Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Digging in the Shadows

It was a bit early in the season to find snakes sunning themselves on warm rocks, so we were pleasantly surprised when we came a little one slowly crawling up on a rock. The setting was a little creek in our favorite park, just below a bridge. The bright afternoon sun brightly lit up part of the rock. The rest was in the deep shadow of the bridge we were standing on.

Not much of a photo opportunity, but I took a couple of shots anyway.


This is were post-processing can rescue an otherwise useless photo. I talked about this in a recent post over in the “other corner” of Café Ludwig. You can read all about it here: Lost your friends to the shadows? This photo seemed a good chance to do some “umbraluminology” – that is my term using poor Latin for “the art of illuminating the shadows”.

I always start in Photo Gallery. The histogram showed that the camera was fooled into underexposing the photo. I have it set for “center-weighted” exposure measuring. The sunlit rock is all the sensor would see.


Moving the Shadows slider all the way to the right brought out detail in the shadow, but not nearly enough.


Before I reached for more powerful tools I decided a crop would be in order. Then I took a look at what I could do in Picasa. The “Fill light” slider helped some but it was not much of an improvement. I even tried the HDR effect. Nothing there.

Next I took the photo into onOne Perfect Effects 8. I really like the HDR effect that tool provides. With that I could bring out more details from the shadows. The noise also became quite noticeable. My next attempt was to see what I could do with PaintShop Pro. I selected the triangular shadow part and applied some noise reduction. Then I took the whole photo into Topaz Detail for bringing out some of the fine detail. No, none of these tools turned this into a “fine art” photo. But I did pull out an amazing amount of detail. This is not a story about artistic accomplishments but rather an illustration of just how much detail is literally lurking in the shadows of photos. The moral of the story is this: Don’t discard a photo just because the faces of your friends are unrecognizably dark, or that the shadows hide all the interesting stuff. Be aggressive in post-processing.


Get skilled in “umbraluminology”, there is treasure “in them thar shadows”.


© 2014 Ludwig Keck


  1. I have the onOne Perfect Effects 8 program as well. I have not used it very much, as I own NIK Software as well.

  2. There are some very nice effects in PE8 - I prefer it for sharpening and the HDR effect that I mentioned in the post. Others I use less frequently. NIK, especially Silver Efex, has some marvelous tools. I do not have the latest versions. Wish they could be purchased individually.

  3. What a noticeable improvement in bringing out the missed details in those shadows, Ludwig. I have used the Levels slider adjustment in an older cooy of Photoshop that is on my also older desktop PC. However, when working on the MacBook Air, i usually use the free Picassa, although I may buy a cooy of Photoshop Elements for Mac at some time in the future. I know there are also many free apps available. Years back, I would buy lots of SW as well as photo equipment, these days not so much. Thanks for the tutorial, as always.

  4. Thank you Beatrice,
    In Picasa use the "Fill Light" slider on the tab with the sun symbol. You will find the new Photoshop Elements quite different in the way it looks, it is also much more powerful now than your old version.

  5. Thanks Ludwig and I do know about the fill light slider in Picasa and have used it often. The version of Photoshop is for my HP desktop and was the complete version called Photoshop CS and I was able to buy an educational version more than 10 years ago when I was taking some courses at a community college in NJ. Of course, the cost was still high then, but much lower than today's prices. Over the years, I have barely touched the surface of all the features of this older program.