Dark Faces & Blown Out Whites

This is a discussion on Dark Faces & Blown Out Whites within the Post-Processing forums, part of the Photography Tips category; Photographing surfers can be a real challange because of the bright white surf and the darker subject. Same problem with a lot of other photography. ...

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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    The most Southwest point in the continental US
    Photographing surfers can be a real challange because of the bright white surf and the darker subject. Same problem with a lot of other photography. I'm not a Photoshop expert but I stumbled on this easy fix.

    Common Problem: The action is much too fast and changing to use anything but auto, and manual settings wouldn't really help the problem anyway. The result is often that the auto settings sense the whites and the surfer in this case is much too dark. You could use the dodge tool in PS, but I'm never very happy with the loss of saturation.

    Brightening the entire picture almost always results in "blown out" whites.

    Sooo, here's what I have discovered: Take the image into Photoshop CS-3. In the top menu, select "Filters"... Then select "Convert for Sharp Filters". If you want, you can go back into "Filters" and select "Smart Sharpen" and see if it helps your image. Then, go to "Images" on the top menu, select "Adjustments". On the pop-up the only selection that will be enabled is "Shadows and Highlights". Open that selection and experiment with the slide bar adjustments until you get the results you want in balancing the dark subject and the bright whites. A quick crop.... and "Surf's Up"

  • #2
    Super Moderator
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Higham, South Yorkshire
    Thanks for sharing that Jerry - all tips are more than welcome

  • #3

    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    I have my own method for dealing with situations like this that is somewhat laborious, I'll give this a try when I get home.

  • #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Naples, Florida, USA
    Canon, Cambro/Calumet
    If you are losing saturation while dodging, try it with a 50% grey layer mask and I think you'll be happier with the results.
    Capture all the photons you want; the universe will make more.

  • #5

    Join Date
    May 2009
    I use Photoshop a lot and here is what I would suggest... You will have to know a bit about that program of course...

    -Check your Photoshop settings so that it allows for keeping *a lot* of history steps in cache, so that you can do a lot of Undo actions!!
    -Open the picture in Photoshop
    -Create a copy of the background layer (Control + J)
    -Make the new layer invisible by clicking on the "eye"
    -Go to the background layer
    -Choose to either darken the histogram levels of the dark section or the light section so that you are happy with how it looks. Don't worry about the part of the picture that now is not looking so good
    -Make the copied layer visible again and make it the active layer
    -Activate your eraser tool, and initially set it to an opacity level of 50 % or so and set the size of the eraser to what works best for you. Make sure you choose the "fuzzy" brush and not the harsh one, that will leave circles on your picture
    -Erase the part of the picture you adjusted in the background layer. You can play with opacity or go over it multiple times

    What you are doing is what we were used to doing with our hands and fingers in the old fashioned dark room: you would block exposure of the surfer, which contains a lot of pixels, and does not need much time to develop. The waves, however, need longer exposure. The power of Photoshop lies in working with the layers. To be safe, you can decide to keep the background, and create two copies of that layer and work with them. Just make the background invisible. When you are satisfied, you can merge the layers and the picture will now have good exposure in the light AND dark areas.

    There are other ways of doing it, and there is certainly a lot more to say about this, but lets go with this for now.

    It works really well in people pictures as well. I live in Bermuda and I am constantly photographing the people. But, I am a white girl from Europe, the locals here are largely dark skinned. Sometimes I have to adjust the picture just to get all features out, and then the rest of the pic would be too light. In those cases I also go to work with the eraser on different layers. You do need a full resolution picture of course. In digital photographing, especially when you do not use RAW, overexposed areas are usually completely devoid of pixels. No matter what you do, all you have is pixel-less white. When there are no pixels to play with, it is a matter of too bad, so sad...

    Oh, and about undo: when you hit command Z, all you did is undone. When you hit Option + Command+ Z your work is undone step by single step. So if you erase something in 5 steps and want to go back to the third step, option + command + Z will do it. These are Mac commands, not sure about the Windows equivalents, but they do exist.

    Good luck with this!


    The original, unchanged, straight out of the camera:

    The reworked model (not saying that this is the ideal picture now, but see how the darker clouds are unchanged, whilst the rest of the picture is a lot sharper and whiter).
    Attached Images Attached Images   

  • #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    I tend toward a simpler and faster approach. I would use an ND filter on the camera to cut down on the brightness of the surf and enable a higher ISO which in turn would reduce contrast. I would then if necessary selectively brighten and add contrast to the surfer with a couple of clicks of the Nik Software Viveza plug-in.

    Last edited by Cameron; 02-02-2012 at 07:19 PM.


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