A simple trick to make your photo's shadow areas look MUCH better!
Written by Mark Hemmings on December 31, 2018
Have you ever tried to make shadow areas a bit brighter in your photo, but were disappointed in the "plasticky" looking result? This is a common problem when we try to create even exposures of high contrast photos when using photo editing software. 

Let me give you an example. I took this photo in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on a bright sunny day, so naturally there was a lot of shadow on certain sections of the street:
San Miguel de Allende Mexico
The normal inclination for most photographers is to increase the brightness of the shadow areas to give an evenly exposed image.

The problem however is that when you increase the shadow slider in your favorite editing software to a significant amount, your photo will probably end up looking like a poorly created HDR (High Dynamic Range) image.  

So here is my go-to adjustment to both increase the luminance of the shadows but also retain a realistic look: 

#1 INCREASE YOUR "SHADOWS" SLIDER
#2 DECREASE YOUR "BLACKS" SLIDER
San Miguel de Allende parroquia
Increasing your Shadows and decreasing your Blacks seems odd at first, as if those two actions would counteract each other. However it's an effective way to make your shadow adjustments look more realistic. Here is the result, using Lightroom CC (either mobile or desktop) exposure adjustments: 
San Miguel de Allende parroquia
By looking at the before and after you may be saying to yourself, "But I could make the shadows even more bright . . ." 

Yes that's true, but as I have been watching and participating in photography trends and styles for the past two decades, I can safely say that the overly-processed look of HDR's 'ultra perfect exposure' has now run its course.   

Everyone is free to edit their photos any way that they please, however if you want to give your photos a longer shelf-life, I would advise retaining a moderate amount of shadow. Essentially what you want to do is adjust your photo's shadow area to the point where it looks unrealistic, and then back off a bit. 

The increased Shadows and decreased Blacks trick should keep your photo within good looking bounds, if that is what you are aiming for. 

As always, happy photographing!

Mark Hemmings

PS, we have a few spaces left for our San Miguel de Allende photo workshop, where we photograph this street plus so many other incredible San Miguel locations. Check out our webpage!
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