Perform local adjustments in Camera Raw or Lightroom
Lift your image through small-scale processing in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom
Global adjustments, such as those applied by the key adjustment layers, are necessary for correcting major image-wide issues. These apply to overall brightness, contrast and colour edits, which affect the main tone of your shot. However, in many cases, you’ll want to look closer at individual areas that might be lowering the impact of the shot. Even if there are small areas of the scene where the exposure is not quite balanced or where there is an unnatural colour cast, this can distract the viewer from absorbing the atmosphere you want them to identify. Furthermore, local image adjustments can also lift an image by adding small scale changes in brightness, colour temperature and saturation.
In this forest image, the overall exposure is good, but there are some small shadow areas that need brightening and the scene would benefit from some localised lighting effects to add depth. This can give the impression of light filtering through the tree canopy and produces a more three-dimensional effect, with areas in the foreground receiving more lighting that those further into the scene. The steps shown here were performed in Adobe Camera Raw, but also apply to Lightroom while Capture has comparable tools.
Step 1 Open in Camera Raw
Try to perform as many adjustments as possible on your RAW files to future-proof your editing decisions. Although we are looking at a RAW workflow here, the tools in ACR can be used on Jpeg files by clicking Open in Photoshop, finding your files and selecting Camera Raw as the file format.
Step 2 Use the Adjustment Brush
Available in both Camera Raw and Lightroom, hit K to bring up this tool, drag the Exposure Slider to the right a little and paint with the brush in areas you want to brighten.
Step 3 Check your adjustments
Tick the Show Mask box to toggle a visual representation of your brush strokes. This will allow you to see if you’ve spilled over into other areas of the image that you do not wish to lighten. If you have, select the appropriate pin, click Erase and paint back over the excess areas to remove the effect by undoing brush strokes.
Step 4: Use the Gradient Tool
Next we’re going to make a larger scale adjustment to one corner of the shot. The top left of the scene needs a little added exposure and warmth, so we hit G to bring up the Gradient Tool, dialled in some added Temperature and brightness, via Highlights and Exposure and drew down a gradient from the top down. Click on the gradient to alter the transition feather and angle. Tweak the settings as required.
Step 5: Finish in Photoshop
You will often find it necessary to move into Photoshop for more complex edits. Whilst not as flexible as editing in RAW, working on a duplicate layer maintains a non-destructive workflow.
Step 6: Apply local sharpening
Another area where you’ll find regional differences is sharpness. There are several causes of this, ranging from irregularities in lens construction, to rain spots. In this image the edges of the frame are slightly soft, so on a duplicate Background layer, the Sharpening Tool was used to extract additional detail where it is lacking.