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Brighten Up Your Window Portraits In Photoshop

How to even out the brightness levels of your portraits shot in window light in Photoshop.

|  Adobe Photoshop
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By shooting an indoor portrait near a window you can use the free light that flows through it to light your shot, however as the window light is just on one side of the subject so you can have a few problems with metering. You can meter from the light part of the shot but this 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. A careful balance of the two readings is necessary or you can edit the shot digitally in Photoshop.

The most obvious thing to do would be lighten the shadow areas by adjusting the brightness but if you did this, the whole shot would be adjusted and the brighter half of the shot would end up looking too bright. So the first stage of the tutorial will cover how to isolate just the shadow area that we want to adjust. Remember to always duplicate your layer once you have it open so you have the original shot to return to if something goes wrong.

Make a selection

Select the Lasso Tool and draw around the area you want to adjust the brightness of. You need to keep hold of the left mouse button while you draw your selection out then once it's complete, let go and the line will transform into 'marching ants' to show you've created a selection.

Selection Photoshop


Feather selection


Before we make any changes we are going to adjust the selection slightly to make it less obvious once it's applied. To do this, go to Select>Modify>Feather. If you're working on a particularly large image you can input a larger value but if it's only a small file make sure you reduce the value you enter accordingly.

Brighten the image

There are various ways you can do this and the most obvious way is with the Brightness control however, Photoshop allows you to make adjustments through Curves and Levels. We'll show you how to make adjustments with both options here as if you don't have Photoshop, you should still have the Levels option available to you even if Curves isn't in the menu.


Click on the Black & White circle in the layers palette and select Curves. A new window will open where there will be a straight line running from one corner of a grid to the other. Click in the centre of the line and a black dot will appear you then need to drag this slightly diagonally (up, left) to lighten your image. If you pull the line in the opposite direction it'll get darker. You can also make adjustments further up or down the line to further adjust the shadow/highlight areas but generally, placing one spot in the centre will be enough if you're just making a small adjustment. As you've created an adjustment layer you can also double-click the adjustment layer at any time to tweak it. Notice how the area that isn't selected stays as it was and is now closer in tone to the newly adjusted selection.

Curve adjustment

After curve adjustment

Second method:


Click on the Black & White circle in the layers palette and select Levels. The graph represents 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.

Once you are happy with the brightness you may want to move the mid tone slide either way to adjust the mid tone balance.

Levels before and after adjustment

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