mask to be active.

8. When you let go you will see that Hey Presto! the rest of the photo will be back to the original exposure. In the layers palette you will also see that the mask is black at and then fades to white. The black part hides the levels adjustment we did in the first step and the white shows it.

9. Depending on your individual photo you might have to do some cleaning up where the mask meets the original layer to make it look really good. You can use the dodge/burn tool for this.

Here is my edited photo. Better, no?

Have a go at this, it is so easy but effective. I would love to see your results so if you do try it out then link me up!

Have a great day everyone!


  1. This is a fantastic tip. TFS

  2. Thanks for the tutorial! I've bookmarked it for future reference.

  3. Nice job, I like your stlye :-)

  4. (waving) Hi Linda~

    This will save a bunch of photos for me!

  5. Thanks for the advice. All easy and simple to work out. Hint for the future, you can use the video for it. It will take less time. I love HDR, so I use it mostly . I advise everyone to do HDR. Good luck.

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  15. Hi Linda, you have done extremely an awesome work here for your numerous fans and readers. Though I'm a fresh new visitor, I have to admit that this was a decent learning experience taking my prompt tour to you nice blog. In fact, I was thirst a bit more for getting some good ideas on photo retouching services online and while scrolling my mouse pointer down on the browser page, I was able to discover your brilliant job. This is apparently a great work. Photoshop work is not an easy task for all and it's surely a creative art too. Anyway, I appreciate your whole contribution. Properly using layer mask tool is very important one in photo editing work. But you presented this so clear and excellent way. Love your work. Please keep it up.