Nature Notes

December 14, 2008

Photoshop Tutorial – Processing a Backlit Image

Filed under: Photoshop Tutorial — Tags: , , — Harold Stiver @ 7:00 am




For nature photographers, this might commonly happen with an image of a bird in flight.

I like this image of a Rough-legged Hawk but the bird, especially the whites, look too dark, and the background seems a bit washed out. I could try the Levels command or Shadow/Highlight but they may not provide the fine control we would like. Lets try something else.

If you worked through the Photoshop Tutorial – Understanding Curves, you will have a good basic knowledge of how this function works, and this is what we will use.

First lets create an additional layer {Layer-Duplicate Layer}

Then lets select the bird only. We could use the Polygonal Lasso to make a gross selection, then use the Magic Wand set on subtract, to fine tune it. Once you have it selected nicely, Deselect it. We come back to it later.

Subject selected

Subject selected

With the copy layer selected, lets open the curves menu {Ctrl-m or Image-Adjust-Curves} Take the Eyedrop tool and, while holding down the control key, click on a light portion of the underwing. You will see a dot appear on the curves line representing that exposure value. Now grab that dot with your mouse held down and drag it it up and left away from the line until the subject is lightened as you would like it. (Make sure preview is checked). See below.

Curves menu

Curves menu

You’ll see the background is even lighter. You can leave it if you wish, or darken and saturate it. To do the later, Reselect your previous selection { Select-Reselect or Shift-Ctrl-D}. Inverse the Selection {Select-Inverse or Shift-Ctrl-I} and hit delete to get the original background. Flatten your Image {Layers-Flatten Image}.

With the background still selected,  open your Hue/Saturation menu to deal with the sky. {Ctrl-U or Image-Adjustments-Hue/Saturation}. Slide the Saturation lever to the right till you are happy with it. You can also slide the Lightness level to the right to darken it.

When you are happy with the level, click OK, Deselect, and sharpen to suit.If you want a good method to Selectively Sharpen, tune in to our next Photoshop Tutorial.



This tutorial is a part of the Photoshop Workflow Series

All Images are Available for Licensing at Singular Video&Pix

Facebook Flickr Vimeo Twitter LinkedIn Contact Us License Images


  1. excellent tutorial, please do send me such things.

    Comment by suresh — December 14, 2008 @ 10:52 am

  2. More great information Harold, thanks for posting.
    b.t.w. a fantastic photograph too!


    Comment by J. Young — December 14, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  3. Thanks J.

    The raptor numbers were very high on Amherst Island, and it was great to havew a lot of targets to choose from.

    Cheers, Harold

    Comment by Harold — December 14, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

  4. Thanks Suresh:

    If you wish, you can click on the Subscribe button in the top right corner, and pick the method you would prefer to have notices sent to you.

    Cheers, Harold

    Comment by Harold — December 14, 2008 @ 7:03 pm

  5. Your method really makes the bird’s feet stand out. Well done!

    Comment by Laure Neish — January 20, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

  6. Thanks, Laure

    Comment by Harold — January 20, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  7. […] Processing a Backlit Subject […]

    Pingback by 15 causes of poor images and how to fix them | Nature Notes — September 5, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress