Brightening Part of a Picture

I don’t know a single photographer who actually loves doing complicated edits, or at least, I don’t know any who wouldn’t rather be shooting than retouching. But sometimes local edits, that is, or retouching after making a selection, are the sensible technique. Today we’ll take a look at such an edit: brightening a selected area.

A reader sent in this picture taken in India of a standing man, taken against the light (fortunately weak light). Because the subject’s face is drowning in shadows, it needs to be brightened. But we need to do that without losing the cigarette smoke in the process. This is a goal that we can only achieve with the help of selection tools. That’s because brightening the whole picture would leave the photo’s background overexposed.

The original picture. Photo: Jirka Janiga.

The original picture. Photo: Jirka Janiga.

Here are the steps we’ll use to fix this picture: first we’ll select the area that needs editing (the person) and then we’ll use the image editing functions to brighten dark tones within the selection.

What You’ll Need
The Magnetic Lasso and Selection Brush tools, the Curves and Quick Edits controls. Some experience with masks and selections will help, but isn’t required.

Zoner Photo Studio has several selection tools available—from pulling out a shape to manually “drawing” selections and more. When doing this edit we found the Magnetic Lasso to be the best fit due to how it “latches onto” every major contour in the picture.

(When using the Magnetic Lasso, don’t lean too hard on that ability; try to closely follow the borders of what you’re selecting. The lasso “snapping” should be a supplement, not the foundation of your selection work. Left-click periodically as you go to set fixed points that the lasso isn’t allowed to change.)

A selection made using the Magnetic Lasso.

A selection made using the Magnetic Lasso.

To finish making the selection, double-click. This automatically closes the loop and creates the selection.

A rough selection.

A rough selection.

The Magnetic Lasso is the way to go for the rough selection here. It needs to be followed up by a switch to a zoom level of 1:1 or higher and a check for mistakes in the selection. There almost always will be mistakes, so they’ll need correcting. Generally you’ll want to use one of the other selection tools.

In our case we decided on the Selection Brush for this. Before starting our work with that tool, though, we turned on display of the selection mask using the following menu item: Selection | Show Mask | Normal.

In this mask display mode, the areas within the selection look normal, while those outside it are covered in a red translucent film—the mask.

After activating the Selection Brush by clicking its button in the Toolbox, fine-tune the brush’s settings. For this job its Density should be 100%, but its Spacing meanwhile should be at the minimum: 1%. The right brush Diameter to use, meanwhile, will depend on the size of the region that you want to add to or remove from the selection, so you may need to adjust it as you go. Keep in mind that you can switch between adding to the selection and removing from it by holding down the Ctrl key while you work.

Using this approach, gradually turn the rough selection into a final one.

Smoothing out the Selection
Sometimes, even with the most finely-tuned selection, a few adjustments after it’s done and before any edits are applied can pay off. For example expanding it by a few pixels, or blurring its edges slightly. Because doing this by hand would be time-consuming and probably also imprecise, the right way to do this is via the Selection menu’s Modify Selection item. This shows a window with controls for modifying the selection. Before bringing it up, zoom in to 1:1 so you’ll be seeing close up how the selection is affected.

Here we shrank the selection slightly and also blurred the selection edges. A few pixels was enough.

Here we shrank the selection slightly and also blurred the selection edges. A few pixels was enough.

Because the mask display makes it hard to monitor how edits to the selection are changing its contents relative to the rest of the picture, turn off the mask display now. The menu item for this is Selection > Show Mask > Do Not Show.

Before turning off the mask display.

Before turning off the mask display.

Zoner Photo Studio offers several tools for editing brightness. We’ll leave the choice of which of them to use up to you. In our edit we used Curves, but the Brighten Shadows control in the Quick Edits pane would work just as well.

Brightening shadows using the Curves controls—by brightening the left and middle input values.

Brightening shadows using the Curves controls—by brightening the left and middle input values.

All that’s left to do now is to get rid of the selection. For this, use Selection > Deselect.

The final picture after editing.

The final picture after editing.

In our case we felt compelled to improve the composition a little too. Using the crop tool and a 3:2 aspect ratio, we removed the superfluous parts of the picture above and to the right of the subject.

The final picture after edits.

The final picture after edits.

Last updated 31. March 2014

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Author: Tomas Slavicek

I worked almost seven years for a photography magazine. Today as a freelancer I write, photograph, teach, and join text with pictures. In all these lines of work one thing stays true: I always need to see visual results for my work, even if only as a virtual image on a monitor.

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