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Brighten up your Day!

Brighten up your Day!

One of the most common exposure problems with cameras is that foreground subjects become underexposed when taking a photo against bright backgrounds such as the sky.

New in version 10 of the Xara Designer range, (Photo & Graphic Designer and Designer Pro X) are two new controls for brightening dark areas or shadows in photos and for reducing over-bright highlights.

I recently processed a batch of photos taken with quite an expensive camera and almost every image could be improved with the use of the new shadow enhance feature. Here is an example Before and After:

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A combination of photographing in bright sunlight, a bright sky and reflections from the water has produced a very uninteresting image. I cropped the image and then used the new Shadow Enhance control (and brightness adjust) to recover much of the invisible detail in the dark shadow areas.

I will show you how quick and easy it is to lighten or darken parts of your photos using Xara Photo & Graphic Designer – simply download the free trial to test it on your photos.

To enhance your photo, drag it onto the Xara Photo & Graphic Designer. With it selected, click on the Photo Tool, which will initially open with the Enhance Tool selected. On the top Info bar you will see the Enhance options which include the two new controls – Shadows brightness and Highlights brightness. Simply click on the small down arrow and adjust the slider as required.

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The difference between the Shadows brightness and the traditional Brightness control is that this only brightens the shadows, whereas the brightness lightens all parts of the image. Usually when you have photos that already have brighter parts, the last thing you need is to make those any brighter.

Below you can see that the brightness control enhances not only the shadows but the whole image becomes rather too washed out. Whereas, the third image, using the Shadows brightness control just the darker shades are enhanced to get the result we need.

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The following examples have been vastly improved with the use of the Shadow brightness feature showing that a pretty dull image can be made much brighter with a lot more detail.

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The Highlights brightness control works at the other end of the brightness spectrum, in that it adjusts the brightest highlights only. Unfortunately many cameras, especially those at the cheaper end, tend to overexpose really bright areas to appear as pure white, and it’s not always possible to extract detail from those parts of the image. Therefore, in practice the highlights control tends to be less effective than the shadows control.

In the example below, I have reduced the highlights (more than you usually would) and you can see that more detail in the cloud has become visible. I’ve also adjusted the shadow brightness to show a little more detail on the statue.

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Even in this studio photo, the white quilt is slightly over exposed, but we can get more detail back by reducing the highlights.

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Here are some more examples using the Shadows Brightness feature:

A woefully under exposed image in dark conditions. Using a combination of Brightness control, Shadow brightness enhance and warmth control (to move all the colours away from blue towards warmer colours) has recovered a great deal of detail.

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In the following photo, the students are unfortunately in shadow as the bright building has caused them to be too dark. So I’ve used the shadow enhance to brighten the darker area and also used the Highlights control to reduce the over-exposed bright building to bring out more of the over exposed details. As a final edit I cropped most of the building away to focus more on the students.

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It’s not clear why this image was so badly exposed. Perhaps the bright lights in the background? But using a combination of Brightness control and Shadow enhance has brought back a lot of hidden detail. But any more editing will cause too much noise to appear in the darker areas.

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There are two major issues with the next image. Firstly the right side of the building is in shadow – this was a single fix setting of the new Shadow brightness enhance to a value of 90. The second issue is that this wide angle shot shows a typical perspective problem – the building leans away from the observer. This was fixed using the automatic perspective correction. The two simple changes made a huge improvement.

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This final example demonstrates the wider power of Photo & Graphics Designer 10. The bright sky has caused the whole image to be under exposed, which was fixed by the new Shadow enhance control. The ‘leaning back’ effect when photographing tall buildings with wide angle lenses was fixed with the Perspective Correct feature. Finally, using the Magic Erase feature and the Clone Tool some of the cars and people have been removed.

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As with all enhance photo edits, using these two new options, you can select or mask an area to limit which region of the photo is affected. The easiest way to do this is to use the region tool before using the shadow enhance tool. See our previous tutorials: Erasing Backgrounds and Combining Photos

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer is the most flexible and time-saving all-in-one creative tool that provides a wide range of photo editing and enhancement, illustration and graphic design features. At an unbeatable value for money cost, it’s ideal for private and professional use: at home, in clubs, in academic institutions, and at work. Download the free trial Xara Photo & Graphic Designer and try it now.

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