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Window portraits - a photographer's guide

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Category: Portraits and People

Window portraits - a photographer's guide - Brighten up your window portraits using Photoshop Elements.

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Words and pictures Peter Bargh

window portraitsShooting an indoor portrait near a window offers a superb low cost method of lighting, but it's prone to problems if you don't have the necessary tools when you take the photograph. The main problem is that the window light is just on one side of the subject so you end up having to make a decision with exposure. Metering for the highlight will make the side furthest from the window dark and metering from the shadow side will make the highlight totally washed out. In ideal circumstances you would use a reflector or flash to bounce light back from the window and fill in the shadows, but this is not always possible, especially if you are out on location. A careful balance of the two readings is necessary or a little trick using the computer if your pictures have been captured digitally.

In this example I used the Nikon D1x in auto mode the same sort of result would occur with most digital cameras that have centre weighted or multipattern metering. I will show you how to adjust the balance of highlights and shadows using Photoshop Elements. If you have a different program you should still be able to follow along and improve your own pictures using this technique.

The natural thing to do would be to adjusted the brightness to lighten the shadow area but if you did this on the whole picture the highlights to the right would become too bright. So the first stage is to isolate the area that we want to adjust.

window portraits1 Make a selection of that area by drawing a rough path around it using the Lasso tool.

2 Then add a large feather totheselectionSelect>Feather. I used a feather of 100 with this 2000x3000pixel file. If your picture is smaller reduce the feather size accordingly and if it's bigger increase the feather. The feathered selection ensures that any changes you make are less obvious by making the affect gradiated by the number of pixels you select.

3 Now we need to choose the appropriate tool to adjust the brightness. The most obvious would be the brightness control. It's available on even the most basic image editing program and does a decent job but there are better options.

Photoshop has Curves which offers the best adjustment of the brightness values but Elements does not have this so we will use Levels.Accessthisbythefollowing:Enhance>Brightness/Contrast>Levels or
Ctrl L as a shortcut. A box appears that has a graph. The graph represent the image in tones from shadow to highlight and has three sliders underneath that can be adjusted to alter the point of the highlight (white), shadow (black) and mid tone (grey). If you adjust the Highlight and take it to the left you will see the tones get lighter. You will also see the grey marker moves too. This ensures that the mid grey is still mid grey in the newly adjusted tonal range.

window portraits

Once you are happy with the brightness you may want to move the mid tone slide either way to adjust the mid tone balance. Notice how the area that isn't selected stays as it was and is now closer in tone to the newly adjusted selection.

When you have adjusted the slider to your ideal points click OK and remove the selection using shortcut keys Ctrl+D (deselect).

window portraitsThe photo can be improved further by removing then slightly warm colour cast that has been picked up, but we will cover that in next month's Elements tutorial.

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