Bring out detail in parts of a photo that are too dark or too light with a quick Shadows/Highlights adjustment in Adobe Photoshop.

Woman sitting at kitchen table using Photoshop to edit image of surfer on large wave

Convert your photo to apply a Smart Filter

Open a photo and select the photo layer. Choose Filter > Convert for Smart Filters, and then click OK. This preserves the original image and gives you the option to make future changes to the Shadows/Highlights adjustment you’ll apply in the next step.

Tip: You could apply a Shadows/Highlights adjustment directly to a photo, but converting for Smart Filters before applying this adjustment gives you the flexibility to re-edit your adjustment or even delete it altogether.

Surfer and wave image is converted for Smart Filters to preserve the original image during the editing process

Add an adjustment layer

Apply a Shadows/Highlights adjustment layer to adjust over- or underexposed areas of an image. Choose Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights to open the settings.

Shadows/Highlights adjustment layer is added to adjust over-or underexposed areas of the surfer and wave image

Brighten underexposed areas of a photo

Drag the Shadows slider to brighten areas hidden by dark shadows.

Tip: Toggle the Preview checkbox to compare a before and after view as you work with these settings.

Before image shows very dark shadows on the ocean wave. Preview box is checked to compare before and after settings After shadows are adjusted to 35%, more detail is visible in the darker parts of the ocean

Correct overexposed areas of a photo

Drag the Highlights slider up to bring back the details of an area that’s too bright. Click OK to apply the settings.

Tip: Select Show More Options to see additional settings to fine-tune the adjustment.

Before image shows white wave peaks against a pale blue sky. The preview box is checked. After adjusting highlights to 20%, more details are visible and the white wave peaks are more clearly defined against the sky

Tip: Save your image as a PSD or TIFF file so you can adjust the Shadows/Highlights settings later. These file formats also allow you to save a copy in a different format, such as JPEG or PNG.

To adjust the Shadows/Highlights settings, double-click Shadows/Highlights under Smart Filters in the Layers panel.

The final image is saved as a PSD or TIFF file. Shadows/Highlights may be adjusted through the Smart Filters in Layers panel

Experiment with shadows and highlights settings to see the effect they have on your own photos.

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